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College Graduates: Follow Your Heart and Your Wallet

If you are in life stage: Preparing for Take Off Posted April 28th, 2014
By Kathryn Sollmann

It’s college graduation season, and as many college seniors you know are donning cap and gown, I’m adding my advice for young women, especially, as they venture forth into the “real world”.  Here you’ll find 25 tips excerpted from a speech I recently gave at my alma mater, Wheaton College, on the “Roadmap to Success in the Business World”.

The first thing that I told an audience of both male and female Wheaton students is that there is not a single route to life or  ID-10056077career success. There will be times when everything seems right and you’re speeding along on the highway, and times when everything seems wrong and you’re on a lot of back roads, experiencing detours, potholes and roadblocks of every kind.

Other times your journey will seem so long that you’ll ask yourself “Am I there yet?” And the answer is “No”. You might not “be there yet” when you’re 30, 40, 65 or 92. It’s a long and winding journey…so find many ways to enjoy the ride.

During my own senior year in college the legendary feminist Gloria Steinem spoke to us in the Wheaton chapel. At the time the feminist movement was gaining momentum and Gloria’s message was “You Can Have it All”.

According to Gloria we could have both career and motherhood. I liked that message and senior year I could barely make it to graduation…I was so excited to get on with my life, start my career and take New York City by storm.

TIP #1: Hold fast to Gloria’s message. You CAN have it all.

In the last 3 decades many have said Gloria is wrong.  And there are many confusing messages in the zeitgeist.

Critics say, “You can have it all, but not all at once”.

Uber Mommies say good mothers are focused on their children 24/7. Most big corporations still say there is little room for work flexibility and you must be chained to your desk for 40 hours or more. Sheryl Sandberg says you will only find success if you lean in to your career with the force of a tornado.

But I say with careful planning and strategic thinking you can always “Find the Work that Fits Your Life”.

TIP #2: Recognize that work has many definitions beyond the typical 40+ hour, chained-to-your-desk job.

There are part-time jobs, freelance jobs, consulting assignments, resume-worthy volunteer jobs, entrepreneurial ventures, job shares, telecommuting options and more.

TIP #3: The most important job search strategy is networking, and you will always find a job through people, not computers.

TIP #4: Put the effort in: finding a job is a full-time job.

TIP #5: Be flexible about what you want to do. It’s a tough job market and there is more than one way to follow your passions. Focus on your skills not a narrowly defined job.

TIP #6: Try to find work that leads you to many lifelong business connections. In a tough job market, any job is a good job—but if you have the luxury of choosing, go for the job that can open more and more doors.

TIP #7: Choose a career path that is family friendly. Chances are you will want both a family and a career. Not every job offers the flexibility to do both.

It’s hard to combine work and family if you’re an investment banker, a corporate lawyer, or a doctor. It’s easier to combine work and family if you’re in, for example, publishing, marketing, research, wealth management and other industries that allow flexible schedules and some work at home.

TIP #8: Choose work that adds real value. Work doesn’t have to be “philanthropic” to add value. Not all businesses succeed because they are not all meeting a very important, current need.

TIP #9: Don’t be afraid to take a job that might be a stretch for your skills or experience. If someone has confidence that you can do the job, do the job.

TIP #10: Don’t judge a new job too soon—and recognize no job is perfect.

TIP #11: Never think any task is beneath you because there’s a value to knowing how a business runs from the bottom up.

TIP #12: Learn the value of “working knowledge”.  Most jobs are very fast moving so you can’t be a “student” of every topic area—just a master in getting essential baseline knowledge.

Keep your career moving and realize TIP #13: There’s a networking opportunity everywhere you go.

So you always need to have TIP #14: A 60-Second Elevator Speech that tells people exactly who you are, the skills you have to offer and the work you want to do.

TIP #15: Never say never. Let your career flow and take you to places you might not have considered.

TIP #16: Keep in touch with all the important people you meet—because you never know when you can help them and in turn they can help you.

TIP #17: Be aware of what’s going on around you. Act before you are acted upon. We live in a very volatile business environment and you don’t want to be the last one to know about mass layoffs.

TIP #18: Always have work plan B, C, D and E. No job comes with a lifetime guarantee. Always have your resume and Linkedin profile updated and ready.

TIP #19: Don’t sell your soul to any job. Know when it’s time to walk away from a job for your personal and professional growth. Life is too short–if you’re truly miserable, find at least 20 hours a week (evenings, weekends) to look for another job.

TIP #20: Consider an entrepreneurial venture for the ultimate flexibility.

But be aware of TIP #21, Not Everyone is “Type E”. Those who are Type E are true Entrepreneurs who enjoy wearing many hats and have the capacity to excel in both high-level and “grunt work” tasks.

TIP #22: Find a partner who will value your work (despite who makes the most money).

TIP #23: Resist the urge to completely leave the workforce when you have children. Always “Find the Work that Fits Your Life” even if you only work a few hours a week at home. You will thank yourself when even small amount of ongoing work gives you many financial and fulfillment options in your 40s, 50s, 60s and well into your retirement years.

TIP #24: Lean in the direction of financial security.  Your work and life decisions should be based on financial security—not anyone’s view of what mothers and professional women SHOULD do.

TIP #25: Always follow your heart and your wallet.

Life is too expensive to be idealistic–and I’m not talking about fancy cars and shoes. Unless you plan to live as a hermit in the woods, you have to consider the high cost of food, transportation, health care and much more. You don’t need to be the Wolf of Wall Street, but you do need to be very pragmatic about minimum daily expenses, the bills you have to pay and the work you choose.

You can’t rely on your parents forever, because once they get you through college they’ve got to get back to their own retirement planning and saving. And it’s just more rewarding and admirable to depend on yourself. So follow your heart with an eye on your wallet.

If you want to create oil paintings, be a musician or write books, you may have to have a second job to pay the bills.

If you want to work for a wonderful non-profit that offers a not-so-wonderful salary—you may need to do some freelance work on the side to help your own family while you’re helping others.

You might not be able to totally leave the workforce when you have children. (The same children you worry about leaving home are the same children you could burden if someday you don’t have enough money saved for retirement.)

Which brings me back to Gloria Steinem and her message that “You Can Have it All”. I do so strongly believe that you can have it all—both work and family—and achieve long-term financial security.

But no one is going to hand you the perfect work that fits your life and your wallet. That takes creativity, pragmatism and planning—and all the smarts from your very impressive college degree. —KAS

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