Advice to GradsMay 27, 2022
This week has been difficult. I won’t weigh in on what happened in Texas other than this: What Steve Kerr said.
There are, however, things to be positive about. U.S. colleges are graduating millions of young people who will soon enter the real world and deploy their talents. This time last year I wrote some advice to recent grads. I believe the message still holds true.
[The following was originally published on June 11, 2021.]
Last week, on my way to eat at Jack’s Wife Freda (#awesome) in SoHo, a young woman in a purple gown, with older versions of herself in tow, nearly ran me over. It’s that time of year. Approximately 4 million young adults and their loved ones will be forced to listen to someone my age tell them how to clean up the mess our generation is leaving for them.
My bromide: Be warriors, not wokesters.
Be mentally and physically … warriors. Lift heavy weights and run long distances, in the gym and in your mind. Many tasks you’ll be asked to perform early in your career will be tedious. Don’t do what you are asked to do, but what you are capable of doing. Think of it as boot camp before being sent to battle, as there are millions of other warriors fighting to win the same regions of prosperity. Get strong, really strong. You should be able to walk into a room and believe you could overpower, outrun, or outlast every person in the room.
My first job was at Morgan Stanley. I wasn’t as well educated as the other junior analysts. (My fault: UCLA is a sink-or-swim place; I decided to do neither and smoke pot and tread water.) Anyway, at Morgan, every other week I’d go to work Tuesday morning and not leave until Wednesday night. Nobody was at home waiting for me, I had no real hobbies, and in your twenties, if you don’t tell yourself otherwise, you can work 30-plus hours straight … easily.
Send a message to your colleagues that you came to play. Many of you will have a gag reflex at my boomer capitalist mentality or some such bullshit. No, it’s America — a platform to deploy skills and grit to add value and garner resources. Every day, America becomes more like itself and becomes a better country … for people who have resources and/or influence.
And what of “balance”? Fine — many people thoughtfully calibrate the tradeoff and fashion a good life for themselves and their families without being obsessed with work and money. Assume you are not that person. If you’re in your twenties and reading this newsletter, you don’t want balance; you’re after influence and relevance. The world isn’t yours for the taking, but for the trying. Try hard, really hard.
Embrace a degree of stoicism for the first 24 to 36 months after graduation. I enjoy alcohol and THC, and used them every day in college. But I took 24 months (mostly) off both as I knew I needed to be in great shape physically and mentally. Whether it’s shopping, gaming, swiping, posting, eating, porn, streaming, or ESPN, take as much of this energy and time for the next couple years and reallocate that human capital to three things: work, relationships, and fitness.
It’s monotonous and likely not sustainable. However, the DNA of your career and professional trajectory is disproportionately, unfairly, set by these early years. Some people blossom in their forties. Most successful people, however, burn a great deal of fuel in their twenties and thirties to ascend through a resistant inner space and make the jump to lightspeed. They cover greater ground in their forties and fifties thanks to the velocity established in their first 20 professional years.
Balance is a myth. There are only trade-offs. Having balance at my age is a function of lacking it at your age. Your call.
The Monk Warrior
Intelligence is the ability to hold two contrary thoughts concurrently. This sounds easier than it is. Our brains are wired for quick assessments. We’re descended from millions of generations of creatures whose ability to synthesize novel stimuli with a lifetime’s data and formulate a faster-than-thought response kept us from becoming another creature’s dinner. Until recently, when strangers encountered each other, only one left alive. But that feature is also a bug. When we react faster than thought, we don’t react thoughtfully. We optimize for short-term emotional satisfaction rather than long-term prosperity.
There is a lot of discussion about what it means to be “woke,” some of it well-founded, some of it hyperbole. Yes, be awake to the privileges and prejudices that surround you and rigorously honest about the world you’re inheriting. But the word has lost that original meaning. Beyond the media noise, an insidious pattern is emerging in academic and professional settings. The insistence on filtering everything through the lens of personal identity and experience. The prioritization of victimhood. The belief that to be offended is to be right.
Structural racism is real, and our economic system is tilted, if not rigged. The most accurate predictor of your opportunities isn’t your intelligence or work ethic but where you’re born. But playing the victim decreases your capacity to be a warrior against these injustices. Pursuing the politics of personal identity ensures you will remain an individual, alienated and alone. Warriors sacrifice for the tribe, but they recognize they are part of a tribe. Separate people from ideology, or you give up access to 50% of potential relationships and allies.
