My advice for the Class of 2023: Become your own professor in the school of life.

Last Updated:

September 6, 2023

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My advice for the Class of 2023: Become your own professor in the school of life.

Congratulations—you did it!! This hard-won achievement deserves to be celebrated. You deserve to be celebrated!

I know this is the season of unsolicited advice. Not to pile on… but to pile on… here’s my advice: Become the professor of your own class in the school of life.

For the last 16+ years of your life, someone else—whether your teachers, professors, or parents—decided on your behalf what you should know and how you should think. After you cross the graduation stage, that will no longer be true.

There will be no syllabus. There will be no professor. You have to write your own syllabus. You have to become your own professor.

Few people know this, which is why 23% of Americans haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic, or audio form (Pew Research Center, 2021).

It’s not about reading a book or not reading a book. It’s not even about the 23%. It’s about developing yourself—and the reality is that many people only do so when pressured to do so… and stop when there’s no longer anyone breathing down their neck.

The result? Many people plateau. And when they plateau, they stagnate. And when they stagnate, they flounder.

This was true in the past, but it will become ever more true given the world you’re graduating into. The world is changing so quickly that you can’t afford to not keep up.

Heck: That paper you read about in that psychology class may have already been debunked (Google for “replication crisis” to learn more). Or, that coding language you were taught in your computer science class may not even be the industry standard anymore.

To build a successful career and fulfilling life, you need to stay relevant. To stay relevant, you need to stay sharp.

How can you stay sharp?

Tip 1: Meet people

You may have heard the cliché, “It’s not about what you know, but who you know.” It’s true to some extent! You never know if that same person could end up speaking your name behind closed doors for new projects or positions you aren’t even aware of yet.

So, the next time you’re in a room of strangers, look left, look right, and say “hi.” Oftentimes, that’s all it takes to meet someone new.

Tip 2: Ask questions

“It’s not what you know, but who you know,” yes, but who you know can also influence what you know. Everyone knows something you don’t. Whatever you want to do, there’s someone else who has thought about it, tried it, and learned from it. Your task is to find them…and learn from them.

So, the next time you meet someone, ask them: “What led to you going down this path?” Oftentimes, that’s all it takes to start a conversation.

Tip 3: Use “Google”

Of course, not everyone has the time or patience to answer every question you may have. One quick check you can make to see if you have a “good” question (especially for your manager or supervisor) is if the answer is already readily available online. 

Not only can the internet save you from wasting your (or others’) time, but it can arm you with more thoughtful questions—questions that take the form,

“I noticed from _______ that _______.

Can you tell me more about _______?”

So, the next time you’re intrigued by a topic, person, or organization, look it up on Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, TikTok, LinkedIn (Learning), Reddit, ChatGPT, Spotify, Apple Podcasts…whatever it takes. Oftentimes, that’s all it takes to learn something new.

Tip 4: Give recommendations

It’s every manager’s nightmare: new grads who make “data dumps” (send spreadsheets of data without any clear takeaways) or write “big walls of text” that don’t communicate a clear point.

It’s an unspoken rule no matter where you go—and it’s especially true when AI can gather information better than you can: Give a recommendation. Don’t have one? Share a point of view. Don’t have one? Develop a hypothesis.

So, the next time you’re asked to research something, don’t just share your raw findings. Ask yourself: “What problem are we trying to solve?” or “What question are we trying to answer?” Then ask yourself: “Based on everything I’ve gathered so far, what does the information suggest? What do I think?” Oftentimes, that’s all it takes to be valuable.

To “become your own professor” is to commit to the pursuit of self-development even when it looks completely different from how you’ve spent the last decade and a half. Society has set a low bar. Do just a bit more than the bare minimum and you’ll already be ahead—and will continue to stay ahead.

You’re no longer waiting for the professor. It’s your turn to be the professor. 

You’ll do great!!

Friends: What advice do you have for the Class of 2023?