Random Advice for College Graduates

Don’t. No, seriously, find a minor. Study abroad. Take classes for fun.

Graduating from college is a no man’s land, a time of ambivalence. Sure, there are presents. But, there is also nothingness. Of course, many graduates already have a job lined up or head to some form of graduate school. But, the others? Reality.

A child’s life is pretty well organized. Every year, one methodically moves up the educational food chain, memorizing useless data and hopefully learning something. Then, college graduation arrives and tomorrow is undecided. Sure, you always had summer vacation, but this time, there is nothing on the other end. And a lot of people just do not know how to deal with it. So, go back. Acquire a skill. Find a mentor. If it’s too late, here are five rules to follow as you wade into this awkward period of your life.

1. If you’re not early, you’re late. Seriously, if you have an interview and you show up late, you are not getting hired. The real world takes this seriously. If I learned anything from my father, it’s this axiom (or turn off the lights if you are not in the room).

2. Decide what you love to do and do it. You graduate from college and now you have to start paying back loans. Your parents cut you off. One of your friends manages to land some financial gig paying six figures. You go back home and all anyone seems to talk about is how much money they make. Our society is driven by money and people are defined by their careers. However, as Henry David Thoreau said, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” Do what you love and income is less relevant. Most people are consumed and defined by their occupation; may as well enjoy the hours of effort.

3. Can’t is a four-letter word. Or, as we say on the court to young players: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” At nineteen, I decided I wanted to work for myself and wear shorts all the time. I majored in American Literature because novels were more interesting than textbooks. Since graduation, my buddies have laughed and told me to get a job. Who makes a livelihood wearing shorts all the time? Who gets paid to coach basketball full-time when they barely played in high school? Well, as it turns out, me. Strangers on airplanes do not comprehend what I do. Friends offer to hire me, out of pity I think. Though I do not make a fortune, I do wake every morning and do exactly what I want to do: train, write and wear shorts to work. There is no possible rationalization for how I went from a volunteer Special Olympics coach as a 20 year old undergraduate to a professional basketball coach in Europe at 25, but it happened. Shakespeare wrote: “Doubt is a thief that often makes us fear to tread where we might have won.” I wrote to dozens of coaches, coached any and every team possible, wrote articles to get recognition (and created a side career, as I now have four books published) and got to where I wanted to be: a professional head basketball coach. I doubt my path could be duplicated again; but, that does not mean there is not another path out there to take you where you want to go.

4. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Along the same lines, be willing to work for free. After college, I was a men’s college basketball assistant coach making $1000 for the entire season, which was a third of what I had made during college as an assistant varsity high school coach. But, the experience was priceless. Do not look for the easy way. I spent an entire summer traversing the West Coast (Washington, Arizona, California and Utah) working basketball camps for eight straight weeks without a single day off from either coaching or traveling; I slept in my car, had my stereo stolen in Tucson, AZ, drove fifteen hours in one day to catch a flight at 6:00AM the next morning, etc. And, I loved it. Keep your eyes on the prize. I returned from coaching in Europe determined to find a way to get paid to coach here. While starting my own basketball training business (basically helping to create an entire industry out of nothing), I installed sports courts in people’s backyards in one hundred degree heat for nine dollars an hour. I kept score for adult men’s league games so I could get free gym time to train players. Sure, taking a college degree, swallowing some pride and working for nine bucks an hour is not the ideal (nor is the drive from Sacramento to Tucson), but if it gets you where you want to go, it is certainly worth it. It is much easier to give up your dreams and find the nine-to-five making decent money shuffling papers in some corporation or selling cell phones. But, taking the road less traveled by is almost always worth it.

5. Never negotiate a contract in a foreign language without an interpreter and/or representation. Doing things the hard way meant landing a job coaching in Europe without an agent. However, as the season neared its completion, my future with the club was shortened because the club president lacked command of the English language, and I of Swedish, and even though we wanted the same thing, we ended up distrusting each other and my tenure as Head Coach, which was successful and landed me in the All-Star Game, ultimately ended in a bitter dispute that created such a stir on the club’s message board that it was permanently shut down. Always try to find the common ground and listen to the other person. Never make a life decision in the heat of the moment.

Five simple rules to follow. Dream big, but be willing to pay the price to make the dreams a reality. Travel. Listen to others. Read books. Continue learning. Life is certainly what you make it, so make the most of it. Never know when an email will turn out two years later to lead to assisting with the team that wins the u-18 South African Championship or a conversation over dinner will lead to the outline of a book. As Thoreau said, “Live the life you imagined.”

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