Reacting to every slight and demanding satisfaction from every insult is what the system wants you to do. Joining a Twitter mob seizing on a hapless middle manager or an out-of-touch English professor may feel like justice, but it’s just a cheap drip of dopamine lost in an ocean of social media profits.
Be a warrior. Before you resort to violence, make a thoughtful assessment. Register the intention behind people’s gestures, ideas, and words. Don’t make a caricature of people’s actions and speech so you can draw your sword and feel righteous. Be a highly skilled, devastatingly strong warrior who exerts their power by example and leaves their weapon in its sheath. Forgiveness is strength. Demonstrate it, every day. Be a warrior, not a wokester.
Twenty-nine years ago my classmates selected me as the commencement speaker at Berkeley’s business school graduation ceremony. Mid-speech, I remember looking up and seeing my mom waving both her arms in the air like a swan. She was so proud, she loved me so much. (Hint: Tell people you love and admire them.)
To that point in life, I’d done a reasonably good job with scant grit or commitment. I knew, though, that things would be different moving forward. Soon I would need to take care of a sick parent and demonstrate a level of grit commensurate with the opportunities presented to me. But at that moment I felt a sense of accomplishment, that I was loved, and immense stress that hasn’t waned for three decades. The most rewarding things in life — relationships, work, kids — are all really fucking stressful.
Accomplishment, love, and stress. I wish for you all of these things.
Life is so rich,
P.S. I’ve called Web3 yogababble before – let’s see if I’m right. Join me and Ledger’s Ian Rogers for a deep dive into Web3 on June 15.
I generally love your work, yet parts of this seem to reflect a real scarcity mindset. “Life is Rich” and “Life as Bootcamp” seem fundamentally at odds. Maybe being mentally and physically strong is not succumbing to the “burn the candle on both ends” and “show them your grit” game. Personally, I am mentally and physically stronger when I am well rested, well nourished and capable of finding a still mind. Then, I can accomplish important tasks in about half the time it takes when I’m exhausted, stressed and unfulfilled.
I think you don’t understand that everything in life is filtered through personal identity because you have the baseline identity that American life is catered toward. I think you have a hard time recognizing that other people experience things differently than you. I am not prioritizing victimhood. I am advocating for myself and others with similar experiences that may not be able to advocate for themselves. To me, that is more important than money.
I think the bigger problem is “we” (2 years graduated) have a tough time finding the battle. I am a warrior, with no war. Attachment is a premium, fostered by detachment.
Love this. Thanks.
That’s great! Thank you!
Ich habe meine Bestellung noch nicht erhalten
In the 49 years since my graduation, I have never heard such straightforward, unpopular, and profound advice. I’m thankful that most of the kids in my graduating class, and most since, never heard this advice or thought it for themselves. I am grateful that I pushed myself to my limits in those most important early years.
Balance does come over time. But as Scott says, accomplishment, love and stress are the things to be balanced.
This was by far my favorite post of yours. Thank you.
Sent to this to my kids when you first published it. Great advice. Work your ass off early, set yourself up for success, have balance a bit later when you have more personal matters at stake. And the last line is the most relevant … Everything that’s important in life is fucking stressful so deal with it.
The war references are particularly inappropriate and jarring especially juxtaposed against the brief mention of the most recent massacre of young children. No, we should not be raising more warriors. Strength is not violence; the strongest among us have peaceful minds, bodies, and hearts.
did you read the article or the headline?
I am a great admirer of your work, and statements about America. Yet, I think for this particular era, perhaps, we should be more honest about what the majority of these graduates are going to encounter in the very near future!
Point #1: First, the marketplace for jobs is, in reality, a game that graduates had learned in grade school — called musical chairs. (Or, perhaps, you can call it the “employment lottery”!) Nevertheless, when the music stops, everyone attempts to grab a chair. Except you quickly learn that there are not enough chairs for everyone! Most graduates in their field of study will learn quickly that there are simply not enough “jobs” for them all. Many already know this, but many will learn this quickly along the way. The late Professor David Graeber wrote about the jobs that many of these graduates will have to settle for in the near term — they are called “Shit Jobs”. Remember, approximately 1% to 7% of cab drivers in America have a college degree — depending on which city they drive in!
