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Some thoughts for students & new grads

I’ve been talking to a number of students and recent grads about life after school. Recently I’ve been asked to chat with the freshmen class at Boston College (my alma mater). I’m looking forward to doing that soon.

To me, it boils down to three things early in your professional life. And these things trump any particular major in college (or perhaps even the decision to go college). These things hold true throughout your career but are particularly important as you start out.

1 – Do what you love.
2 – Work with best people.
3 – Work really hard. And i mean crazy hard.

I think if you can do those three things during school or after graduation you will be rewarded. Chris Dixon brings up great points when he suggests that Computer Science is the most important degree for those that want to pursue internet/software startups. But I’ve met tons of successful entrepreneurs that never studied CS. I would only suggest studying computer science if you love it.

A few months ago, I led a discussion with new grads at Year Up in Boston. We talked about what they can do to succeed in their first jobs. I spent a lot of time emphasizing point #3. As a new grad, it’s not always the case that you can work with the best people or find a job that you love.

So the key is to work really hard no matter what. Really f*cking hard. Call it taking pride in your work. Call it a work ethic. Call it whatever you want. But working hard is the key foundation for everything. People will want you on their team. Your network will grow. People will be inspired by your example. Hard work reveals new opportunities. It feels good. And the best part: working hard is entirely in your control.

i think that is why i took exception to a portion of Paul Graham’s – The Anatomy of Determination. The idea that you are born with something (or not) didn’t sit right with me. It’s a choice we make or don’t make. And not making the choice is a decision itself.

I’ll close this post with my favorite part from Obama’s speech today with students at Wakefield High in Arlington, Virginia:

“But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK.  Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?“