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Bad Graduation Advice

June 2, 2013
An artist's impression of Sirius A and Sirius ...

There’s nothing wrong with reaching for the stars, but you might want to do it in your spare time. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With graduation season comes lots of rambling speeches and lots of advice.  Most of the advice that I’ve heard (from snippets on television and videos) is pretty bad.  “Reach for the stars” is bad advice.  “Find a job that you love” is bad advice.  The problem with this advice is that it’s coming from people who probably shouldn’t give advice to college or high school graduates. 

Colleges should make a guy like me their graduation speaker (except I’m not a good public speaker.  They should get a guy LIKE me who is NOT me).  I’m not a celebrity or any kind of famous person.  I’m just a moderately successful guy that nobody has heard of.  I’ve held the same kind of job for 25 years.  I’ve (somehow) stayed employed through several recessions.  I’m married with kids.

From a graduate’s point of view, I’m a boring guy with a boring life.  But I’m also the person that most graduates will become (or should hope to become). 

Most college graduates will not become famous or super wealthy.  They will become like me.  And they should go out into the world with aspirations to become like me (that sounds really arrogant, but I hope this makes sense). 

So if I were to give a graduation speech (and I won’t, but if I did), it would be a short speech with lots of (hopefully) amusing anecdotes and one piece of (maybe really bad) advice: 

  • Be content with having a job that sucks. 

This can be taken the wrong way, so I’ll try to explain my bad advice. 

Too many famous people (whose names I won’t mention because they’re already rich and famous and get mentioned too often anyway) advise students/listeners/viewers that we should strive to find a job that we love. 

I disagree.  Trying to find a job that we love (or “reaching for the stars”) leads to disappointment, disillusionment, and bitterness (I couldn’t think of another “dis” word).

Instead, find a job that pays you enough to do the stuff that you love… in your spare time. 

I love reading, writing, and watching football (and spending time with my family, of course), but few jobs will pay me to do all three.  The “reading” jobs would require me to read a bunch of boring stuff that would make me hate reading.  The “writing” jobs would require me to write a bunch of boring stuff that would make me hate writing.  The “spending time with family jobs” would… I’d better stop right there. 

Everything I love to do requires somebody else to do a job that sucks.  If I go to a restaurant, a bunch of people have to do jobs that suck in order for me to enjoy myself.  If I take my family to the mall, a bunch of people have to do jobs that suck in order for us to enjoy ourselves. 

In fact, most jobs suck (even the ones that require a college education), but most jobs are important. 

This notion that we must find a job that we love is self-destructive.  Somebody has to do the jobs that suck.  If everybody did only the jobs they loved, then nobody would do the jobs that sucked, and there’d be a lot of trash outside because waste management jobs suck. 

So that’s my bad advice to graduates: find a good job that sucks, and then do the stuff you love in your spare time. 


I don’t remember many of the speeches from my graduation ceremonies.  The graduation speakers weren’t famous, they had monotone voices, and my mind was on other things.  The only thing I remember is that our high school valedictorian started off his speech with a bad (almost offensive) joke that nobody laughed at, and his face turned red, and it threw him off for his entire speech.  I had never seen him flustered before.  Our valedictorian was a likable guy, and I felt bad for him. 

I’m sure somebody suggested to my school’s valedictorian that he start his speech with a joke.  That was bad advice.

What other bad advice can we give to today’s graduates?

From → Dysfunctileaks

  1. tskraghu permalink

    Abs sensible:-)

  2. Reblogged this on mishaburnett and commented:

  3. That’s exactly the speech people should be making at graduations. Having a celebrity make a speech “do what I did and become what I became” makes almost as much sense as having lottery winners give graduation speeches.

  4. Wise words. Honestly I don’t remember a word of the speech at my graduation but if it was like this, I probably would have. I guess I have an ideal job, since it gives me lots of free time to do the things I love.

  5. You’re right, DL! I never looked at it this way before but this post makes perfect sense … there, bet that surprised you?

