Graduation day’s right around the corner, which means various successful people will be delivering commencement speeches. And while their target audience may be 22-year-olds, they’re often doling out their very best advice—which can help anyone, at any stage in their career.
Whether you’re not exactly sure what you want to do or struggling to define success for yourself, here are three great lessons to remember:
1. You Might Want to Change Fields, So Focus on Skills
Sally Krawcheck, CEO and co-founder of Ellevest wrote a letter to herself at 22 in which she advised being open to opportunities, rather than following the crowd:
At this early stage of your career, there’s a real temptation to go into a field of work because your friends are or because it’s ‘hot’. But there’s also an enormously small likelihood that it will still be hot 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now. So, rather than wedding yourself to an industry, instead shift your focus to gaining experiences and learning as much as you can, so that you build transferrable skills.
At first glance, this advice is kind of scary: Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just pick one career and know that would be the path for you? As those of us with a few more years of experience know, not all jobs are what they appear to be. (And even if they are, you might find that they’re just not the right fit for you.)
When you focus on gaining skills, you’re setting yourself up for advanced opportunities in your industry—as well as others that you might find of greater interest down the road.
2. Even Successful People Fail (Big)
Oprah Winfrey’s 2013 commencement address at Harvard University was inspired by the initial (terrible) reviews of her OWN network. She said, “What could I possibly say to Harvard graduates, some of the most successful graduates in the world in the very moment when I had stopped succeeding?” And so, she settled on the topic of failure:
It doesn’t matter how far you might rise. At some point you are bound to stumble because if you’re constantly doing what we do, raising the bar. If you’re constantly pushing yourself higher, higher, the law of averages, not to mention the Myth of Icarus, predicts that you will at some point fall. And when you do I want you to know this, remember this: There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.
There are lots of sayings about falling down, brushing yourself off, and trying again. You heard them throughout youth sports, and you’ll hear them throughout your life. But there are two things about Oprah’s advice that are especially worth noting—failure can happen at any time, and to anyone.
The first point is important because if you’ve only read stories about people who kick off their careers with screw-ups, you may be concerned if you fail as a mid-level or senior professional. But setbacks—as well as learning and recovering from them—can happen at any time.
Second, I love her emphasis on super achievers. If you mess up, it’s easy to think that if you were only smarter, more productive, or more visionary it wouldn’t have happened. But—take it from Oprah—messing up big time happens even to those you’d least expect. So, don’t be too hard on yourself, and instead start looking for ways to redirect your energy.
3. Be True to Yourself
In his famous commencement address at Stanford, Steve Jobs advised students to listen to themselves:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.
A lot of people will have opinions about your career—and not just at your graduation party. Yes, your parents and friends and mentors have well-intentioned (and sometimes super valuable) advice to impart.
But in the end, it’s your career. Maybe no one understands why you’d want to leave your steady job or how you could even consider quitting without a back-up plan. If you’re reeling from a difficult conversation, remember, Steve Jobs thinks you should do what you think is best.
When your social media feed fills with the latest graduation speeches next month, don’t just scroll past them or forward them to your old intern. Check them out: They just may contain the advice you need right now to advance in your career.
Photo of Steve Jobs courtesy of FeatureFlash Photo Agency/Shutterstock.
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author