This Wednesday I taught the last class of the quarter to my undergraduate business students. I remember one of my Finance professors at University of Arizona giving a great lecture on the last day of classes (shout out to Sharon Garrison!). She talked all about life and success and told us that “life is an optimization game.” This means that we all have a limited amount of time and resources and we can’t do everything at the same time. Career, health, friends, and family, you have to choose which levers to push. She also warned against buying a new car and a new house right after graduation, wise advice indeed for a freshly minted 22 year old college graduate. It’s one of those few lectures that stuck with me forever. In an attempt to do the same for my students, I threw together a “last lecture” in the attempt to teach them some of the things that I’ve had to learn the hard way. Here’s the highlights from it…
1. Everything in life is negotiable
If you’re not negotiating, you’re leaving money on the table. Cable bills, phone bills, insurance, travel, credit card rates, a car, a job offer. Anything really. Remember that YOUR business is valuable. From my experience, grades are also negotiable. On that note…
2. Ask for what you want
Most unhappy people today simply do not ASK for what they want. This applies to your job, parents, significant other, teammates, etc. It is up to YOU to make sure that your needs are taken care of. Whether we like it or not, we’re all adults now and we are the only ones responsible for our lives. Have the courage to ask for what you want.
BUT… balance this with a spirit of giving. Or else you’ll just turn into a big jerk, receiving without giving. I try and give as much as possible, so when the opportunity to ask comes, I feel justified in doing so.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Have you ever watched children play? Not a care in the world, eyes wide open, inquisitive, and happy. It’s ok for you to be child-like as well. That doesn’t mean acting like a child, but rather taking on the world with an open mind, using your imagination, and not letting the stresses of life weigh you down. You create your own reality. Stop caring about what other people think. Do silly stuff just because you feel like it. Have fun! The world is your playground.
4. Actions speak louder than words
Even if you don’t care what people think, there are established rules and social norms that you have to live by. What you convey to others through your actions is how they see you. Perception is reality. So dress for the job you want, smile when someone makes eye contact with you, don’t be late, and don’t drop the ball. Also, as unfair as it might seem, how you look will have a lot to do with how others perceive you. We’ve all heard the study that says when communicating: 7% is the words you say, 38% is voice quality and 55% is your nonverbal cues. So be self-aware with what messaging you are sending out with your non verbal communication.
5. Stay within your ethical boundaries
We’ve spent half the quarter talking about ethics. The fact of the matter though is as the world gets smaller and more interconnected, the stakes for unethical behavior get higher and higher. If you do something bad now, it’s in the paper and online forever. It’s not the 1950’s anymore. Whether you’re a “good person” or not, play by the rules. Doing bad things is fun, but stressful. You’re always watching your back, worried that you’re going to get caught. On the other hand, doing good things feels good, it raises your self esteem, and you get great results. I’ve learned through my experiences and the experiences of others that integrity is everything. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. It’s a constant struggle for most of us, but by living your life with 100% integrity, everything else just falls into place.
6. Cherish every relationship
If you didn’t listen to a word I just said, remember these five words, Life is all about relationships. Your ability to succeed in this world primarily depends on your ability to understand and interact with others. Everyone is a human equal. For example, from Dean Poon to to the people who empty the trash in our buildings, they are all human equals who deserve the same level of respect and consideration. Try to go out of your way to make someone smile every day. And remember, social networking tools are great for managing your networks. I’ve used LinkedIn successfully to get job interviews, meet people in industries I’m interested in and even get work done.