I remember my graduation day like it was yesterday. It was a typically hot and humid June day at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The sun was shining down on us, and the campus was buzzing with people. (It’s New Jersey, so take the volume you remember from your graduation and times it by 10, and you’re getting there).
What was special about that day was that my twin sister Jodi was graduating with me. Our whole family was over the moon. My father was uniquely excited. It had always been my parents’ goal to have all three of their children graduate from college. That day was finally here! The only negative was that my mother wasn’t there to celebrate with us. She had passed away a year earlier from a battle with cancer. But we made it. There we were, on the last day of our college careers. Sure, there was the potential of further schooling or job hunting in the future, but the Bachelor’s degree was about to be awarded and it was a big deal.
All around the world, students are currently graduating into their next steps in life or getting ready to head back to school for the fall. I’m so grateful for the many lessons I learned at school that have carried me through life. Now with the twenty-plus years I’ve lived post-graduation, I have also learned so many things that I wish someone had told me earlier. So, I want to share them with this you, whether you’ve just graduated, you’re going back to school, or maybe school’s not your thing at all, but you just want to be successful in life. This one’s for you! Here are 4 huge keys to the success you’ve longed for.
1. Be a life-long learner.
As I was preparing to graduate, I remember speaking with a professor who shared with me an important truth. She said, “Daniel, now your learning really begins.” “What do you mean by that?” I asked. She went on to explain that education doesn’t teach you what to think, but how to think. That the best learning is teaching someone how to learn. And now it was time for me to step out and start learning. So now that graduation is happening in your life, you will spend the rest of your life learning. Albert Einstein once said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.” So keep learning, reading, listening, challenging yourself and especially taking steps out of your comfort zone.
Your school graduation might be the end of your “formal” education, but it should only be the next step in your acquisition of knowledge, wisdom and skill. You are a life-long learner! So devote your life to growing and learning in every conceivable way, a little bit every day, or in chunks that fit your schedule.
2. Keep the main thing, the main thing.
I hate to disappoint you, but whether we like to admit it or not, life is one long series of distractions. Things come up. Urgent things that demand all our attention. But if you don’t force yourself to focus on the most important things in life, they will be lost in the endless barrage of experiences, good and bad.
For me, I wanted to be a spiritually grounded professional musician. I had played bass all my life and was venturing out as a touring professional, but I knew if I stopped learning about the bass, and about music, and practicing for hours, my skill wouldn’t be enough to support the life I wanted to live. Spiritual things were something I had come to realize were important to me, in the year before I graduated college. So even though I had a million other tasks and projects that were calling out to me, I realized that I was at the core a spiritual person having a physical experience. I had to clarify those priorities after I left college before I took the next steps in life.
As time went on, those priorities started to pay dividends. As a bass player, I was booked on tours literally across the country, and really enjoying my experience as a musician. As a spiritual person, my relationship with God informed every other area of my life. My faith-based beliefs (upward) lead to my understanding of myself (inward) which lead to how I treated other people (outward). I wrote a book called Upward, Inward, Outward exploring this idea because I believe that it is that important. You have to figure out what matters, and learn how to keep the main thing, the main thing in your life.
3. Friends come and go, but family is forever.
I have been blessed to have amazing friends throughout my life. Ask me about any grade-level or educational stage, and I can share stories of friends who totally impacted my life. I still have, to this day, close friends from elementary school. Which is pretty cool. But honestly, there is only a handful of them. Most of the people who I was close to at different stages are no longer integral parts of my life. The move from high school to college brings new sets of people into our life who impact us. So now, twenty years later, I realize that friends aren’t necessarily forever. That’s not bad, that’s just life.
Though I am grateful for the friends I have had, I realize that friends come and go, but family is forever. My sisters, and father, and extended family are still core people in my world. When something good happens, they are the first to know. Same with the bad things. Sure, now that tribe has grown with spouses and kids. But your family is forever, for better or for worse. So you want to invest in those relationships. You have the opportunity to make it better by continuing to cultivate your relationship with those closest people to you as you take this next step.
4. Success is built one decision at a time.
I’ve never met a single graduate who said, “I want to lead an unsuccessful, unremarkable life.” We all want to be successful. But the bigger question is, “How do you define what success is?” You have to start with the end in mind. A successful life is built one decision at a time. There’s an old saying, “Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny.” I have found this to be so true in my life. True success comes from the character you build, one decision at a time.
As someone who graduated twenty years ago, I am so absolutely grateful for these keys to living that have radically altered the trajectory of my life. So, graduates, students, life-long learners, as you seek success at any stage of your life, I hope that you will crush it and change the world, living out the destiny you were created to live!