A couple years ago, I wrote a letter to my 17-year- old daughter that I’m keeping and plan to read at her wedding. I looked at it recently and I choked up after the first few lines. In a similar way, I just wrote a letter to my son who just started college. I hope he embraces some of the hard-won lessons embedded in it. By sharing it with you, perhaps you’ll be inspired to write your own letter to your loved ones.
Like every parent watching a child go to college, I’m excited, I’m a little sad to see you go, I’m a little nervous, and I’m really, really proud. I know that college is going to be an incredible experience for you. And I know that you’re excited to start making more of your own decisions and finding your own way without your parents telling you what to do. But I hope you’ll keep these four ideas in mind when you’re thinking about how to make the most of the next four years.
1. Remember who you are.
Going to college is not a right. It’s a privilege. Like any privilege it can be revoked. “But I was drunk when it happened” is never an excuse for any behavior that puts that privilege in jeopardy.
You’re 18 now. As you have learned in the last couple of years, your decisions and actions have real-world consequences that could change your life and the lives of your classmates in an instant. Getting in a car with someone who shouldn’t be driving doesn’t seem like a big deal until the car crashes. Walking away from the drunk guy who’s pushing your buttons is always better than pushing back with a punch. When you’re dating, failure to respect a woman’s choices and boundaries is your failure alone.
Those are some of the big issues you’re going to have to navigate with maturity and with respect for others. But you’ll also need to take responsibility for yourself in a million small ways. The night before a big test is not the night to throw a party. Always be early to a class or appointment. Look people in the eye, shake their hands firmly. Present yourself as someone if you want to be treated like someone. Get a calendar and start learning how to schedule your time. Time management is a great skill to learn now and will serve you well for the rest of your life.
You know the stereotypes about your generation: millennials expect things to be handed to them; they have trouble taking care of themselves; their problems are always someone else’s fault. And plenty of college kids do have that attitude. They don’t have the courage to look themselves in the mirror and be responsible for their lives, the good and the bad.
You’re one of those great young men who has the potential to disprove the stereotypes. You are resilient. You are self-reliant. I’m proud of how hard you worked to get here despite a couple of bumps in the road.
And, despite the best intentions, there will be times when things don’t go as planned. When a poor choice is made. We’re human after all. But you’ll be remembered more for how you recovered from the situation than the situation itself. So when you fall down, get back up. “Success is never final and failure is never fatal.” When you make a poor choice, fix it.
Now, I want you to go out and make yourself proud every single day.
2. Relationships give life meaning.
I know you’re going to make many great friends, some of whom will be friends for the rest of your life. But not enough college students take advantage of the many ways that you can connect with other people.
One of my biggest responsibilities as a CEO is fostering relationships that help me and my business get better. Some of these include old friends and the many new friends I have met over the years from YPO and EO.
So get involved! Play intramural sports if you feel like it. Join student organizations that revolve around topics that interest you. Stay after class and dig deeper with your professors in the topics that you are really interested in. I used to go to lunch with my Law Professor once a month because I thought he was so cool. I guess he may have seen some potential in me too. I also became friends with my Organizational Behavior professor and we still communicate today (32 years later). And although frats can get a bum rap these days, rush safely, and for the right reasons. I want you to have fun – responsibly – but if you take the mission of the organization seriously, you’ll make brothers who could impact your life and career years down the road in a very favorable way.
Any frat that doesn’t have a higher purpose, or that puts you and your classmates at risk in the name of “fun,” doesn’t deserve you and you should just say No.
3. Don’t forget why you’re here.
Part of respecting the privilege of college is balancing fun and academics. Experts have found that where a person goes to college isn’t nearly as important as HOW a person goes to college. Slacking on your studies or taking classes that don’t challenge you are tempting ways to enjoy the so-called “college experience.” But four years from now, top companies and graduate schools are going to look at your grades first and you second. Being the most fun, most likeable guy in the world isn’t going to do you any good if your transcripts can’t get you in the door for a meeting.
Cramming facts and figures into your head just to pass the next test isn’t going to do you much good either. One of the things I really appreciated about college is that it helped teach me how to think. Sometimes you learn more exploring new paths to an answer than you learn from the answer itself. The best leaders are able to analyze all the information inside the box and then think outside of it. They also follow their curiosity wherever it takes them and remain committed to broadening their horizons.
That’s the real “college experience” that I want for you: an experience that gets you so excited about learning that you never stop.
4. Dream BIG!
At the beginning of every year, I think about my business and imagine myself looking into a Crystal Ball. I ask myself, “What do I want? Where do I want to be a year from now? Five years from now? Ten years from now?” If the answers to those questions scare me a little bit, good. That means I’m not settling for what’s easy. I’m setting my sights on something BIG.
I want you to aim as BIG as you feel like. Then I want to you figure out how you can use the next four years to build a platform to get there. What major and minor will give you the foundation you need? Which professors could be valuable mentors? What organizations could give you some on-the-ground experience? What do you have to accomplish every day to build towards your goals for the week? The month? The year?
At the end of the year, review those goals and the steps you took towards them. If you’re on track, awesome. If you’re lagging behind, take responsibility and work harder. If your goals have changed, build a new path for yourself.
Your path through college will be different than mine and my advice is only a guide. College really is what YOU make of it. Let your passions, your values, and your hard work create an experience that will help you make BIG happen for the rest of your life.
About Mark Moses
Mark Moses is the Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International and the Amazon Bestselling author of Make Big Happen. His firm coaches over 190 of the world’s top high-growth entrepreneurs and CEO’s on how to dramatically grow their revenues and profits, implement the most effective strategies, become better leaders, grow their people, build accountability systems, and elevate their own performance. Mark has won Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award and the Blue Chip Enterprise award for overcoming adversity. His last company ranked #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Los Angeles as well as #10 on the Inc. 500 of fastest growing private companies in the U.S. He has completed 12 full distance Ironman Triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championship 5 times.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with the world’s top entrepreneurs, CEOs, and companies to dramatically grow their business, develop their people, and elevate their overall performance. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 350 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 25 countries. Every coach at CEO Coaching International is a former CEO or President that has made big happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $1 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight and nine figure exits. CEOs and entrepreneurs working with CEO Coaching International for three years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 66.4% during their time as a client, more than five times the national average. For more information, please visit: https://www.ceocoachinginternational.com