Advice to a Niece on Her College Graduation

Today is Monday, so this post is on self confidence.

Brett McIlwain, my niece and goddaughter, graduated from Florida State last Saturday.  She was cum laude.  Being the nice uncle I am, I thought I’d use this week’s posts to give her some advice that I wish I had when I graduated from Penn State in 1972.

Believe in yourself Brett.  If you don’t, no one else will.  Self confidence is the foundation of a successful life and career.

I know this is a tough time to be graduating from college and starting your career.  We have been at war and occupying another country the entire time you were in college.  Gas is as an all time high.  Sam’s Club and Costco are rationing rice.  Food prices are out of sight.  Many people are losing their homes due to the subprime mortgage crisis.

But even with all this, you have reason to be optimistic.  You’re young.  You’re healthy.  You have a loving family.  You’re smart — dummies don’t graduate cum laude.  You have an entry level job. 
See the bright side, think of the glass as two thirds full.  A lot of people think that optimism is overrated.  It isn’t.  You have to back up your optimism with hard work, but if you begin each day and each task with the idea that things will work out fine, it’s easier to do the work to make them work out fine.

I know that beginning a career can be scary.  You’ll have many scary moments as you move forward.  It’s OK to be afraid, as long as you don’t let your fears paralyze you.  Own up to the fact that you are afraid, and then do something.  Action cures fear. 

Even if you try something and fail, you learn that failure isn’t fatal.  You get valuable experience from your failures.  If nothing else, you’ll learn one thing that doesn’t work.  Use your failures to help you learn and grow and move forward.  Here is one of my favorite quotes.  It comes from Teddy Roosevelt…

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Promise yourself to live your life in the arena.

Finally, you can never have too many supportive people around you.  Find the people who love you and support you.  Find the enthusiastic ones – and hold on to them with all your might.  On the other hand, identify the naysayers and people who don’t value you for who you are.  Bid them farewell.  Positive people are important.  They will help your self confidence.  Negative people will drain your self confidence and drag you down with them.

Find a mentor, someone who is willing to help you and show you the ropes.  By definition, mentors are positive people.  They are willing to share their knowledge and experience to help you learn, grow and flourish.  As you get more experience become a mentor.  Remember when you were starting out.  Help others build their self confidence.  It will keep you positive and feeling good about yourself.

There are a few common sense points in all this, Brett.  First, believe in yourself.  Your success will be built on your self confidence.  Be optimistic.  As the Optimist Creed says, “Be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.”  Take action.  Face your fears and deal with them.  Live your life in the arena, so you will know the “triumph of achievement.”  Finally, find the positive people around you.  Hold on to them.  Identify the negative people around you.  Jettison them.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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