Be nice, clean and positive

So, you’ve just graduated, and you may be thinking what’s next? Your next step may be daunting. It may be exciting. It may be both.

To be sure, your education is not complete just because you have left the classroom. Learning is always a work in progress.

Today, I am certain that by the time I had turned 30, I had learned that as much as I thought I knew at 25, it clearly was very little.

At 35, I learned that I was not as smart a 30-year-old as I had once led myself to believe.

By 40, a pattern had become clear—I’m smarter than I once was, but not as intelligent as I’ll be.

As a result, my advice, like that which comes from others, is not perfect.

Nevertheless, here are three pieces of advice for you as you move to the next stage in your life and future career.


Lesson 1: Invest in Others

You are ambitious. You have goals. You have ideas about how you want to change the world for good—and all of that is noble.

But know that your life span is finite, and there will come a day when you will run out of time.

You will not reach all of your goals.

The world will not be perfect when you leave it. If you want your vision for the world to continue, if you want the solutions you have proposed to be advanced, your life cannot be about you.  You must invest in others. You must share your hopes and dreams, and then you must encourage and inspire others.


Lesson 2: Find Mentors

and Learn from Them

Rocky Balboa had Mickey. The Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi.  Luke Skywalker had Obi-wan and Yoda. You, too, need mentors.

I’ve had the pleasure of working for three different presidents at The University of Southern Mississippi, and I’ve learned something from each of them.

From Martha Saunders, I learned how to stand your ground when it matters.

From Aubrey Lucas, I learned that the issues and problems of today are usually replaced by the issues and problems of tomorrow. I should face challenges head on, but always as a gentleman and always with a smile on my face.

From Rodney Bennett I’m constantly reminded to approach my work with incredible energy and enthusiasm and always with Southern Miss students at the heart of that work.

Who with the wisdom of experience teaches you? Who do you ask for help to guide you through challenging situations--a friend, a co-worker, a family member?


Lesson 3: Be nice.

Be clean. Be positive.

It has been said that all you need to know you could have learned in kindergarten.

Well, I learned lesson 3 from my then 4-year-old Macy, so it may actually be pre-school.

Macy asked me one day if I knew the rules at her school, and when I replied I did not, she informed me that they were: Be kind. Be clean. And be positive.

I think those are pretty good rules whether you’re 4 or 44.

Now, I don’t believe that kindness is a quality required to be successful—at least success, as it is traditionally defined.

But neither is being a jerk.

It’s true many champions and CEOs are jerks.

They push themselves and others to make more, accomplish more and be more, but without regard or concern for feelings or the mental or physical well-being of those in their command.

You don’t have to care.

But you can.

And you can be just as successful as the jerks.

Be clean. No, I don’t have a lengthy explanation to illustrate this point, but it just sounds like a good idea. I’m trusting Macy on that one.

Sometimes, you must trust others—their perspective is different, but oftentimes no less valuable, than yours.

And Be positive. You will fail-embrace it. It’s good for you. All great individuals have been knocked down at some point. They have been discouraged. But they persisted.

If you are a student of narrative and story, you understand that every hero’s journey includes moments when the hero-to-be is supremely tested. In fact, there is no great story, no hero, without the test; it is required.

Great achievements do not come easy. When you are being tested, be positive. You cannot become the person you are meant to be without the test. Embrace it. Consider all of it, your successes and your failures, a joy.

Congratulations on your graduation. As you move into the next stage of your life ask yourself how are you defining success for you?

Is it about your first job and your salary? Is it about your own health and well-being or the health and well-being of others?

Know that the true test is not how far you advance but how far you help others and your community advance. Define your success in a manner in which you can pass that test.


Jim Coll, a former newspaperman, is the Chief Communication Officer for the University of Southern Mississippi.