The only piece of advice I’ll ever give recent grads

Since I work in the startup capital of the world, I’m constantly hearing elevator pitches.

If you’re not familiar, the idea is to explain what your business idea is in the time it takes to complete an elevator ride (typically 60 seconds).

After four months I’ve heard somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 of them (I go to a lot of events), so you can imagine that someone who’s lived and breathed startups for several years has probably heard thousands, if not tens of thousands.

It got me thinking about what makes an elevator pitch stand out and how I  synthesize not just my professional aspirations, but larger life goals too.

While I don’t personally subscribe to the idea that we’re selling ourselves constantly I do think we are explaining, or not explaining, our value more often than we acknowledge.

One of the best articulations I’ve seen of this comes from a brilliant dude named Bill Conover, who is Director of Spiritual Life at my undergrad, Beloit College.

He founded the Spiritual Life program there in 2004 and immediately put together a series of talks with students and staff at the college, called “What Matters to Me and Why.”

Here’s how he described the goal of the series:

“What Matters to Me and Why is a series that encourages reflection about values, beliefs, and motivations, with the aim of helping college community members better understand the lives and inspirations of those who shape the College, and uniting intellectual life with personal and spiritual commitments.”

Over the last couple of years I’ve talked about doing a similar series of talks. It hasn’t happened (yet) but thinking through the concept has helped me put together my own “What Matters to Me and Why,” for professional and personal growth

Recently, a couple of interns at the office asked if I had any advice for them post-college. Truthfully, my first thought was “Frick, I’m 29, what kind of good advice could I possibly give?”

After thinking it over, I decided that I might have one piece of useful advice, and it goes something like this…

I don’t know what anyone should do with their life or career.

Not even a clue as to how you should go about choosing love, job, or geography.

But, I do know that the people I respect and admire all have on thing in common: They understand their passions, their ethics, their value as a human. And they can explain it to others.

When you ask them what matters, and why, their eyes instantly light up. It’s that  moment at dinner, coffee, an event, in any email or online exchange, when inspiration and magic are unleashed.

My advice is to get your 60 seconds down.

Figure out what matters to you (content) and why (structure). Figure out what questions you need answered in order to be happy and engaged in your life. Tweak and tune your answer over and over and write it out, practice saying it out loud, over and over until you know for sure it’s what you believe in. Come back to it constantly, to make sure it changes when it needs to.

Finally, here’s my What Matters To Me & Why…

I believe in building good structure. 

I want to understand the framework for life, love, and work. How we are subject to forces larger than us, and how we can create and enact structure that makes us better in our own lives and makes other humans better too. I never want to tell anyone to do but instead help them understand how to be. I want to live a life of consequence. 


What’s in your 60 seconds?


7 thoughts on “The only piece of advice I’ll ever give recent grads”

  1. I like this! At 63 years of age, I realize that this is not only an excellent exercise, but it’s something that we need to rewrite periodically. What matters to us changes over time, even if the “why” doesn’t.

  2. Like Anne, but @54, I just haven’t got it together for new grads except:

    Like a long, long touring bike ride, don’t overplan your journey. Learn to grow in strength, trust and flexibility. Become humbly curious, alert and listen to other travellers’ stories along the journey of life as you share observations of your own travels. Delight in the miracle of life.

  3. And honest, I am the sort of person that doesn’t want to know in advance, much detail on every difficult hill, turn that lies ahead on the route. Just very general vague awareness is good enough or else I will freak out myself.

    1. Ha! Hey, I’d say you’ve got your 60 seconds down pretty well….I can relate to your point on flexibility though. I like to have approach figured out, but not be stuck on exactly what is going to happen. Have experienced enough to know you can’t really plan for the what anyway.

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