No pressure.

We’re about a month away from a rather big event for our family.

My oldest nephew, Blair, graduates from high school at the end of May. In fact, he graduates from the same high school I went to, which gives me an added sense of pride (and sentimentality) about the whole matter.  18 years ago, I was walking across the stage to get my own diploma. Funny enough, my nephew was there that day – although he was still three months away from being born.

In the years which have passed, Blair has grown up (and up… and up… far taller than any of us in our family) in what seems like the blink of an eye. It’s unfair that time passes so quickly, but it’s selfish to wish it’d linger on. I’m filled with excitement to see where he’s going to go and what he’s going to achieve.

Inevitably, occasions like a high school graduation give way to unsolicited advice. I’ve come to think we offer graduates our “words of wisdom” because we look back on our own experiences, and want to help encourage the great moments in life while placing caution signs for the things we’d choose to do over again.

As a mentor of mine once said, advice is given with the proviso that responsibility for it ends with the person who receives it.  They can choose act on the advice, or put it on a shelf in their mind.  It’s their call.  Whatever my nephew does with the following, I offer it to him and to any of the other members in the class of 2016, with best wishes for the journey which lies before them.

1. Do the shit you hate first.

Some people are masters of organization and prioritization. These people are incredibly annoying. (I’m just kidding… it’s only my jealousy of their organizational skills which makes me say that.)

The reality is most of us wallow in the muck of too much stuff to do and not enough time to do it in. We become procrastinators because we gravitate toward things we love to do, and hope the stuff we hate goes away.  (It doesn’t.)

Do the shit you hate to do, first – every time.

Whether it’s squats at the gym, reading for English class, or doing laundry as soon as you wake up on a day off… get it done. It’s always better when that stuff is done. And, who knows, you might develop a love for it along the way.

2. Never go to sleep pre-occupied.

Whether it’s a fight with your partner, a crap day at school or work, or a problem with seemingly no solution, the challenges in life which trouble us can be one hell of a weight on our minds.  And, as I’ve learned over time, a pre-occupied, worried or angry brain is one which never truly rests.

If you can’t find a resolution to your problem before you close your eyes, write what’s troubling you on notepad and shove it in a desk drawer.  This way, it’s off your mind, and you can rest.  Use fresh eyes to start working on a solution in the morning.

3. Avoid impulsively signing up for credit cards.

When I was in college, banks would do everything in their power to get you to sign up for a credit card – right on campus.  They’d trade you what were essentially dollar store trinkets in exchange for you signing on to a meagre (yet impossible to pay off given a student’s financial situation) credit limit.

Debt is the most cumbersome, debilitating, and devastating problem facing North Americans today.  It’s a cancer on your life situation.  And it’s not something you want to rack up while you’re going to school.

As a general rule, pay cash and stay in the black.  If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it.

Properly structured debt – like a fixed-rate mortgage or a car or student loan – is a given in life.  But, don’t over-extend yourself, and remember that equity is not the same as cash-in-the-bank.  (Even if you sell that house, you need a place to live – and depending on your financial and social lifestyle, there can be benefits to renting the roof that’s over your head.)

Also on money – pay your bills first, stash cash in to savings second, use what’s left for well-budgeted day-to-day living, and aim for a surplus at the end of a month.

4. Make time to keep your brain engaged.

This goes beyond your default interests, professional discipline or field of study.

Read. Be diverse in your selections.

Listen to public radio and spoken word podcasts which expose you to new and big ideas.

Always be curious about the world at large – and what makes it tick. Sometimes, it’ll help give you a big idea of your own.

5. Aim high.

Time for a lesson in Greek mythology.

Icarus was the son of a master crafter.  Over time, he learned how to craft wings and fly – but his father warned him not to fly too low because the dampness of the ocean would bring him crashing to the ground, and not to fly too high because he would kiss the sun and burn to a crisp.

Icarus doesn’t listen, ends up grazing the sun, and poof…

Moral of the story : just be “good enough” – mediocrity will get you everywhere in life without getting burned by the sun.

In 2012, writer Seth Godin (rightfully) called bullshit on this and published his book, The Icarus Deception.  In it… well, I wrote all about it here.  The Coles’ notes version : aiming to be “good enough” is a terrible way to live your life.  Who cares if the big ball of fire in the sky can burn you?  Go big, or go home.

Inspirational-#MotivationalMonday-stick-it-on-Instagram quote straight ahead :

Shoot for the moon.  Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
– Norman Vincent Peale

6. It’s okay to say yes to a bad idea.

In groupwork in college and early in my career, I found it was painful (like, actually physically painful) to go along with someone’s idea when I believed it was absolutely, horrifically dreadful and terrible.  It simply wasn’t going to work, and I never liked failure.

