Sunday, June 10, 2012

10 Tips on Navigating College and Beyond

This post isn't travel related, but I recently had the opportunity to give a speech to graduating high school seniors. My speech was inspired by this blog and a lot of people asked me to post the speech somewhere.  So I posted some of it here:

1.     Take control of your credit: I learned this the hard way and I never knew that my credit was screwed up. As it turns out, family members used my credit to open credit cards and I didn’t discover it until many years later when I tried to rent an apartment. It took years to clear the problems in my credit that I didn’t even create. Having bad credit will mess up your life horribly, so take control of that.

2.     Get in the habit of writing thank you cards: This is one of the best things my parents taught me. It is so much more meaningful to receive an actual card than an email message. Writing thank you cards will teach you to be gracious and humble, and any potential employer will remember the candidate who wrote a card instead of an email. Besides who doesn’t like receiving a card?

3.     Safety pin your socks together when you do laundry: If you do this, you will never have lone socks and you won’t get them mixed up with your roommate. It will also save you time because you won’t have to sort them when they come out of the dryer. I’ve been doing it for 20 years now and don’t worry they won’t make holes or ruin your other clothes.

4.     Learn to tie a necktie: This goes for guys and girls. For guys, you should be able to know how to do this period. Men wear ties, so you need to know how to tie one. For girls, ties can be fashionable too, but you will probably meet guys who don’t know how to tie a tie, and they will be very impressed with you. In my dorm, I was one of the only people who knew how to tie a tie and word spread like wildfire. I was asked to tie them all the time.

5.     Never say never: You never know what you will end up doing in life. After my undergraduate degree in math, I said that I’d never take another math class in my life, but then I got a master’s in it. After that I said the same thing again, then I pursued my doctorate. I always end up eating my words, so I learned to “never say never”. I also said I would never go camping.

6.     Look like you belong: Act the part. Dress like you mean it. If you want to be taken seriously, then dress like it; pull up your pants and get some that actually fit. But another aspect of this is that you can get far in many situations if you look like you fit in. For some reason when I travel, I must look like I know what I am doing because in every country I have ever been to, someone asks me directions. I’ve also used the restroom in many luxury hotels that I wasn’t staying in because I walked in and looked like I knew what I was doing while secretly trying to find the lobby restroom.

7.     Learn to write letters: This is different from Thank you notes. Unfortunately we live in a world where the squeaky wheel gets noticed, and many people and companies won’t react or correct situations unless you bring it to their attention. So you need to learn to play the game until the rules change. I call these kinds of letters, nastygrams and I’ve mastered this skill. I’ve been able to get frequent flier miles, airline vouchers, free Vegas weekends, upgrades, free appliances and much more because I wrote a nastygram. But there is another side to it. I am a firm believer in karma and I have committed myself to praising good experiences as much as I complain about bad ones.

8.     Live your life for you: Don’t do anything because someone wants you to do it. Make sure that it is want you want, otherwise it won’t be meaningful and you won’t truly be happy. If I did what my parents wanted me to I would have been the world’s worst football player, I would have gone to USC, and I would probably still be living at home and never have discovered my other passions. I put myself through undergrad and 3 graduate degrees without the support of my parents and I made it. I pursued what I wanted to and no one can ever take that away from me.  One thing you should come to terms with is that you will invariably disappoint your parents in some way or another; we all have. They already have a vision for how your life should be, but it’s your life and you are the one who will live with all of the good and bad consequences of your actions.

9.     Learn from your failures: Remember that all advances and developments in the world have been the result of many failed attempts. The key to getting past your setbacks is to acknowledge them, reflect on them, and then move past them without making the same mistakes again. Learning to deal with failures and turn them around will be one of the most valuable skills you possess. When I was an undergrad, I thought that I didn’t have what it took to be a math major because it was so difficult and I doubted myself to the point that I changed majors. It took about a semester for me to get my confidence back and realize that I was capable. I had to understand for myself that meaningful accomplishments require hard work and I must be willing to fight for what I wanted achieve.

10. Remember your Costco etiquette: Don’t take people’s carts and certainly not mine because I will fight you in the middle of Costco.

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