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20 Pieces of Advice for 2020 Graduates

This has been a difficult and unprecedented year for people around the world. COVID-19 has infected millions of people and taken thousands of lives. The economic impact has left millions without jobs and caused countless businesses to close their doors forever. There are many people hurting across the world right now and my heart goes out to all of them.

Given all the pain caused by this pandemic, it might seem trivial to worry about any one group in particular, but I can’t help but feel a little extra sorry for the high school graduating class of 2020. I’m clearly biased, as my stepson (Chase) graduated in May, but senior year of high school is supposed to be a time when you create memories that last a lifetime and he missed that. There was no senior prom, no senior week and no real graduation ceremony. Graduation parties had to be “socially distanced”, if they were held at all. There was no chance to enjoy the accomplishment of years of hard work or to say goodbye to the teachers who helped them through it all. They missed out on one of the best years of their lives.

I truly believe that difficult situations can lead to our greatest strengths. We learn more about ourselves through adversity than we do when things are easy. I know Chase, and the entire class of 2020, will prove these maxims to be true in the future. Their lives have been altered in ways we can’t yet understand, but they will come out stronger in the end. For those heading off to college, the adversity isn’t over yet. Freshman year of college for them will look nothing like it has for prior students. More challenges await, but I know they can be overcome.

As Chase heads off to college this week, I thought I’d pass along some pieces of advice for him, and share it here for all high school graduates:

  1. Focus on the positive. You’ve been dealt some bad luck, graduating high school during a pandemic. But you were also dealt a lot of good luck in your life and have been given opportunities some people in the world could only imagine. Focus on that.

  2. The process is more important than the outcome. You might study hard for one test and get a bad result and slack off for another and ace it. Instead of focusing on the grade, focus on your preparation and approach to the test. 

  3. Don’t worry about what other people think. It’s natural to be self-conscious and to worry about how others see you, especially in college. Try your best to ignore outside opinions and do what’s best for you.

  4. Allow yourself to change your mind. I chose a college based on their engineering program because that’s what I thought I wanted to do. Changing my mind and pursuing a different path was incredibly difficult, but well worth it in the end.

  5. Sleep more. You might think you can get by without much sleep, but your mind and body can’t. Try to get to bed at a reasonable time, and if you can’t, take naps.

  6. Be open to new ideas. You are young and still learning about the world, even though you might think you know everything. As you grow older and learn more you’ll realize just how much you don’t know, so don’t wait to open your mind.

  7. The two most important skills in life are how to think and how to learn. These skills won’t be taught in a textbook or in any of your classes. Instead, find other ways to hone these skills and then apply them to your classes.

  8. Explore knowledge outside your major. While it’s important to learn everything you need to know for your chosen career path, don’t let that limit you to a narrow field of knowledge. 

  9. Eat something healthy every once in a while. I know you’ll probably live on junk food for 4 years, but try to add in some healthy food every once in a while. I wish I had.

  10. Don’t be shy. Kevin Kelly put it better than I can: “Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them, they are waiting for you to send them an email, they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.”

  11. To make friends, show interest in others. As Dale Carnegie wrote ““You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

  12. Get involved. Join clubs, participate in campus activities, and volunteer. You’ll meet more people, make more friends and have a better college experience.

  13. Pay attention to what you spend on food, it’s your first lesson in budgeting. Yes, your parents are picking up the bill for your food now, but that won’t always be the case. The more awareness you have now about your spending, the easier it will be to adjust when you are truly on your own.

  14. Have fun, but not too much fun. The primary goal of college is to get an education. The secondary goals of college are to learn to live on your own, grow up and have fun. Some people focus too much on the secondary goals while others only focus on the primary goal. Try to find some balance.

  15. Learn to recognize biases.  Everyone has a bias, whether they admit to it or not. As Henry Ford said, “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”

  16. Get some physical exercise. No, you don’t have to work out every day. Just get outside and get moving every once in a while, even if it’s just to walk to your next class instead of taking the bus.

  17. Learn to love reading. Right now you’re probably wishing I had stopped at 10 pieces of advice or put this into video format aren’t you? Watching videos might be easier than reading, but learning isn’t meant to be easy. 

  18. Don’t be afraid to talk about your emotions. You will go through times when you are feeling sad, lonely and depressed. We ALL do, and we ALL have trouble talking about it. Just remember you have a lot of people who love and care about you who have been through this before and we are all here for you whenever you need us.

  19. If you aren’t 15 minutes early, you are late. Someone with much more wisdom than myself already taught you this lesson, but I couldn’t leave it out.

  20. Call your mother. She misses you more than you can imagine.

There is nothing new or revolutionary about these ideas. Most 18-year-olds reading it will roll their eyes and say they already know all this.  But knowing something and living it are two different things. The best way to truly learn something is to experience it, and college is a time to learn through experience. 

The next four years will be some of the best years of your life. Have an incredible time.

-Chris Benson, CPA, PFS

The views expressed represent the opinions of L.K. Benson & Company and are subject to change.  These views are not intended as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendation, or an offer to buy or sell any securities. The information provided is of a general nature and should not be construed as investment advice or to provide any investment, tax, financial or legal advice or service to any person.

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