Four Pieces of Advice from Mary Schmich

by Ashley Mancill, Head Editor, INALJ Alabama

Four Pieces of Advice from Mary Schmich

ashleymancillWhen coverage of commencement season began over a month ago, I found myself mentally reciting a few random lines from the late-90s hit “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” Those familiar with the song know it is not actually a song as much as it is a speech set to music. Few probably know it was originally a column written by the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich entitled “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” The column, as Schmich describes, is a commencement address she imagined that she might give to a graduating class. And while we as job seekers and jobholders are not Schmich’s intended audience, some of the advice that she dispenses is applicable to us as professionals as much as it is to graduates. The excerpts that follow may be things we have heard before in some form or other, but just as they are meant to encourage graduates to pursue their goals and assure them that life’s obstacles can be overcome, they can inspire the confidence we need to succeed in our careers and propel us forward.

Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.

Time spent worrying over things that we cannot immediately correct or have no control over only elevates stress levels and impacts self-esteem. Instead of fixating as many of us are prone to do, acknowledge the issue and the effect it is having on you. Agonizing over a job application and how your credentials will be perceived by a hiring manager will not hasten the selection process. Accept that you were diligent in examining the details of the job and describing your qualifications and move on. For mistakes and oversights like forgetting to finish an important report before leaving the office or not acquiring all the materials for tomorrow’s programming event, make a note to handle them first thing and do not stress yourself out. It’s unlikely that these mistakes will follow you throughout your career or even be remembered twenty or thirty years from now. Issues that affect the long-term such as job security and unemployment are understandably more difficult to dismiss, but realize that worrying over these things will not accomplish anything. Just do your best, even if it means taking a pay cut, working a part-time job to supplement your income, or finding temporary employment to pay your bills while you search for a job in your field.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.

It’s an unfortunate habit of ours to measure our successes against the successes of others. Don’t. You will experience a number of ups and downs over the course of your career and being envious of a friend or colleague who is experiencing an up while you are experiencing a down is a waste of time and energy. Focus instead on your own talents and skills and use them to land your next job or that promotion you’ve been after. The goals you set for yourself can only be achieved if you put forth the effort and show others how valuable an asset you are to a company or organization.

Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults.

Take note when colleagues and coworkers compliment you professionally. Such praise can be immensely beneficial to your career. If you’re after a promotion, ask someone who is familiar with your work and who has given you positive feedback if they will speak in your favor. If you’re a job seeker, ask if they would be willing to serve as a reference. As for any insults and criticisms you receive in the workplace, recognize their intent—to put you down. The person (or persons) delivering them is most likely threatened by your success, intelligence, and competence. While any undeserved comments may upset you and be difficult to forget, do your best to dismiss them. Your time is better spent focusing on other things.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.

It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out—there are few who do. People and circumstances change, and the aspirations that you had four years ago may not be the same as those you have today. They may not even be the same as those that you will have ten or fifteen years from now. And that is okay. If you go into a field and decide it is not a right fit, you can always switch to another. Assess you skills, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and be willing to learn new things. Continue doing this over the course of your life—the number of opportunities available to you will likely increase. Even if you never figure out what it is you really want to do, you will likely discover a few things that you enjoy doing and gain a few memorable experiences.