Graduation season has come again this spring — and many college graduates are wondering what to do with themselves and the degrees they’ve just acquired or are about to acquire.
Students spent four (or five or more) years staring at computer screens and craning their necks over dense textbooks, but now they’re leaving the demands of academia — and this may not be as relaxing as it seems.
Some graduates are excited about their futures. Others are terrified of the huge decisions they will have to make.
Recent college grads can be divided into three (albeit slightly generalized) groups:
- those who have a job lined up and are on the career path they’ve planned;
- those who are looking for jobs but don’t know yet what they want to do; and
- those who’ll move back in with their parents and forget what it is to be independent. 
The first group uses strategy and planning. They know what they want and have worked hard to uncover the best path to reach their destination.
While plans can always change, young people (all people, actually!) are more likely to get what they want if they have a plan. A favorite saying to remember is this: A failure to plan is a plan to fail.
The second group is opportunistic. These folks may have the motivation needed to be successful, but they need to use resources to explore the type of industry, job types, and long-term career opportunities before making a decision.
A good tip for those who feel they belong in this group is to mine their contacts, their friends’ contacts, and, especially, their parents’ contacts. Also important: They should consider the kind of lifestyle they want in the years ahead. Do they want to travel? Do they want pets? Some job types may not be compatible with a person’s long-term goals — and expectations for monetary reward may need to be set accordingly.
The third group needs to read “Get it Together: Cultural and Practical Tips to Be a Successful Adult .” A harsh truth for young adults is that their opinions and perspectives are not the only ones that matter. They need to consider the perspectives of family members, peers, and, especially, prospective employers. This is not to say individual opinions and beliefs do not matter, but that when someone else is paying — the emphasis tends to shift.
Regardless of which group a new graduate falls into, those with abundant opportunities need to be punctual, respectful, work well independently and with others, meet deadlines without excuse, and consider his or her job more than a paycheck. Successful adults attempt to pursue their work and other talents with a high degree of skill, pride, discipline and integrity.
For those who decide this isn’t important, many opportunities will go to other people.
Young professionals must remember that success is not one-size-fits-all. A dishwasher can be successful if that person takes pride in the work, does a great job, helps build the restaurant’s good reputation, and maintains a positive attitude.
In comparison, a high-up business executive may not be successful if he or she treats employees and clients badly, lacks integrity, does not care about the quality of his work, and does not try to better his work environment.
Whatever job you choose, do it at the highest possible level and make yourself indispensable to your employer by working hard.
As a seasoned entrepreneur with multiple businesses and successful exits under my belt, I can assure all young professionals that putting effort into your work life will bode well for you. Money is not the only issue at stake; your reputation, personal integrity, sense of responsibility (both civic and personal), and your perception of self are all on the line.
My advice to young adults who have just graduated from college is to make a plan and stick with it.
Whatever job you choose, do it at the highest possible level and make yourself indispensable to your employer by working hard, keeping your commitments, and contributing to the overall success of whatever organization you represent.
This reputation will carry you through your whole working career, so make sure you start off with a good one.
While it may feel you’ve gone out of the frying pan and into the flame, no one lacks the innate ability to be successful.
Scott Paly is a serial entrepreneur, farmer, artist, and author of “Get it Together: Cultural and Practical Tips to be a Successful Adult .” He is based in Ashville, North Carolina.