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My Advice to the Class of '16

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So many people worry about and forget that they have control over their outcome and their fate. "What if I can't land a job?" or "What if I flub the interview?" are two of the most common anxiety-fueled statements I hear from recent graduates. This doubtful thinking will sap you of any energy required to be positive and productive and can set the pattern for how you think about many challenges that may lie ahead as you leave school and embark on the next part of your life. So if you find yourself thinking this way, turn it around and focus on what you can control. By taking action rather than being a victim of circumstance and your own negative thinking you'll go on to achieve success and happiness.

Neither success nor happiness needs to be elusive nor does rejection need to hold you back. There are plenty of examples of people in our history who have failed or been rejected only to subsequently go on to reinvent themselves and achieve great success.

  • In 1995 an unknown writer by the name of J.K. Rowling who was on state welfare at the time, submitted her manuscript to 12 publishing houses before finally getting a book deal. 400 million books later and a global brand worth 15 billion dollars, J.K. Rowling epitomizes the rags-to-riches story.
  • At the age of 22, a young man was fired from a Missouri newspaper for "not being creative enough". This man, Walt Disney, went on to be nominated for 59 Academy Awards and winning 32.
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job in TV while working as an anchor in Baltimore. The reason: "Too emotionally invested in her stories".
  • Stefani Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga, was dropped by her record label, Island Def Jam after three months. Since then she has won multiple Grammy Awards and honors.

There's no doubt, you too will face your share of difficulties. Companies you apply to will reject you. People will reject you. Your heart will be broken and your spirit might feel broken, too. Worries might keep you up at night and a problem or unrealized dream somewhere in your life might cause you to feel incomplete, dissatisfied and unhappy. Happiness might even feel unachievable and elusive. Having said this, find your inspiring person whom you can lean on for inspirational support, guidance, and motivation. Whether it that be the J.K. Rowlings of the world or a friend or relative, know that you are not alone.

As you enter the next phase of your life, here's my advice for thriving and being happy:

  • Maintain a positive and optimistic outlook. Encountering negative events in life is normal. Understand that they don't define you; do your best to find the silver lining, and counter negative thoughts with positive ones. Change the way you think by nixing your negative thinking and seeing problems as challenges and opportunities to learn something new. Think what's possible, not what's impossible.
  • Surround yourself with happy people. Happy people are also supportive, warm and giving. These qualities will encourage you to be happy too. Conversely, hanging out with miserable and unhappy people will weigh you down and won't allow you to focus on your own well-being and goals. So choose who will be part of your inner circle and don't be afraid to rely on them.
  • Enjoy your work. Most people spend one-third of their day working. Those who enjoy their jobs and find them stimulating and meaningful look forward to going to work every day rather than dreading it. Find a career that will allow you to do the same and pay the bills.
  • Have a life outside of work and change how you view money. That's right, be less focused on money and more on time. Many clients have sat in my office after being handed bad health news. It wasn't more money that they wanted at the moment, rather it was time. Value it and strike a healthy balance between work and the other parts of your life.
  • Be flexible. Know that even the best laid plans sometimes don't always go as hoped. Being able to adjust to change will help prevent disappointment.
  • Give to others. Volunteerism can help stimulate the reward center in the brain and release neurotransmitters such as dopamine, making us feel good. My parents have been volunteering for several years at their local chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and a friend of mine talks fondly about the many years he read to the blind. All have said that volunteering helps them to feel connected to the community and good about helping those in need. It also allows us to put our own issues into perspective and thus seem less challenging.
  • Experience life. Do you remember material items you had years ago or things you experienced? My guess is the latter. It's these that have a lasting place in our memories, not material ones. Value them because they're much more likely to lead to happiness than possessions ever could. Go out there and experience many things: trips, activities, people, classes, learning, food, culture and whatever adventures you can create.

Finally, maintain perspective. Think about the course of a life. We might get 60, 70, 80, 90, or more years. It's a long time - a really long time. However, compared to the age of the mountains and rivers that are millions of years old, our life is just a blink...but what a blink it is! So go out there and make the most of it.

For more tips on success check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.