It’s been years since my own kids, Kari and Kyle, graduated from college – and a lot longer since I wore my own cap and gown. But this time of year always recalls the season of graduation and the fresh, exciting and uncertain new world that goes with it.
I was the first in my family to go to college, so a degree means an awful lot to me. It took me seven years to get through college. I was working at the same time and paying my way through.
Soon after graduation, I joined a company that valued education, and I ended up getting tuition reimbursement for almost all the money I owed. Not being burdened by debt early in my career was an incredible gift – and one I know I was lucky to receive. There’s no substitute for a college degree, but student loan debt is weighing down too many Americans these days.
I have a few thoughts to share on that topic – and others – with the class of 2019. If I were your commencement speaker, here’s what I’d want you to know:
Perseverance is everything
When I look at a resume, I’m paying less attention to the school someone attended or their course of study than I am to if they finished. You could have majored in underwater basket weaving. I just want to know that you stuck it out – no matter how long it took – and graduated.
Paying for college isn’t easy. That’s why I’m a big fan of junior and community college. To me, where the degree came from is less important than the degree itself – and the hard work it represents.
You don’t have to have it all figured out now
I often joke that I’m still trying to figure out what I am going to be when I grow up. I’m an advocate of finding your passion or passions (you are allowed more than one!) and then pursuing them. But that takes time.
Find your “why”
At a recent Town Hall meeting, I told our entire staff something that may have sounded crazy. I said: “I want you to work harder on yourselves than you do at your jobs.” Here’s why I believe that’s good advice: If I’m the best version of Bill I can be, then my wife, family, friends and coworkers will get the best version of me.
Invest the time it takes to understand what your passions and motivations are. Then pursue them with abandon.
Get into a retirement mindset
“But I’m only 22,” I can hear you saying. Yes, I know. And you’ll be 55 before you know it. You don’t want to find yourself 10 years out from would-be retirement and suddenly realize you haven’t saved for it.
The old wisdom is right: Money begets money. Through the magic of compound interest, a little can grow to be a lot.
If your employer offers it, have a set amount automatically taken from your paycheck and put into savings.
A few words on debt: Try to avoid it.
Join a credit union
As the CEO of one, you’d expect me to say that. But let me explain why it’s such a good idea. Credit unions are nonprofit financial cooperatives. When you join one, you become an owner. Credit unions are tax exempt, so we reinvest in our member base by paying higher rates on deposits. We also charge lower rates on loans than banks do. We can do everything a bank can do, but I think we offer more personal service. At our credit union, you have interactions – not just transactions.
Care about your community
And give of yourself to make it better.
Have fun at what you’re doing
If you don’t enjoy your job, you’re spending a significant portion of your time not being the best version of you.
It’s part of being a well-rounded human. A few books I recommend to anyone in business are Jim Collins’s “Good to Great,” Patrick Lencioni’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” John Maxwell’s “Five Levels of Leadership” and Seth Godin’s “Linchpin.”
I recently finished “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” by Angela Duckworth and am recommending it highly to everyone.
Congratulations to the class of 2019 – and anyone else who’s persevered to earn a degree or is in the midst of studying for one. Don’t give up. Anything worth having, from a fulfilling career to retirement savings, takes time and tenacity.