The Best, Real World, Non-Celebrity Advice for College Grads

6 tips you might not get from a VIP commencement speech.

As a graduate of the class of 2007, I was sent out into the world blissfully ignorant that I was about to land in the middle of a recession. Euphoria quickly faded, and I found myself having to hustle in a way I didn’t anticipate. And even more now, college grads are starting off in the trenches.

Graduation speeches are loaded with feel-good sentiments that sometimes rely more on the pithy than the practical. Thinking about who I was six years ago, I wish that there were more speeches that deviated from the standard “you are the next generation of leaders” (something that I think Jon Lovett did a pretty good job of this year.) And while big-name schools get big-name celebrities to address “parents, friends, distinguished guests and graduates,” there’s no reason why the rest of us can’t add a few bullet points.

1. Be forever a student of your craft. Innovation is the key to longevity.
I grew up wanting to write for newspapers, but the industry was falling apart while I was in school learning about it. My dream of working as a writer didn’t die, it just expanded. Now I’m a blogger and a publicist, which I hadn’t given any consideration to before.

2. Allow yourself to be multifaceted.
After graduation I got really wrapped up in trying to decide what “type” of person I wanted to be. The fact is, most people are multidimensional, layered and complex. Don’t make your life one big “either/or” proposition. Allow yourself to grow and change into whoever feels most authentic to you and make decisions based on that.

3. Your friends are your biggest resource.
My friends are among my biggest champions. When I got laid off, they were the people sending me jobs. When I was trying to develop ideas on what to write about, they were the folks I bounced story ideas off of. In trying to become a better businesswoman, I redefined best practices by ciphering the relevant bits and pieces from their industries and made it my own. Talk to your friends about things. You’ll all wind up winning together.

4. Social media: Gift and curse.
Social media can connect you to lots of people professionally and can give you a platform to define yourself. Twitter especially is a great place to  make connections, see what other people are doing, and become part of the conversation. But sometimes it’s best to unplug. Social media is an easy place to get envious of others. It can make you feel like you’re behind, are doing things wrong, or aren’t doing enough. Figure out what it is you want to do. Don’t get lost in competition.

5. The best mentorships develop organically.
Every young professional networking conference I ever attended always talked about mentors. The advice was always the same: Find a mentor. Unless there’s some sort of mentorship hotline out there, I’m not sure how anyone is supposed to just up and do that. The best mentors I’ve had have been the ones who are genuinely invested in me as a whole person, not just in business. And as the new kid on the block, make yourself an asset to them by keeping them current on the latest developments—especially in technology—in your field.

6. Define success for yourself.
Success is such a relative concept, and I don’t think people say this enough. We don’t all want the same things in life. Identify personal short-term and long-term goals, and work in the direction of achieving them.