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!