10 Things I Wish I Knew as a College Senior

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    November 19, 2019

10 Things I Wish I Knew as a College Senior


I have two college-age daughters, one a sophomore and one six months from graduation. So when I participated in a recent panel discussion bringing together some of Charlotte’s top women in business, the topic hit home: How can we help young women and aspiring leaders grow their careers while thriving outside of the office?

I had a great time sharing my own career path and lessons learned on the journey — from art director to agency owner and fierce protector of a creative culture loaded with young talent.

It hasn’t ever been easy, but sometimes the most difficult obstacles help shape the experiences that make us stronger. I didn’t understand that at 22, and I still don’t have all the answers. But I hope my experiences will help you maximize your future, whether you’re a student, young professional or industry veteran.

1. Follow your passion.

When I told my parents I wanted to be an art major at Penn State, I saw the uncertainty in their eyes. But I didn’t want a more “stable” career in business or finance. I wanted to do what I loved, even if that meant less money and more ramen noodles. Needless to say, I’m glad I followed my passion.

2. Practice patience.

Brene Brown said “we risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.” Don’t be in such a hurry to get your big break that you miss out on the stuff that’s only possible when you’re young. Step back. Take a deep breath. Take it all in. Be flexible and open to curveballs and roadblocks along the way. Many times, they turn out to be gifts.

3. Invest in your future.

I wish I’d gotten my MBA, built up other skill sets and expanded my knowledge of the world while I had time. I’m thrilled my older daughter will pursue a master’s in speech therapy — a field that feels purposeful to her. I’m not saying everyone should go to grad school. But that weekend retreat or monthlong workshop or one-hour seminar may be exactly what you need to energize your career or even discover a new passion.

4. Travel before you start a family.

I didn’t take a gap year after high school or college (I got right to work). I didn’t strap on a backpack and set out to see the world with economy airline tickets and hostel reservations and a dusty pair of boots. I wish I had. We live in a global world, and seeing and experiencing new places and cultures can open our eyes to new ways of thinking.

5. Don't rush to tie the knot.

If my 22-year-old daughter came home tomorrow and told us she wants to get married, I’d say, “Don’t do it now.” What’s the rush? There are no bonus points for getting married at 25, like I did. Be deliberate. Be thoughtful. If it’s meant to be, it will happen — at 35, 45 or whenever the time is right. And, if and when you get married, be open to a nontraditional arrangement. Don’t automatically give way to convention. For example, maybe your husband stays home with the kids.

6. Surround yourself with smart and kind people.

Find a place to work where you can surround yourself with smart people who have a lot to teach you and the kindness to share it. Where the culture will build you up, not tear you down. Even if that means leaving money on the table.

7. Save money.

I know this one is hard, especially when you’re young. Don’t go out every night. Travel, but find creative ways to do it on a budget. If you have the option to put part of your income toward a 401(k), do that, too.

8. Give back.

Look within to find some purpose in life outside of yourself. I was lucky to have a dad who believed in the power of community service. Whether you’re volunteering on the weekends or setting aside part of your income for a cause that’s meaningful to you, giving back can enrich the giver as much as the recipient.

9. Take risks.

Brene Brown talks a lot about courage. At Wray Ward, we call that asking, “What if?” Two simple words, yet also the mindset that enables us to think bigger and deliver better performing work. To embrace bold strategies or make tough decisions. It’s why I hope you’ll do things that scare you, in your career and in life. Don’t be afraid to ask for big assignments or take the jobs no one else wants or take the riskier path. Don’t get so caught up in your search for perfect that you miss chances right in right of you.

10. Find joy.

This may be the most critical. In a world that can sometimes be as grueling as it is gratifying, make sure to find joy. Smile and laugh out loud — it can boost your health. Spend quality time with friends — it can boost your happiness. And, above all, be kind to yourself — because you are your own greatest advocate.

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