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The Day After

In the spring of each year, my school has a luncheon for graduating seniors and their parents. When the time comes for some remarks, I share some words that, hopefully, amount to words of wisdom that the soon-to-be alumni can carry with them. Now I’m sharing the essence of those words with TBP readers and, hopefully, lots more graduates.

Many of the principles apply equally whether a graduate is headed to college or the work world. Do you have some advice of your own? I welcome any additions readers may send my way!

Tips for high school grads

1. Be on Time

Being prompt makes an important impression. It’s a signal that you are a dependable, reliable person. And dependability is a crucial attribute for future success. Being dependable will bring you many opportunities, especially when it comes to the world of work. When employers need something done, they go straight to those whom they feel are most reliable and worthy of their trust. Employees who occasionally do something of high quality but are not consistent and reliable do not build trust as readily. Often, they do not wind up receiving the best assignments and the promotions. And further, reliability is something you can control.  Talent and ability are not the sole determinants of success.

In many situations, being on time really means being 10-15 minutes early. A habit of being early (and reliable) can give rise to many other benefits as well. If the boss always sees you (or your car) there before she arrives, what message do you think that sends?

At college, whether you show up on time (or whether you even show up at all) is up to you. You would do well to realize that successful people do more than show up – even when they don’t feel like it. They do so not because others make them comply, but because they are the right things to do (by yourself and for yourself) in order to be successful.

2. Remember Your Manners

Manners are exceptionally important because they create a common ground. They are a fallback when things are new or different. Being polite helps you to fit in anywhere, anytime. Today, good manners may even distinguish you from the crowd because many people do not use good manners – making eye contact, saying hello, please, thank you, may I have, etc. Manners will serve you well, especially in unfamiliar situations.

3. Take a Detour

Do it while you can. (Before college, during college, after college, between jobs.) Later in life other things, such as jobs, spouses, children and mortgages, will keep you from doing it. Travel or volunteer in some place exotic. Work on a political campaign for someone or something you believe in. Do something that will give you great stories to tell.

4. Don’t Procrastinate, Prepare

One of my heroes is the legendary basketball coach John Wooden. One of coach Wooden’s well-known sayings is: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Preparation allows you ease when it counts.

When I was in college, I was in a singing group with a woman named Sarah who had tremendous skills, both as a performer and as a liver of life. She could sing beautifully in every style and was never at a loss for the appropriate, charming, interesting comment in any social situation. When you were talking with Sarah, she made you feel that you were the most important person in the world. We all marveled at Sarah’s ability to do everything so well. She was practically perfect in every interaction. She was a natural. Or so we all thought. That is, until we met her younger, more brash sister Serena. Serena told us all about the hours Sarah spent studying music, imitating and reviewing, how she spent time in front of the mirror, practicing every gesture.  The lesson was not lost on me. Even those who are gifted with extraordinary talent can only make the most of it if they practice, work and prepare. All of the preparation you do will allow you to be confident and appear natural and at ease when it counts the most.

Many of you could get away with procrastinating in high school. Guess what? College is harder. You won’t be able to get away with it as easily as you have. Set small deadlines and goals to stay on track.

5. Remember, the Ending Is Just as Important as the Beginning

Everyone enters new jobs or experiences with positivity and optimism. But not all people have the grace or foresight to exit with elegance or to resist the impulse to thumb their nose on the way out the door, figuratively or literally. The way in which you exit has enormous impact on the impression you leave. How you exit is how you will always be remembered. No matter how many good things you did while you were there, an ugly exit will leave a lasting impression.

6. Thank People Who Have Helped You

Your parents, teachers, coaches and mentors have been the well that has nourished your preparation for your future. Keep up with those people and go back to them occasionally. You may find that a drink from that well will replenish, sustain, or propel you in your next steps. And besides, we’d love to hear from you!

Mark Heller is head of school at Academy at the Lakes, a Pre-K3 – 12th grade independent school in the North Tampa area. For more information about Academy at the Lakes, visit academyatthelakes.org.

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