Advice to Graduates

Five years ago, I graduated from Texas Tech. Five years. Unbelievable.

I never much enjoyed the commencement ceremony platitudes: find your passion, shoot for the moon, etc. Great advice and all, but it always felt like something out of a Hallmark card.

college graduation
The day I graduated from Texas Tech University

Mitt Romney said something that I wish I would have heard at 22 in his address to graduates of Southern Virginia University:

When you are living to the fullest, beyond yourself, beyond comfort, life is most full and exhilarating.

NPR Planet Money asked several economists what they would say if tapped to speak at a ceremony.

Russ Roberts, whose podcast I listen to weekly, said:

Don’t take the job that pays the most money. Nothing wrong with money, but it’s the wrong criterion for choosing if you are fortunate to have a choice in this not-so-great job market. People often confuse economics with anything that is related to money as if the goal of economics is to make you rich. But the goal of economics is to help you get the most out of life. Money is part of that of course, but usually there are tradeoffs–the highest paying job has drawbacks. Don’t ignore those. So take the job that is the most rewarding in the fullest sense of the word. Sure, money matters. But so does how much you learn on the job, how much satisfaction it gives you and whether it lets you express your gifts. The ideal is to find a job you love that still lets you put food on the table and a roof over your head. You spend a lot of time at work. Don’t do something you hate or that deadens your soul just because it pays well.

Time is precious. One of the simplest but most important ideas of economics is the idea of opportunity cost–anything you do means not doing something else. Don’t spend all of your leisure on email and twitter and entertainment. Keep your brain growing. Listen to Planet Money. Read a novel. Take a cooking class or keep working at that musical instrument.

Finally remember the question Mary Oliver asks in her poem, The Summer Day:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

You don’t have to answer that question today. Or even tomorrow. But time is precious. Find a way to use your gifts. If you don’t have any gifts, invest in finding some. If you have some, invest in improving them.

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