Because of my involvement with Butler University through the years, I’m often called upon to mentor students who are about to enter the business world. Their questions and concerns follow a pattern, usually revolving around making money. Certainly all of us “grown-ups” can understand that! Most students today have built up large debts in college loans and they are beginning to understand the necessity of paying back what they have borrowed. It’s a daunting responsibility, usually amounting to many thousands of dollars. Aside from far-thinking parents who established College Insurance Programs when their children were very young, today’s graduates almost always go for dollars versus building toward a more lasting first-job experience that will aid them in future endeavors. In short they simply want us to “show me the money!”
My advice to these young adults follows this matrix: “Obviously, money is important, but experience in your chosen field is vastly more significant than initial dollars and cents.” Today’s college graduates will certainly earn in excess of a million dollars in their lifetime. It doesn’t take a well-educated person to realize that earning a minimum of $25,000 over forty years will produce a millionaire. The majority of these graduates will reach and exceed that plateau by thousands of dollars. Thus, money is not initially as important as establishing their credentials in a chosen field.
Many people I have known started in lower paying jobs in their profession, but through patient and steady work habits, they have built a solid reputation for success in position and income. However, as I emphasize to the new graduates, “It doesn’t have to happen in your first two years out of college!”
A second question they often ask is, “How will I know when it is time to change jobs?” My answer normally begins with, “It won’t occur when you have been in a job for only six months! It takes time to learn what your position is all about and how it relates to others who come in contact with your particular job. If you know all there is to tackling your assignments, understand how your job relates to those around you, and you can assume their workload as well, then, and only then, might you consider looking at another job. And that usually takes at least a couple of years.”
I often tell them that in their “twenties” they are exploring. In their “thirties” they can really begin to focus on their life’s work. By their “forties” they know themselves and their potentials, and in their “fifties” they can really begin to reap the harvest they have sown over the years. Of course, a lot depends on the field they have chosen for their profession. Some graduates find success faster than others.
Another question the younger women I have mentored are concerned about has to do with marriage and raising a family. In today’s world, I normally advise them that they should NOT abandon their efforts to keep learning, even though their family responsibilities may take priority. Most of these women will find the necessity to re-enter the working world after the family is older. “Stay on top of your profession,” I urge them. “Educate yourself at every juncture possible, and maintain as many contacts in your field as you can. Never stop the educational process.”
It is important to stay in contact with these young people through their early work stages. I maintain an active file with their pertinent information to keep track of their efforts. Many will become future leaders and life-long friends. The better prepared they are – the better leaders they will be!
So, if you have the opportunity and should choose to be a mentor, by all means, accept it. You will find it one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. But don’t forget the prism through which you viewed the world when you were their age: you were probably idealistic, convinced you were ready to start at the top, and positive that the older generation was just that – way too much older! In short, when mentoring our most precious resource, exercise patience and compassion, and by all means, “give the kid a break!”