Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Erased Advice for College Grads

This month, hundreds of thousands of new college graduates will be swamped with advice, from "plastics" to "follow your dreams", as well as some very nice engraved pens. Much of the advice is, as Garrison Keillor called it, "self-erasing", particularly that delivered by well-meaning relatives and commencement speakers. I've given and received my share of this advice, but there's one thing I forgot to say: right now, you're in the process of dumping not only the self-erasing platitudes, but also a lot of the knowledge and skills you've built up to this point. Instead, you should be thinking about how to store them more effectively. Somewhere in the confusion of starting in a real job, moving to a new city, getting a first real apartment, we regularly discard or ignore some big skills we've built up to this point. We lose the musical instruments we've played, the foreign language, the sport we lettered in.

I know a lot of thirty and forty year olds who used to play the piano, used to speak French fluently, used to be nationally ranked swimmers. Then, one day, the last recital, final exam, or swim meet happened, and they never used the skill again, only to miss it ten years later. It takes a lot of effort to recover at that point; the better course is to continue to do somewhat less practice of the skill, rather than none at all. Somewhat less doesn't seem like a particularly attractive option at first, but it's the option that keeps the skill alive and on backup without taking up huge amounts of time. It's also a good deal more fun to spend twenty minutes in the water than it is to have a full-on two hour practice with a coach, or twenty minutes playing pop songs rather than hours practicing scales. So, do somewhat less of the things you've been doing, because it's somewhat more than what you'll do if you try to keep going full bore on everything despite the pressures of life.

The second thing is, look over all the notes for all of your classes, and condense the greatest hits from them. If you've just finished college, the temptation is to pitch everything from your memory and from your dorm room so you don't have to ship it home. The smarter thing to do is to sort out the most useful things, dump them in some kind of word processor file or single notebook, and keep them organized for when they might be useful. Remember, you probably won't need all of this, but something is going to come in handy some time in the future. Write it up with one of those fancy pens they gave you, if it makes you happy.

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