    As a woman who has spent almost all her life working at the suckiest jobs imaginable I found I had to try and make them a enjoyable as I could. And guess what, apart from the odd one or two, I managed that. If I couldn’t find a way to enjoy them I eventually traded them in for one where I could.

    Then finally I trained in my spare time to become a complementary therapist – my dream job – and became one. The thing to do is to work at the sucky job to earn a living but train in your spare time to get the job you love. Cool, huh?

  6. I believe one can learn to love a job that sucks. I’ve seen people do extremely sucky jobs who seem to enjoy them immensely. But I think you need to be hungry to do that. If you have an option to leave that sucky job, you’re never going to make the effort to like it.

    I think some of the best advice for graduates (high school or college) are these 11 rules commonly attributed to Bill Gates, but according to actually authored by Charles Sykes.

    • Thanks. I remember reading this a lot a few years ago, and it was always attributed to somebody famous (probably Bill Gates). I guess Charles Sykes wasn’t famous enough for people who started chain emails a few years ago. The rules are good but probably cause eyerolling from their intended audience.

      • I taught high school and once read them to my kids. They didn’t get it. I can only hope, as with all education, that I planted a seed that would grow with at least some of them.

  7. Would your speech be titled “Let your dreams die now, instead of 20 years time”.? I enjoyed your take on this but I would be crying even more at the grad ceremony than normal if I thought my kids were thinking this. I am fairly sure out of four of them probably three will eventually agree with you, but not yet definitely not yet!

  8. This is very true. My sister graduated a few years back and managed, after some time, to land a job doing marketing for a small firm. Eventually she quit and became a waitress so she’d have time to do things she actually enjoyed, including blogging and reviewing events and books.

    I think too many people “live to work” and see their careers as the only way to become satisfied with their lives.

  9. Wholeheartedly agree…”reach for the stars..” is treacle….your advice is sound and a policy I as a post graduate degree recipient agree with. It is what you do in your spare time that is your true defining source of joy and passion. I have felt this way for years, and now for the first time am following this sage advice. Kudos on your commentary:)

  10. I think you have to be realistic and find a balance in life. You can do something that makes you moderately happy and pays enough for you to do hobbies you love in your spare time. I think every man has to judge for themselves what they’re willing to give up or settle for in life.

  11. “Go there and chase your dreams, Grads!” They always fail to add “But don’t pass up the job at Safeway.”

  12. The best commencement speech I heard was on YouTube: You’re Not Special from Wellesley High School. Great post!

  13. You had me with the ordinary person giving the commencement speech because the vast majority of graduates (even Ivy League ones) will wind up with ordinary lives. You lost me with the ‘jobs that suck’ just a bit. We Americans need to resurrect the idea of a vocation… doing a task, any task with dignity because it provides the funds to be able to pursue the good stuff.

  14. Yes, it’s true that most jobs suck. Telling kids they can do whatever they want, especially if they go to college is a huge crock. But I have to say, some jobs suck so much more than others. I’m 26 with a degree in Literature (oops…) and work at a gourmet grocery store. And it sucks. I mean all the way around. The pay, the customers, the job “skills”… My main goal is to enjoy my life in my spare time, like you suggested. If I manage to have any of that ever again where I’m not so exhausted and apathetic and broke that I don’t want to move! Hooray for finding a job that sucks a little less!

  15. Laura Hedgecock permalink

    My husband keeps telling our two college/college bound boys that being able to support your family is a huge piece of future happiness. Look for a career that you can live off of and that you don’t despise.

    Great post.

    Laura Hedgecock

  16. shaggiemaggie permalink

    I concur. For a while there I was trying to make what I love into a job and it totally was killing what I love. It’s better to keep what you really love sacred otherwise you are really in the shitter.

  17. A little late to the party, but love it!

  18. I think they ask famous people to give graduation speeches in an attempt to make them less boring.

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