Open Letter to the Class of 2012

Congratulations on graduation from high school or college.  This is an endeavor to which you have obviously dedicated much time and effort.  This is an achievement that your great grandparents, grandparents, or even parents may not have had the opportunity to achieve.  It is very likely that they worked hard and fought hard to give you the opportunity to achieve this goal.  Don’t waste their effort.

Sadly though, although probably not intentional, your parents, teachers, the media, and other friends and relations have done many of you a great disservice.  There has been a strong drive over the last 20 years to focus on the positive and ignore the negative.  To tell every child and teenager that they are special and fantastic.  There has also been a focus on education and you have probably been told repeatedly that you need to finish high school and college to get a great job.  This has led to both a high sense of personal worth and a feeling of entitlement – a contract with the world that if you get good grades your future is assured.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely the world you find will be ready to give you the money and status you think you deserve.

It is true that many of the best jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree and many require advanced degrees.  It is also true that a high school degree is needed for most jobs.  Unfortunately, many of you have come to think that if you get a college degree, you will get a great job, as if there is a guarantee.  Unfortunately, it isn’t a matter of checking boxes.

Understand that your parents and grandparents didn’t get to where they were right out of college.  They didn’t start out making $100,000 per year.  They didn’t start out with a huge, four bedroom house on two acres with a bonus room.  They started out at low paying entry-level jobs, doing what the company they were working for needed them to do.  They may not have liked their first jobs or gotten any satisfaction from it.  They needed it though for experience and to put food on the table.

They also didn’t start out with all of the things you see now.  They started out in a two-bedroom fixer-upper, or maybe renting a room from someone.  It took them years to buy the house you grew up in.  They probably had an old car or maybe no car at all.  They probably took very inexpensive vacations or no vacations at all.  Ask your parents about their first apartment, or first house, and first job.

Thinking that all is needed is the slip of paper and that good grades are a substitute for capability, some of you have also been using technology to cheat.  It has been observed that personal moral constraints that have prevented most people from cheating in the past are less strong in this generation than previous generations.  Perhaps it was the drive to get good grades or the feeling of entitlement, but a degree earned by cheating is worthless because employers care about what you know, not what your grades were.  An unearned 4.0 might get you the interview, but it will become quickly apparent at the interview or once you start work if your knowledge doesn’t reflect your transcripts.  The purpose of all of those math problems and writing assignments was not to produce the answers or the work, it was for you to learn something.  You have only cheated yourself.

You also have a huge advantage of which most of you are not taking advantage.  On the internet you can find all kinds of information on history, the arts, science, and mathematics.  You can learn how a nuclear bomb works or how to get a book published.  You can also hear all sides to subjects such as politics, economics, and the environment- something you probably didn’t get in school.

Unfortunately many of you simply spend your time sharing gossip and opinions among your peers on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  (You are not alone – most people from every generation waste time on the internet rather than using it to gain knowledge.)  Many of you rarely hear anything from outside of your peer group and therefore have a very narrow, inexperienced view of the world.

People who succeed at life read a lot.  Many millionaires read at least one non-fiction book a month.  They spend little or no time on FaceBook – they don’t have time.  Read the classic works on society like 1984, Atlas Shrugs, A Brave New World, and Animal Farm. Read financial books like A Random Walk Down Wall Street and The Millionaire Next Door.  These works will give you a different prospective and tools you can sue in your decision-making.

You also have the ability to become wealthy but you aren’t just going to get a huge paycheck out of college and be set for life.  You need to spend less than you make and be constantly putting money away into investments.  It takes a lot of time and sacrifice, and it will seem like nothing is happening during the first several years, but eventually the balances in your accounts will grow past a critical mass and you’ll be surprised how fast the balance grows from there.

You can grow wealthy faster by starting your own company than you can with a paycheck, but understand success there will not come instantly also.  You may need to live on nothing for two, five, or even ten years.  If it takes longer than that, you are doing something wrong.  You also need to make sure you are providing something of value to other people.  You make money by meeting people’s needs.  The artist who paints popular pictures may feel like he is selling out himself, but would you really want to spend a lot of money buying a painting you don’t like?

And that is really the secret to succeeding in a Capitalist society – meeting others’ needs  (the secret to succeeding in a Marxist society is to cheat and steal from others).  If you work for someone else, make yourself as valuable to them as possible by working efficiently and helping them gain and delight customers.  If you interface with customers, be cheerful, courteous, and knowledgeable in your job.  If you work for yourself, figure out how you can best meet the needs of your customers and always be striving to improve things.  Remember you are asking your bosses or your customers to give you something of value – their money.  You need to provide them something of value in return.  They don’t owe you anything simply because you breathe air.

So once again, congratulations on graduating and sorry that you may have gotten a false sense of entitlement.  Life may be a lot more difficult than you have been lead to believe – you don’t get anything simply by checking all of the boxes.  If you don’t land your dream job out of college, you can go back to your parent’s house and blame others for your situation, at least until your parents become too old to take care of your anymore.  Or, you can pull yourself up, get out there and take whatever you can get.  While you are gaining experience, start looking around and figure out what someone needs done and do it.  There is still a lot of opportunity out there – you just need to seize upon it.

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Picture Creidts: April Bell

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