A Letter To My Future College Graduate

You have had a very fortunate academic experience.

Early on, it was clear to your parents that you were smart, and we encouraged you to develop those academic talents. We tried to make learning fun and always encouraged you to be proud of your accomplishments and take on new challenges.

You learn in ways that allow you to excel in a traditional school setting. Reading and math come easy. You do well on tests. Whether or not that should be the way schools gauge learning, it is the current reality — and you benefit from that. You have confidence in your intelligence. Even when things get hard, once you put a little extra effort in, you catch on and surpass others. This comfort level with nearly all areas of academics naturally led to being invited into honors programs and eagerly delving into extra curricular activities like music, where you also excelled. It led to AP classes and leadership roles and high grades throughout your school years. It prepared you to score extremely high on standardized achievements tests and college prep tests. Those scores paved the way for incredible opportunities to receive full tuition merit scholarships to attend private universities.

Even though you were nervous that college would be so much harder, you soon learned that with a little effort and discipline, the vast majority of classes were not difficult. Even among your peers in higher education, you were still one of the smartest people in the room nearly everywhere you went. Thanks to the gift of a high IQ, you will be forever blessed with the knowledge that you can figure out a lot of things quickly that are tough for other people.

And while school smarts have helped you to achieve great things in an academic setting, that intellect is not as big of a factor as you might think in your future success. If you move into the work world thinking that the intelligence that produced your high ACT score and GPA will insure a prosperous career, you will be headed for a rude awakening. I know. I experienced it myself.

You will discover that so many people around you have so many gifts and talents that have nothing to do with their intellect, and those abilities are equally important in the rest of the world outside of academics. Those gifts and talents in others should be respected and admired. Learn from others who may not have graduated with a high GPA, or may not have finished college, or may not have taken any post-secondary classes, but are enjoying their work, making plenty of money, and finding balance and pleasure in life. Those are the successes to emulate.

What kind of people are those? People who empathize with others, understand how to work together in a team, commit to a common goal, communicate well, share enthusiasm, bounce back from adversity, handle rejection, show resilience, know how to take things apart and put them back together, think creatively, solve problems critically, visualize something that doesn’t yet exist, find meaning in little things, discover what they love, understand the value of a means to an end, pursue a goal relentlessly, care about others, be comfortable in their own skin, focus on their talents, know when to delegate, bring out the strengths of others, and see the good in the people and organizations around them. These are the  keys to the kingdom. You can’t learn those lessons in class. You have to learn them through years of trial and toil.

Forget about evaluating how smart you are compared to others — something you have been trained to do for 16 years of school. Focus instead on how you can sharpen and apply those aforementioned skills to become a leader in whatever career you pursue. Learn how to embrace being the least smart person in the room in certain areas. That’s because the best leaders recognize their deficiencies and surround themselves with others who have talents in those areas, so collectively they create a mastermind greater than the combination of all of the minds of the group. Such leaders reach the pinnacle by following the lead of role models who are happy, healthy, wealthy and smart in more EQ ways than IQ ways.

So go forth and jump into the messy work of learning by doing, making mistakes, forming relationships, navigating personalities, and acknowledging that your education has not ended. It has just changed. Now it’s about personal development and self-awareness. True success is spending time doing what makes you happy and brings you meaning and allows you to enjoy your life and live comfortably without stress about paying your bills. It takes more than school smarts. As you pursue this new goal, you won’t be graded. You will have wins and losses. It won’t be easy. But I already know you have the potential to craft the life of your dreams. I just want you to remember it’s a journey and not a destination. Your journey has already begun. Where will you go?

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