Seniors Reveal What They Wish They'd Done Right After Graduation


Photo: Elizabeth/Flickr

New graduates looking for advice on what to do next may be surprised to find out what their elders have to say: Go have some fun. That’s what many of the seniors interviewed for a new book advised young people to do before getting too serious about life.That advice comes from some of the 1,200 senior citizens interviewed for The Legacy Project. The Legacy Project blog was the brainchild of Karl Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University.

It has since been turned into a book, “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans” (Penguin, 2011), which features advice from senior citizens on topics ranging from life to love to money.

Pillemer said the advice gathered in the book is as useful as useful today as ever.

“The advice for living of the oldest Americans is amazingly relevant for today’s college and high school graduates. Like those entering the work force this year, many of our elders encountered a battered economy and a country scarred by war. Their advice for overcoming adversity and living well through hard times is extremely useful for those just starting out,” Pillemer said.

Perhaps surprisingly, senior citizens aren’t encouraging Gen Y, sometimes accused of being too focused on themselves, to start getting down to the business of life. In fact, the message they’re sending to today’s grads is to lighten up a little. Here are a few of the pieces of advice highlighted in the book.

Take risks to avoid regret

“People in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond endorse taking risks when you’re young, contrary to a stereotype that elders are conservative,” Pillemer said. “Their message to the new graduate is ‘Go for it!’ They say that you are much more likely to regret what you didn’t do than what you did. As one 80-year-old, successful entrepreneur told me: ‘Unless you have a compelling reason to say no, always say yes to opportunities.'”

Make the most of a bad job

“The older generation has this advice for work: Make the most of a bad job,” he said. “Remember that many of these folks who grew up in the Great Depression had bad jobs early on – in fact, their bad jobs make our bad jobs look like good jobs! They found, however, that they learned invaluable lessons from these less-than-ideal work situations. You can learn how the industry works, about communicating with other employees, about customer service. As one man told me: ‘You can even learn from a bad boss – how not to be a bad boss!’ All this is useful in your future career.”

Choose excitement over money

“The elders are unanimous on one point: Choose a career for its intrinsic value rather than how much money you will make. Our elders are keenly aware of how short life is, and they think it’s a mistake to waste precious lifetime in work you don’t like. They tell you to avoid statements like: ‘I’d really love to do ‘blank’, but I think I can make more money doing ‘blank.’ According to our elders, you need to be able to get up on the morning excited about work, so choose your career with that in mind.”

Use those graduation gifts to travel

“When asked what they regret in life, many of the oldest Americans said: ‘I wish I’d traveled more.’ They recommend that people embrace travel, and especially when they are young. So if you are wondering what to do with those graduation gifts, elder wisdom says to look into some travel — and low budget is fine — before you begin that first job.”

Be an entrepreneur

“When asked about what makes a job truly rewarding, the oldest Americans stress autonomy.  They suggest that you look for a job that offers you as much self-direction as possible – and that taking a lower salary for a job that offers you greater freedom is worth it,” Pillemer said. “An 82-year-old successful entrepreneur told me, ‘The autonomy – most people never understand that. They’re slaves to somebody. The feeling that when you have this freedom –– there’s no money that can pay for it. You can’t buy it. You have to earn it, you have to feel it, and you know something? It doesn’t get better!'”

Jeanette Mulvey is the managing editor of BusinessNewsDaily. She has written about small business for more than 20 years and formerly owned her own e-commerce business. Her column, Mind Your Business, appears on Mondays only on BusinessNewsDaily. You can follow her on Twitter at @jeanettebnd or contact her via e-mail at [email protected].

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