As so many of our high school students head out into the real world (or college) this month, I thought I might take a few minutes to offer just a tiny bit of advice. It’s actually a pretty simple concept, but one that seems to have escaped many (not all, but many) of our young people.
Get ready, because those of you who don’t know it already are about to learn that the world is not about you.
A lot of you have had it pretty easy, and that’s okay. You’ve been kids. Your parents were there to take care of you, your teachers had a personal investment in watching you succeed. And while I hope your parents will always be there for you, the rest of it is about to change.
Those of you going to college — you’re going to enter an environment where teachers have so many students to consider that the attention you got in high school is going to seem downright personal by comparison. You’ll also find that they don’t have as much sympathy as you’re used to either. They’re not going to remind you daily when the next test is, when your next paper is due, or how many chapters will be on the next quiz. If you get study guides at all, do not expect them to be verbatim copies of the questions you will see on the test, and don’t expect the questions on the test to even be phrased the same way. And heaven forbid if you think you’re going to get those questions in the same order. Your teachers will give you a syllabus on the first day with the test schedule already there. If they mention it in class after that, it’ll either be a cursory reminder or to tell you the schedule has changed. Studying and preparing is now 100 percent on you. And don’t expect the university to be so forgiving of someone who’s mysteriously sick on every test day.
Those of you going into the job market — some of you have had your hands held for 12 years. You’re used to teachers who will bend over backwards, beg and plead with you to get your work done, to push yourself, to do your best. That’s because the teacher’s job is to make you as good as you can be. But when you get your own job, the boss doesn’t care about that. The boss cares about whether or not you can benefit his company, and if you can’t, his job isn’t to reshape you (assuming you will even allow yourself to be reshaped). Those of you who habitually turn in half-finished tests because you didn’t feel like doing the rest of it, who miss school for days at a time and expect someone to catch you up on everything you missed while you were out, who don’t pay attention, don’t take notes, and don’t care what your performance scores are? There is a word for people with that attitude in the workplace: unemployed.
And finally, for all of you, a last word. You’re all about to experience things you have never gone through before, and some of them will be difficult. But don’t make the mistake of thinking no one has ever gone through them before. I promise you, unless there’s going to be a disease named after you there is no problem you can name that somebody out there — probably someone you know — hasn’t already gone through at some point or another. Money, grades, relationships, co-workers you don’t get along with, insurance woes, that mysterious spot on the carpet… all of it. Any time you or one of your friends has said the phrase “Nobody understands,” you have been flat-out wrong. You are NOT a special little snowflake. Somebody has been there before.
But don’t think of that as a bad thing. The fact that someone has been through it means that someone, somewhere, knows what you’re going through. And if you can find them (they’re probably closer than you think) and ask them the right way, they may even be able to help.
And if you think I’m full of crap, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s okay too. Because I was your age once and I remember thinking people giving me advice were full of crap. And then I went out and made a bunch of stupid mistakes because I was 18 and knew everything in the world, just like you. I just hope that someday, when you’re older and have a little perspective, you’ll be able to look back on this and say, simply, “Yep. I get it now.”