Life as a young alumni – Defining success

A letter I wrote for Elon’s student newspaper, The Pendulum. It’s targeted at young alumni who are wondering how to define success now that they are no longer receiving As & Bs in the classroom.

I was asked by Elon University’s student newspaper, The Pendulum, to write a few articles about life as a young alumni. This letter is about defining success, especially when you’re not getting As & Bs anymore.

Dear Alum,

Right now, I get a grade for everything I do. Either I do well enough to pass, and I get to shake Leo’s hand at graduation, or I don’t, and my parents strangle me for wasting $100k on an education I apparently never received. If jobs don’t give out grades, how do I know if I’ve passed or failed?

Straight A Student

Dear Straight A Student,

I wouldn’t go repeating this to your parents (or your professors), but grades are overrated. Many of you would do better without them.

With grades, everyone is on the same playing field. They give us a standard way to define success and failure. However, there are two problems with this:

  1. Everyone is not on the same playing field. Life just doesn’t work that way.
  2. There is no standard definition for success and failure. They are defined by you, the individual, not the dictionary.

This is a new way of thinking for most of you. You’ve lived your entire life up to this point being graded on a common scale – the same scale that everyone around you was using.

Now, the grades are gone, the scale has been lifted, and you are free. Free to study whatever topic is of interest to you. Free to work as hard as you’d like, toward whatever goal you are trying to achieve. And free to be your own judge of success and failure.

But let me warn you. While it’s a liberating experience, it’s not easy. There’s a reason why grades have existed for as long as they have. So how do you know if you’re working too hard, or not hard enough? How can you tell if you’ve succeeded in making a difference? Or perhaps failed miserably?

I can’t answer those questions for you. But here’s a fundamental difference between grade school and the rest of your life:

You get an F in grade school, it’s always looked down upon. You encounter a failure in life, and it might just be the single best thing that ever happened to you.

The Alum ’06

Life as a young alumni – The job search

A letter I wrote for Elon’s student newspaper, The Pendulum. It’s targeted at young alumni who are beginning their job search. I’ve included several tips on how to approach the process.

I was asked by Elon University’s student newspaper, The Pendulum, to write a few articles about life as a young alumni. My first letter is about the job search.

Dear Alum,

I’ve done a few of these things called internships, but ya know, they don’t pay much. And my parents keep warning me that pretty soon I’ll actually have to pay someone to use my phone, watch TV and even use Facebook. I think they’re called bills. Where do you get the money to pay for all this stuff?

All About The Benjamins

Dear All About The Benjamins,

Contrary to popular belief, life after college is nothing like the movie Office Space. Money is not only an important part of life, it’s an essential one. For most of us, a job is a good place to start.

I was fortunate enough to work several part-time jobs, one full-time job for over 2 years, and now work for myself. With these experiences I learned a few things about the job search.

  • Love + Money. You should always try to do something you love. Just don’t do it for free. Make sure you get paid for your time.
  • Be remarkable. Don’t be afraid to do something the Career Center told you not to. There are thousands of career centers out there preaching the same ideas. But there’s only one of you, and you have ideas of your own.
  • Interview them. You should be interviewing them just as much (if not more) than they’re interviewing you. After all, you’ll be spending ~40% of your waking hours with them each week.
  • Submit a video résumé. They won’t throw that into a stack with all the others. I promise.
  • Be selective, not picky. Create opportunities for yourself by applying & interviewing at many places. Then you’ll have choices, in which you can be selective. But remember, you do need a job to make money, so don’t get too picky. You’ve got 3/4 of your life left to score the perfect job. It doesn’t have to happen right away.
  • Understand yourself. If you love working with other people, make sure you find a job which allows you to do so. And be sure you like the people you’re going to be working with.
  • Health insurance & benefits. A great health insurance & benefits package with your employer will save you lots of money in the long-term, not to mention keep you healthy. And most companies that offer a great plan care about their employees—a good indication it’s a solid place to work.
  • You’re a rockstar. You will graduate Elon better prepared than at least 75% of your competition (and your co-workers). Just because you’re 22 and companies will tell you you have no “real” job experience, doesn’t mean you aren’t a rockstar. You’re much more valuable than you think.
  • Be confident. You’re a better leader, harder worker, more of a team player and a superior problem-solver to most everyone else out there. Be confident in yourself, and your future employer will see the value you can bring to their organization.

The Alum ’06