Point #2: Many of the graduates will be saddled with significant student loan debts until they die. Yes, this tidbit of truth is not mentioned in the university’s brochure. But, nevertheless, it is an inescapable truth. Graduates must ask themselves, “Did I study in an area that will provide me with a decent living?” Sadly, for far too many, the answer is “NO”. Hence, well over 50% of these graduates will be living with their parents (again) for years!
Point #3: The competition for those few “quality” jobs in your field of study will be incredibly difficult to obtain — even if you have graduated from an elite school. This is no b.s.! WE now live in a country consisting of the “Haves” and “Have-Nots”. Half of America makes under $15 per hour — we casually identify them as the “working poor”. And, yes, ladies and gentlemen, many of them have college degrees — just like you!
Point #4: The good news is that you are more (formally) educated than 70% of your fellow Americans. Indeed, you do belong to a relatively select group of Americans that possess a college education. If you go on to obtain a M.A. degree, or a M.D. or Law degree, or if you are crazy enough to earn a Ph.D., you will then belong to an even more distinct group of people!
But never forget. Nothing is guaranteed in this life. Especially a job that provides for a “quality” life. That is NOT promised.
You must compete relentlessly and fight hard for that “lifestyle”. And in all probability, you will have to keep on fighting and struggling just to keep it!
Point #5: Class of 2022. Good luck. Believe it or not, America needs your talent more than ever. But, never forget, 99% of you do NOT have your ticket already punched in this life!
After you get through celebrating, just realize another greater challenge awaits you. Acquiring a REAL job!! This is the FIRST stage that separates the wheat from the chaff in America. Game on!!
Excellent advice! I’m retired now, but largely followed this same guidance. Played the long game which worked very well.
Excellent advice! I’m retired now, but largely followed this same guidance. Played the long game which worked very well.
Many thanks for your No Mercy/No Malice missives. I thoroughly enjoy them, and routinely send them to my kids (now 30). On point and entertaining, and sometimes thought provoking! Please keep on writing.
This advice needs to be greatly improved by balancing it with a reading of David Brooks’ The Second Mountain and contemplation of the critical difference between “résumé virtues” and “obituary virtues.” Many people charge into their post-college life thinking they need to acquire the former, only to discover later in life that they really needed the latter.
Dig your rules for life. Strong advice for privileged grads. But true. Ignore the naysayers who accuse you of pedantic writing…. that’s what you do. And I for one appreciate it.
Entertaining, thought provoking, insightful, … new reader first time commenter…. Feels a bit foolish to be so late to your party, but I feel lucky I’m here now. A small bit of luck always follows a small act of courage. Kind regards from Melbourne – and thank you.
Unsolicited pedantic advice offered with an air of assured condescension by an author who is scarcely a paragon of exemplary decision making.
Your “balance is a myth” commentary is generally only applicable to elites working in start-up culture, “high” finance, etc. Most jobs are not that and balance is perfectly achievable. Most jobs are also unrewarding grunt work with no meaningful upside (cap out as a middle manager somewhere in a giant org structure) and there’s no use grinding one’s life away.
I think there is too much war rhetoric and words in US writings, speech and thinking; be careful what you wish for; we need resilient youth, some warriors (I served myself at height of the Cold War), but do we really need everybody to be warriors? What does it be human? (Check Global Bildung Network out; we working answering that question; or ask Lene). Thank you for your straithfortwardness w/o mercy (in common with Lene, which is why I love both of you)
You aptly describe the reality of the here and now and I concur that thriving here and now is better assured for those who take your advice. Part of our reality includes polarization among those who enjoy our individual freedoms. These, however, contribute to our inability to deal with problems like carbon emissions and unwanted pregnancy and schools (colleges even) and guns. My bird in hand (car with internal combustion engine) seems more compelling than all-y’all’s two in the bush. Our gridlocked representative democracy (and Western Europe’s) — not to mention the short-term outlooks of many business and government enterprises — seem powerless to alter the predictions of doom from both left and right.
My advice to my kids (ages 20-24):
Read this article 5 or 6 times and soak in every word. Then keep it somewhere so you can easily and often refer back to it.