NEW YORK, June 7, 2012 — “This is maybe your one shot when you come outta here, so don’t blow it by jumping at money, by doing the things that everybody thinks you should do because it seems successful, figure out where your heart is and try to go with that.”
Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball and The Blind Side, offered this advice to college graduates on Meet the Press when discussing guidance he has offered at commencement addresses. It may be the best advice for any college graduates that I have ever heard. Platitudes about “going for it” are easy to dismiss unless you consider that time is running out quicker than you realize. The first year or so after college may be your last, best shot to take risks to pursue to the job you love.
For most of you, this is the rare few years before family needs and the responsibilities of a stable career consume your daily lives. If there ever was a time to risk pursuing a dream career instead of taking the comfortable path, that time is now.
Earlier this year I was privileged to attend an event where Marty Rouse, National Field Director for the Human Rights Campaign, was honored for his significant work in helping pass marriage equality in New York State. With a career of stories to tell an audience hanging on his every word, Marty chose to share that pivotal choice he made shortly after college to leave a comfortable job and devote his life to the work he loved.
Shortly after college, Marty was moving up the ladder at a promising job in New York City. One day his boss pulled him aside and told Marty that while he was great at the day job, it was clear that Marty’s passion was in his work as an LGBT rights advocate. He advised Marty to quit and at least try to make a living doing the work he loved because in ten years Marty would likely be in his boss’s shoes: too comfortable and too risk-averse to leave that job to do what he loved.
My own experience shows that even if the initial goal is not what you end up doing, there is no telling what other opportunities that risk may lead to. After earning my masters degree I turned down more stable jobs to run for the State Senate in New York at age 25. I did not win, but my campaign team gave a thirty-year incumbent one of the toughest races of his career. Although elective politics may not be the long-term career for me, I had the experiences of a lifetime, the sort that most people can only hope to read about. So I’m writing a book about it — an opportunity I would not have if I had not taken the risk.
You will have the rest of your life to work a stable job if your risks don’t pan out, but this window of opportunity may never come again. You don’t need to start that job right after college only to spend the rest of your life wondering, “what if?”
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