But, as I learned over time, there is greater value in having the maturity to voice your concerns and then put them aside to go along with the will of the group, rather than put your foot down and be an immovable force preventing progress.

Working in a consensus model means everyone owns the success or failure of a project. If things go right, you’ll have learned a new and better way. And if it goes horribly wrong, remember that the team owns the failure – not just one person (and not just you).  A single bad project will not place a scarlet letter on your chest for eternity.  (That is unless you were part of the team responsible for 2015’s remake of Fantastic Four.  Seriously… those people are screwed.) (Just kidding.)

A great team will admit defeat, dust itself off, and get working on another new solution.  This is an exciting way to work.

And, if you’re on a team which says all the right things but then points fingers and seeks to lay blame, find a new team to play on.  There’s no value for your career advancement or your personal well-being in belonging to an organization or group which only pretends to operate in a team or consensus-seeking model.

7. Travel.

I know – coming from me, you’re likely surprised this is number seven on the list. But, I was working up to it.

We may live in one of the greatest countries on Earth, but I’m a big believer that you’re not allowed to make that statement unless you go exploring somewhere else first.

If Disney movies have taught us anything, it’s that those who never leave their natural habitat will never gain an appreciation for why the world is the-way-it-is, how it’s different elsewhere, and how they fit in to the bigger picture.  Trust me… you do not want to be one of these people.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to ditch everything and leave for an undetermined amount of time.  At least not on your first trip. (Your mother will freak out, and I’ll be the one who takes the brunt of the blame. None of us want that.)

So, start small. Save up a few thousand dollars ($4000 to $5000 should be more than enough), take two months, and buy a cheap plane ticket that takes you off the North American continent so you can go somewhere else.  It doesn’t really matter where.

Shove your life in to a backpack, sleep in hostels, eat different and sometimes strange food, meet interesting people, experience a different way of life. You will never regret doing this, and I can guarantee you’ll always regret not being curious.

Also, don’t forget to pack travel insurance.

8. Expand your circle.

High school is over, and with it you leave behind many things – including clique-based seating charts.

Among the regrets you’ll have about a decade from now – not really getting to know that person who seemed to be completely opposite from how you view yourself.

Everyone has an interesting story, and for the most part (as you’ll learn when you travel), people are generally good no matter who they are or where you go.  Every person you encounter in life will help shape who you are and how you see the world.

So, make the time to build a diverse group of friends and acquaintances, not just people who are like-minded. Seek out fascinating people, be genuinely interested in them and their lives.

Find people who challenge your way of thinking, your belief structures, and how you view the world.  Be curious about lifestyles and interests you’ve never given a thought to.  Some of the people you end up meeting will be some of your closest confidants in life.

Likewise, also be honest with yourself and acknowledge when a friendship has ended. The sad truth is most friendships have a finite life-span (sorry Vitamin C), and there’s little practicality in trying to keep one alive once it has died.  Do what’s best for everyone involved, and let it go. (Not a Frozen link.)

9. Don’t fight change.

“Everything changes and nothing stands still.”
– Heraclitus

One day, you might wake up and realize that everything you’ve done, everything you’ve chosen, everything you’ve worked toward isn’t actually what you want in life.

Possibly, you’ll walk in to work one day and find out that – beyond your control – a change is being made without your consultation, without your input, and without your final say.

This. Is. Okay.

This is fantastic, actually.

Yes – it sucks, too.  There are going to be times where you question everything – the time you’ve invested, the passion you’ve put toward something.  Was it all for not?  (No.  It wasn’t.)

And, yes, you’ll find yourself waking up at 4am shouting, “where the fuck is my cheese?” (Read the book.)

But you need to know that change isn’t a bad thing.  And it is always going to rear its head.  Being open to the potential of something new makes dealing with change so much easier.

Don’t fight change. Go with the flow. The journey is fascinating.

10. Life is better with someone.

Whoever your partner in life is – be open, be honest, be reliable, have a sense of humour, and have a sense of adventure. Humour and adventure are the best parts. Trust me.

11. And finally…

I’m sure a variation of this line will inevitably be on the lips of your graduation day guest speaker or your valedictorian. They borrowed it from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

And you know what?  Emerson is right.

The notion that there is some script which has been written which we need to follow through to completion in order to live our lives properly… is a fallacy.

Some of the most fascinating and successful people I know have eschewed convention to find their own way in this world.  It isn’t the easy way to go about setting up your life, but if it was easy it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding.


There are many more pieces of advice, and many more lessons that you’ll encounter on your journey.  You’ll have good days and shit days.  You’ll wonder what the hell all of this is about.  And that’s when you’ll know you’ve joined the rest of us.  Welcome to the club.

The only warning I give you is that there are no do-overs.  You can’t take this test again.  You only get one shot at life, so make the most of the opportunity.

No pressure.

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