Jun 072016

Men of Purdue
Class of 1953, Class of 2014

So I’ve grabbed you with my pithy headline. Not so much? Likely I’ve attracted your 50-plus mother. She’s reading with pink rhinestone readers she bought at Costco. She sat next to me — stifling hot in a black mortarboard and gown — on a humid May day in 1979.

Like your mom, I’ll never give a commencement speech. So, I’m weighing in 37 years after my college graduation.

Dear Graduates:

Welcome to the Real World. Sorry if that ticks you off.  College life is different from real life. (For one thing, the food is much better. No more “fr. fr. gr,”French fried grouper or “Ca Ch Sp”, Canadian Cheese soup.) My son and his friends call it “adulting.”

I entered the workforce on June 1, 1980. Times were tough; they are tougher for you. Tough is the key word here, because if you want to survive and thrive, you must stay tough.

Let’s talk about three topics, work life, finances, and family life.

  1. Work life. If you are fortunate enough to have a job already, good for you. Some classmates may not be as fortunate.  CNBC reported that this year’s job market was the hottest since the Great Recession. However, the article cautioned the competitive pool contains new grads as well as those from slower market years. The article shared a cautionary tale — 51% of recent college graduates are underemployed or not working in their field. Underemployment has the effect of lowering the average salary.

“As a result, wages have suffered. While the average starting salary is just shy of $50,000, the National Association of Colleges and Employers said, 39 percent of graduates from the classes of 2014 and 2015 are making $25,000 or less, according to Accenture — even student loan balances have climbed to an all-time high,” reported CNBC.

Low or no wages may not be your reality, but it may be the reality of the person next to you. If you have a job, great. Show up on time, don’t leave early.  Be mindful of the common courtesies learned in kindergarten.

While your Baby Boomer or Gen-X parents may have worked for the same employer for decades, chances are good you won’t. Forbes’ Jacob Morgan suggests reasons why long-term employment is dead (and never coming back). He cites globalization, accelerating rate of change, new loyalties and changing expectations. A career with multiple companies is not all wrong. As Morgan stated, global business means more opportunity. Perhaps you’ll have a VoIP phone in your basement and communicate with your central office in Beijing or Belize.

There’s an old saying, do what you love and the money will follow.  Granted, this is probably an old saying because it no longer applies. Our economic reality means not all of us have the luxury of the farmhouse studio in Tuscany. Rule nothing out. You can’t know what rock you uncover will lead to your dreams. Do you want to change, get better, or remain stagnant?  Learn all you can at each employer, but keep your eyes open for new opportunities that fuel your passions.

  1. Let’s segue into finances. Deep sigh, right? Most of you have student loans like the Mt. Everest of debt.  I’m not an investment guru, but I can report on the mistakes I made. Like waiting to start a retirement plan until my husband finished graduate school. We were thirty when we got going. As the opera singer bellows in “Scrubs,” Mistake.”

But, Mom, I don’t make enough to start a retirement fund. Yeah, yeah you do. How often do you go out to dinner? Or lunch?  Here’s a modest proposal: take your lunch to work.  That fifty or $75 a week turns into several hundred monthly for retirement funds. At the very least, grab your company’s match.

You may think I’m disrespectful to your mountain of debt. You say, “Well, in your day it didn’t cost this much for tuition.”  True dat.  That sobering truth doesn’t change anything.  We feel your pain, but also need to give you this tough love.  You have to get on board this retirement train and sooner is better than later.

Most of your parents aren’t setting the financial world on fire. You can probably count on an inheritance as you rely on winning the Lotto.  This stat is from June 2015:  47% of us don’t have $400 for an emergency.  “47: The percentage of Americans who can’t pay for an unexpected $400 expense through savings or credit cards, without selling something or borrowing money, according to the Federal Reserve.”

Writer Neal Gabler confessed to his financial shortcomings in the May 2016 issue of The Atlantic, in “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class.”  Gabler explained his situation. He lived beyond his means, and unexpected financial problems arose.

Save yourself while there’s time!  You have just graduated.  While you may have student loan debt, you don’t have to buy a house; you don’t have to have a new car. You don’t need to keep up with the Joneses.  From Gabler’s article,  the Joneses are struggling just like everyone else.

  1. Family life, last but never least. Maybe you are too young to have a family of your own. Okay, then focus on work life and finances. Don’t forget your family of origin. Your commencement into life means more to them than you will know until you have children of your own.  (So, slap me, but that’s the way I see it.) Don’t take the selection of a life partner recklessly.  When the bloom comes off the rose, somebody still cleans up when you have the flu. Love isn’t about Valentine’s Day. It’s about who remains when everyone else has gone.

You may believe your parents are the stupidest people on earth.  They may be; I don’t know them. Give them a chance on the adult level.  They won’t always be there. Regrets aren’t pretty.

One more thing, graduate; extra bonus advice from an old broad. Don’t compare yourself to others. No matter your circumstances in life, someone will always best you. By comparing yourself to others, you set yourself up for disappointment and failure on someone else’s terms.

It’s your life. Loaded with baggage at your young age? Your diploma offers an opportunity for a fresh start. No baggage, bully for you.  Telling you not to blow it is silly.  We’re all going to blow it multiple times. That’s life. When you screw up, get up and start over. You’ve proven with this degree that you have the chops.

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