Advice for the 23-Year-Old Me

My youngest son graduated from George Washington University two weeks ago (can we say proud mom?) and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, was the guest commencement speaker. Listening to Tim Cook say, “The process of discovering yourself, of inventing yourself, or reinventing yourself, is about to begin in earnest,” stayed with me after the ceremony ended. It made me think about the career path I took to starting Linda’s Stuff and wonder how it would be different if I were graduating in 2015.

Kids graduating from college today are facing a different set of challenges but also many unique opportunities that were not available to me 25 years ago. With the boom of technological innovation, the career options available to today’s college graduates are infinite. Listening to Tim Cook, my thoughts floated to what I would say if I were addressing these kids as they take their first steps toward their careers.

Here is some of the advice I wished someone shared with me:

GRADUATE SCHOOL IS NOT YOUR ONLY PATH TO SUCCESS

Having started my dream career at my kitchen table 15 years ago, I often think if I had followed my passion from the beginning I would have started my own business sooner. Growing up, I went to law school after college because that is what I understood traditional success to look like. When I graduated, people weren’t encouraged to start their own businesses, as it was risky, costly, and there were few ways to test the waters, without diving in headfirst. Of course, for many careers it is a key step, but often kids who don’t know what to do go to graduate school rather than explore the real world. I say explore a bit first and then if you still want to go to graduate school you should be there.

IT’S OKAY TO CHANGE COURSE

When you leave the classroom and head to the meeting room, don’t be afraid to experiment or fail. Those mistakes will undoubtedly direct you toward experiences and opportunities that will have great impact on your career and life. I’ve learned as much, if not more, from my mistakes as I have from my successes. Don’t be afraid to fail… because in hindsight it won’t feel like a failure but like a life lesson.

USE TECHNOLOGY TO START A BUSINESS OR CAREER

You have grown up in the information age; use your technological and digital knowledge to your advantage. You can create your own career if you use all the tools available to you. For example, with eBay, a person can start their own business, selling things with our company (Linda’s Stuff) or on their own. You all know the technology but it’s important to understand your options and how they can help you achieve your career goals.

LOVE WHAT YOU DO AND DO WHAT YOU LOVE

You really must love what it is you’re doing (every day). Whatever career you find yourself in will have its ups and downs for sure. But if you love what you do, the downs will be worth it and they will get you through to the ups! Nothing is more satisfying than savoring the fruits of your labor after enduring the hardships that come along with it. I have seen both of my sons flourish and start their careers, I celebrated my 26th wedding anniversary with my husband and business partner and my $25MM a year company recently expanded to a 93,000 sq. ft. warehouse — all since my graduation from college in 1984. The process of invention and reinvention has all been worth it because I have ultimately followed my heart and love where it has taken me.

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