People of the High School Class of 2020: Sunscreen Still Works

Wow, what a weird year this has been so far. I can imagine this year’s high school graduates graduates being pretty off-center. Still, if you did just graduate, congratulations. Now, there are a few pieces of advice you can consider. Just consider; don’t let my nostalgia be your rule.

Obviously, sunscreen is still a thing, lo these 21 years after that “song” told us to wear it. I mean, now you probably want to focus on the mineral-based ones, not the chemical ones, but same rules. Of course, there’s still a lot more basic advice you should probably think about as you head off into the world, or into college.

Reconsider college. Maybe it’s right for you, maybe it isn’t, but everyone who’s been telling you that you “must” go to college is basically lying. Don’t saddle yourself with tens of thousands of dollars in debt unless you have a clear line-of-sight on the outcomes of that investment. Unless you’re going to be a doctor, lawyer, or something similar, that huge debt isn’t going to automatically land you a better job. Yeah, a lot of jobs list “four year degree or equivalent” as required, but not every job does. And if you do have to go to college, focus on a useful degree, not some vague degree that doesn’t mean anything to anyone in the world. Even in IT, there are non-college programs that cost vastly less and have better job outcomes.

Beware for-profit higher education. If the news reports of the past decade have taught us anything, it’s that for-profit “career colleges” mainly exist to cash your check and push you out the door. Be very cautious before you get into a deal with one: read the fine print, and if you don’t understand it, ask for help. If someone is making a profit from your money, it’s a safe bet they’re not going to give you all the facts up front.

Be ready to move. In the workplace, your single greatest super power, especially at a young age, is your ability to relocate to where the work is. Relocation achieved some of the biggest financial “wins” of the past century, such as building the Hoover Dam and opening the entire west of the US. Yes, you may need to move away from your parents or extended family. Now’s the time to think about what’s best for you.

Be humble. You don’t know it all, and you never will. Nobody does, and nobody ever will. Be humble when you speak to others. But, when you do know something, don’t be afraid of that knowledge. Don’t be afraid to use it, or to share it. Maybe your colleagues or your boss don’t need it, but someone does. Work to find them, and help them, just as you’ve been helped. Become the Master, while always remaining an apprentice.

Soft skills matter. In a crowded job market – and you will find yourself in one, one day, even if you’re not in one right now – you’ll differentiate yourself by your ability to communicate well with others, to speak in front of small (and large) groups, to produce well-written emails, and to create engaging, concise slide decks. If you’re going to college, make sure you get classes on these topics, because they matter. Force yourself into situations where you can grow and use these skills, no matter how uncomfortable it may be at the time. You will thank yourself for it later.

Own your body. Your body is your body. It’s the one thing nobody can take away from you, and it’s the one thing that nobody but you and maybe your doctor get to have an opinion on. So long as you’re taking care of your body the way you want it to take care of you, you’re probably fine. But don’t just let things happen to you and your body: make decisions. Decide what you will eat. Decide what level of activity you want for yourself. Decide what you and your body will be together, and then go be that.

Decide who you are in a time of crisis. You may have gotten an idea for that this year, in fact. Are you calm? Are you a person who flies in ten different directions at once? Do you operate from a place of data and fact, or do you let your monkey-brain tell you what to do? There aren’t necessarily wrong answers here – but this is clearly a good time to be thoughtful and deliberate about your answer.

Define success for yourself. You have probably already gotten chapter and verse from parents, peers, guidance counselors, and relatives on what “success” means: a good job, a good job title, a certain salary, and so on. Set it all aside. Decide first what kind of life you want to live, and figure out what that costs. Then decide what kind of career you will lead to achieve and maintain that life. Nothing more. Your career is a means to an end; don’t let it become the driver in your life.

People want you to be afraid. Fear is the strongest human motivator, and we often obey it without thinking. Politicians will use it against you. So will conspiracy theorists. So will news channels, because they want your eyeballs. Be factual. Don’t take anything anyone tells you at face value, especially if what they told you makes you anxious. Research and fact-check. And if you find that someone you respect or follow is handing out fear on a regular basis, ask yourself why you still respect or follow them. Please, for the love of all that’s out there, be the generation who stops making decisions based on fear.

Good luck out there. And don’t forget the sunscreen.