Advice for the New Graduate From America’s Elders

Article ID: 589149

Released: 9-May-2012 5:35 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: Cornell University

  • Credit: Cornell University Photography

    Helene Rosenblatt chats with Cornell professor Karl Pillemer about life lessons.

Newswise — Karl Pillemer is professor of human development at Cornell University and author of the recently published “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.” Based on surveys of over 1,200 of America’s elders, Pillemer uncovered their advice to the younger generation for living a happy, healthy and successful life. Their life lessons are especially timely at graduation time.

Pillemer says:

“The advice for living of the oldest Americans is amazingly relevant for today’s college and high school graduates. Like those entering the workforce 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.”

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. 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. 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.”

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