As these happy family occasions go, this was one for the books. What can I say, it was in Nashville. The honky-tonk music and good vibes were everywhere we turned–from the strawberry and champagne reception on campus to the Country Music Hall of Fame and a chance to sit up close with Ricky Skaggs, as he talked to Peter Cooper, who serves as senior director of the Hall, about his career in music and lessons learned on the road.
For me, the opportunity to be with family–all three of my siblings were there, as were Brian’s three siblings, was a time to cherish the significance of those who support our dreams, are proud of our past accomplishments, have our back and are rooting for our future with all their hearts. These gatherings are moments in our lives to pause and hold dear.
I was determined to become a writer and an author, and I never wavered from that course. It did, of course, mean moving in with my parents for a while when I first graduated from college to save money. It allowed me to get some traction with my writing, as I built a portfolio that would launch me eventually to a job at Forbes Magazine in New York.
Reframe negative self-talk. Negativity eats away at your confidence. Be mindful of the language that runs through your mind, or words you say out loud. Replace it with positive words and action verbs.
Be kind to yourself. This is time to energize and build your career. It’s stressful. Exercise and eat with an eye to nutrition. When you’re physically fit, you feel confident and invigorated, and it shows. Employers pick up on that. People want to be around you. Be spiritually fit, consider yoga or meditation, or a way to find a place of respite in your life, a place of ballast.
Find a job you love. To me, it’s vital to Love Your Job. When it comes to looking for a great job, stay focused. Don’t apply to jobs helter-skelter. That’s a waste of time. In fact, this is advice I give to jobseekers in their 50s and 60s as well as those in their 20s.
Use your social media acumen. Run a Google search on employers where you might want to work. Set up a Google alert to send you emails about news related to those companies, nonprofits or government agencies.
Sign up as a follower of the potential employer on social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. This can give you a sense of whether it’s a place where you’d want to work. If you get invited in for an interview, you’ll be able to talk knowledgeably about the challenges facing the employer and why you’d love to work there. You might also check out LinkedIn Students, an app that is aimed at helping new college graduates find jobs and more.
Network. Your network is still gaining steam, but don’t be shy about tapping your parent’s, a relative’s, even a former professor’s network for help getting a foot in the door someplace, or simply land you an informational interview with someone working in the field that interests you.
From your profile on LinkedIn, for example, you can conduct a search to see who among your connections is working at a particular company. When you’re applying for an opening, reach out to your contact to see if they can help you get in touch with the hiring manager. Your contact might be able to carry your resume directly to that individual via an employee referral program.
Review job boards and apps, but don’t get sucked in. Sending your resume to one of the big job boards, such as CareerBuilder, Indeed or Monster, can be black hole. A very small percentage of people actually get hired this way, but what these boards can do is provide intelligence on who’s hiring and what positions are open.
The job board on an employer’s own website is also worth a visit. It’s a good way to get a bead on what qualifications are needed for a particular position. Small local job boards or your industry niche board can be more fertile in leading to real job prospects.
Get your financial feet on solid ground. Two books to consider: Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties by Beth Kobliner and How to Think About Money, by Jonathan Clements. The Investor Protection Institute’s site, iInvest.org, offers free guides that explain stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
Sketch out your monthly budget. Add up the fundamentals (your rent, utilities, groceries, transportation, student loans and car loans) and subtract from your monthly after-tax pay. Websites like Mint.com and YouNeedABudget.com offer free software to track spending and set up budgets.
Avoid credit card debt. Debt can plague you for years, affecting your ability to get a mortgage or even a job, because employers may check potential employees’ credit reports.
Start saving and investing. Take advantage of your employer’s 401(k) or similar retirement plan. Workers under age 50 can contribute up to $18,000 to their employer-provided 401(k) in 2017. Contributions are tax deductible, and investments grow tax-deferred until withdrawals in retirement. Invest enough in your 401(k) to qualify for the full match (the amount your employer puts in as a result of your contributions). Most employers require workers to save from 4 percent to 6 percent of pay to get the maximum match.
Diversify investments. My preference is to invest in a diverse mix of low-cost index funds. You might select a trio of funds: a broad United States stock market index fund, an international stock market index fund with exposure to both developed and emerging markets, and an index fund that owns the overall United States bond market. Another option: Target-date funds, or T.D.F.s, which automatically adjust the balance of their stock and fixed-income investments based on your age.
If you earn enough to save on top of your retirement plan but not so much that you are capped by I.R.S. income limitations, contribute to a Roth I.R.A.
Start an emergency fund. Set aside money to cover unanticipated life events and expenses like unreimbursed medical bills and auto or home repairs.
My parting thoughts:
- Celebrate other people.
- Listen to others.
- Care about something.
- Be on board with change. Life will whack you off course from time to time.
- Stay curious. Never stop learning new things and taking chances.
- Find mentors and sponsors. Ask for advice.
Finally, don’t forget to laugh. As my family gathered around the dinner table at the 1808 Grille the evening of Brian’s graduation, there were toasts and poems for our graduate. There were presents and cards, but what I will always remember, and I hope Brian does too, is how we laughed for hours.
No one wanted to call it a night. The restaurant staffed politely waited until we were the very last ones there. And that’s how it should be.
“It’s the only way any of it can come together,” the late Gwen Ifill, the former Moderator and Managing Editor of “Washington Week” and Senior Correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour,” said two years ago at the Wake Forest Commencement that I also attended. “You can’t be happy unless you’re laughing, especially at yourself.”