5 Things I Wish I Had Known When I Graduated


When I graduated from college, there was no such thing as online banking because there was no such thing as online.  In fact, there was no such thing as personal computers or even handheld calculators.  My point?  Whereas the world is a much different place today than when I graduated, I have a hunch that the things I wish I had known at the time are not greatly different than what a typical graduate would need to know today.  I wish I had known . . . .

1. How to talk about money.

I am sure my parents talked about money, but never with kids around.  I didn’t expect them to share financial details, but I do wish they had explained such things as budgeting, saving for a rainy day or investing for the future.   My parents undoubtedly did lots of things right and several things wrong along the way; I wish they had been transparent enough to share the lessons they learned.

Fortunately for me, my wife grew up in a family where money discussions were not taboo – we have had no problem being open with each other and with our children about money issues.

2. That money can’t buy happiness.

I give my parents credit for never opting for the biggest and best.  Mom made many of our clothes and we drove used cars.  However, the world around me seemed to reflect the belief that more money equates to more happiness.  After all, the kids who drove the sportiest cars seemed to be happier than those of us who drove the family station wagon.

Of course, when I looked beyond the façade, I figured out that even the ultra-wealthy are not necessarily happier than the average blue collar worker.  When I began investing my energy into my relationship with God and with family, I began to experience a happiness which transcends the almighty dollar.  It just took me too many years to figure it out.

3. That the purpose of higher education is not to make more money.

I don’t remember my parents, my friends or my high school counselor saying, “You need to go to college so you can make a boatload of money”, but the message was always in front of me.

“If you want a good job, you need to go to college.”

“A college degree is the pathway to a successful life.”

“You will never be able to compete in life without a college degree.”

Don’t get me wrong. I was the first person in my family to earn a college degree and I am glad I did.  But somewhere along the way, I learned that the purpose of education is to make me smarter, not richer.   After all, wouldn’t you rather be focused on achieving excellence in your vocation instead of how much money it will make for you?  I hope so.

4. To follow my dreams.

My parents grew up during the Great Depression; a time when survival was paramount, steady work was coveted, and dreams were few.  Paying the bills and putting bread on the table trumped discovering your passion and excelling in it.  I have no regrets in becoming an engineer – it was a solid career that I liked, but never loved.  Fortunately, since retirement from engineering, I have been following two dreams: counseling people about their finances and writing.

5. To focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses.

When I brought home a 7th grade report card with 7 A’s and one C, my dad looked it over before saying,  “That is a good report card, but you need to be working on that C.”  I carried the mindset of focusing on my weaknesses well into my adulthood, but I finally learned that spending time on something I have no aptitude for is detrimental to developing excellence in the areas of my strength.  The world would be a different place if George Washington had remained a surveyor or if Michael Jordan had focused on his college major (cultural geography) or if Bill Gates had actually studied law at Harvard.  You get my point; those who strive to be good at everything will seldom be great at anything.  God has chosen to uniquely gift each of us.  We should therefore fully harness the greatness God intends for us by developing those gifts.

As I reflect on this list, I am convinced that every one of the things I wish I had known when I graduated are completely relevant today.  Times may have changed, but people haven’t.

What do you wish you had known when you graduated?  Leave a comment below!

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  1. C.Taylor

    I really appreciate most of the items in your article. However I dont agree with #3″That the purpose of higher education is not to make more money”. The main reason for investing in my undergraduate degree and my masters was goal of additional opportunities it would affort me in my career. Those opportunities include increased income. I would have never invested in an MBA without recognizing that I needed that degree in order to get a position that paid more. I do agree that you should never chase a dollar, but I thank God everyday for the education that afforded me a well paying job which allow me to take care of the family.

    • Joe Plemon

      We are probably splitting hairs here. I am all for the additional opportunities which, of course, will provide increased income. But some people see college as a way to make tons of money (chasing the almighty dollar) instead of a way to learn and gain knowledge, which will normally result in more money. There is a fine line here, but I would rather emphasize the education (and let the money be a natural result) than focus on how much money one will make.

    • John Frainee

      Totally agree Joe!

  2. Efraim

    I dont think I could add anything else!

  3. Tommy

    You are so right maybe I’ll keep this for my kids when it is time for them to graduate. Like they will listen.

    • Joe Plemon

      Hahaha. Maybe the best teacher is experience anyway.

  4. Of these 5, focusing on my strengths and sidelining my weaknesses has had the most impact on my life.

    • Joe Plemon

      Great! Did you know to do so when you graduated, or did you learn later?

  5. Traci

    I love Christian Personal Finance. By far, this is the best post I have seen! Great job. I’m in my early thirties now. I WISH I would have learned these foundational principles when I was in high school! Thank you for taking the time to plant a seed for the success of the next generation.

    • Joe Plemon

      Thanks for the good word, Traci. Although you might not have known these principles when in high school, I think you are still ahead of the curve if you know them now…in your early thirties.

  6. Chuck

    AHH! I wish I would have known BEFORE I attended a private college about student loans! $70K later!!!

    However, since the day I finished grad school, I have made a point to tell my younger peers that freedom (financial, relational, spiritual) takes alot of hard work and someone has to pay that price.

    • Joe Plemon

      Great point Chuck. Consider it noted!

  7. Joseph Lalonde

    All of your points are dead on. Especially focusing on your strengths. That’s a killer.

    One thing I wish I knew when I graduated was that my opinion was important. It might not be the best or the brightest but it’s something that has value. And I shouldn’t be afraid to express it.

    • Joe Plemon

      Joseph — I am glad that you learned that your opinion IS important. Good for you!

  8. Carl Lassegue

    I feel like the myth that money buys happiness is so engrained in our generation mainly because of what we see on TV. That’s why #2 is so important.

    • Joe Plemon

      Carl — I believe deep inside most of us we know that money does not buy happiness. Yet we all too often allow the allure of money to get us sidetracked, as if we think we are different or somehow special. Like you said, what we see on TV is a big influence.

  9. Shirla Vergara

    Boy, oh boy, let me count the things I wished I would have known…budgeting is right up there, no matter how much one makes or how big the debt. Categorize your yuck!!! But for me the most important thing was to not jump on anything financial, or anything for that matter of importance, without first taking it to prayer. Highly under rated—don’t you agree?

    • Joe Plemon

      I agree, Shirla … prayer is definitely under rated, and was nowhere on my radar when I graduated. I might add that learning to pray about anything important is one of those things that is easy to know, but not so easy to actually do. I need to keep learning that lesson over and over again.

  10. wazozuri

    Wow! Love this article. I am learning many of this things many years after I have graduated and also learning that its never to late to make amends for myself and I am making effort to see that my generation and generations to come will learn from my both my experiences & in-experiences. I am also glad I read this morning… all the 5 points just really encouraged me. Love the ministry of christianpf.

    • Joe Plemon

      It seems to me that you have a great testimony: it is never too late to learn. I applaud you for sharing your experiences with others. As ChristianPF encourages you, I am sure you encourage others.

  11. Riaan

    I wish I knew then how important it was to follow your heart and not just study hard to get a job. I have now left the “security” of a corporate job and trying to get my own business off the ground.

    The well known speech of Steve Jobs illustrated it so well on how important it is to listen to the voice in your heart.

    Thank you for a great article!

    • Joe Plemon


      Good for you. If you hadn’t taken that risk, you would always have wondered what could have happened…not a good way to live life. I am wishing you and your business great success!