ten best: Advice for college graduates

by Keith Barber

Why so serious?

So you’ve got a college sweetheart, but the fact of the matter is, neither of you have a clue as to who you are at this stage in your life. Remember the old sentiment expressed wonderfully in the Sting song, “If you love someone, set them free.” I’ve seen far too many college romances (including my own) smashed on the rocks of the real world reality just waiting to smack you in the face. Next thing you know, you’re looking at your significant other and wondering, “Who the hell is this person I’ve spent the past [fill in the blank] years of my life with?!” Take some time. Explore the world and new relationships. A tip for the guys: You’ll find some of the world’s most amazing women in Rome. Same tip applies to the ladies: The bestlooking and best-dressed guys live in the Eternal City. So brush up on your Italian, apply for your passport and enjoy your freedom!

Give something back

When you’re ready to invest in your community, find a good organization that offers practical help to your neighbors in need. By getting outside yourself at a young age and focusing on the needs of others, you will begin the path to true happiness and fulfillment. Rather than hitting the bars and clubs every Friday and Saturday night, think about volunteering at a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen. This will help you develop perspective and live in a place of gratitude, and it will fill a tremendous void in the non-profit community.

It’s not what you know…

In the fall of 1988, my communication studies professor at UNC wrote two words on the blackboard in all caps: RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE. Those two simple words held the magical key to success in life, Bittner told the class. As the years have passed, Bittner’s assertion has rung in my ears time and time again. Some would argue going to college isn’t about getting an education, but rather about building networks of friends and associates. So after you’ve landed that first job, find groups and networks in your community that match your interests, whether it be politics, fine arts, movies or sports. And if you don’t have a job, networking is the absolute best way to find out about those highly coveted positions that are never advertised on Craigslist.

Follow your bliss

Joseph Campbell, the great mythology scholar, said it best: “Follow your bliss.” This blueprint for success is inspired genius. Campbell argues that if you follow money, you might achieve your goal, but you can always lose money. However, if you follow your bliss, you always have your bliss. Inside each of us lie hidden talents. Developmental psychologists said that we learn our true talents and abilities as children by playing. If we follow our bliss, when we’re working it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like play. No matter what obstacles you face, never give up on your bliss. Once you start down that path, you’ll realize the way has been cleared just for you.

Take a year off

This is the one regret I have about my post-college days. In retrospect, I should’ve taken a year off to travel and experience the world. My best friend, Robb, spent a year traveling after we graduated from UNC and wound up at the Berlin Wall on Christmas Day 1989, just days after the symbol of the Cold War came tumbling down. I understand with the state of the current economy and student loan debt, it’s hard to consider taking time off. But if it is at all feasible, heed my advice and see the world while you still have the freedom to do so.

Explore your options

Just because you majored in biomedical engineering doesn’t mean you can’t express your artistic side by taking a job with at a museum or volunteering at a film festival. We are all multi-faceted, complex human beings and have the potential for greatness in many areas. Think of the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, and give serious consideration to aspiring to be the modern-day Renaissance man or woman.

Start planning your financial future

Granted now is not the best time to think about investments, but educating oneself about credit card debt, how to maintain a good credit score, how to pay less in taxes and save more money are fantastic life skills that most colleges never teach. Research the subject and play it smart with your money. You’ll be very glad you did when it’s time to settle down and have a family.

Be good to your body

You’ve only got one body so you would be well-advised to eat healthy (think organic) and exercise every day for at least 30 minutes. And with respect to exercise, studies show that weight training is superior to aerobic activity to improve longevity. We all would like to see our grandchildren graduate from high school, so cut out the alcohol and the cigarettes and think healthy thoughts. Also, remember that getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways to improve your overall health.

Find a mentor.

Senior citizens have so much to contribute to our culture but with the Western world’s fixation on youth, the wise men and women in our lives somehow become marginalized. Volunteer at assisted living facilities just three hours a week and you’ll end up making some great friends. With age comes wisdom, and you can learn so much about life from a person in their twilight years. I’ll never forget what a friend of my family once said. He frequently volunteered at a rest home in South Carolina and he spent much of his time listening to the life stories of the residents who just needed a friend. He said the thing that struck him was that when we reach the end of our lives, we don’t regret the things we did; we regret the things we didn’t do. Words to live by.

Look within.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. When you reach your mid-tolate twenties, I can assure you, there will be a crisis of sorts. It will be an identity crisis. If you

have any unresolved issues (and most of us do) that is the time when you’ll no longer be able to sweep them under the rug. So go to the source of your anger, pain or frustration and have a productive conversation. If you have a sibling or a parent you haven’t spoken to in years, reach out to them. Express yourself fully without fear, and let the chips fall where they may. Remember, it will be just the beginning of a process that will take years to complete.

Love yourself.

If you find yourself obsessed with relationships with members of the opposite sex, and you find that nothing ever seems to last, understand one thing — no one can love you until you love yourself. Only you can find the path to that place. You enter the forest at its darkest point where there is no path. Good luck in your journey for it is a reward in itself.