How to Be Successful After Graduation

Nineteen years ago, I gave a speech at my high school graduation.  I was honored to have a chance to speak with my fellow classmates in our final high school moments.  

If I gave a speech to graduates today, here are some of the thoughts that I would want to share with them.  But first, a little about what has changed for me in the last 19 years…

I have had quite a few different jobs and professional roles.  

  • Studied biochemistry, chemistry, physics, biology, and English in college.
  • Went to film school in New York.
  • Taken too many standardized tests (MCAT, DAT, LSAT, etc.)
  • Started five different businesses.
  • Attended law school, and I now work as a business, tax, and intellectual property attorney.

In that time, I have learned a few things – some of them easy, some of them not so easy. Based on the best things that I have learned, I am going to share with you exactly what I would tell a brand-new graduate of high school, college, or graduate school.

1.   The Law of the Farm

There is a law that every farmer knows, and we would all be wise to remember it.  It is called the law of the farm.  A farmer plants seeds and does not expect a harvest until the natural time for the harvest.  He doesn’t expect a harvest the next day, week, or even month.  He doesn’t try to put extra water on the crops to speed things up.  He doesn’t sit there and watch the seeds until something happens.  He doesn’t look for shortcuts.  This makes sense to all of us.  But outside of agriculture, we don’t recognize this concept.  We don’t apply it in our professional lives or our social lives, or with our family.

Most of us looked for shortcuts in school – we crammed for tests the night before.  Well, that doesn’t work after school ends.  Cramming doesn’t work for a farmer.  It doesn’t work with your family either.  It may have worked in graduate school, but it ends there.

If you were going to run a race tomorrow, would you stay up all night tonight preparing for the race?  Of course not.  But it is so easy to think that life works like that.  It is so attractive to us to think that way.  But the farmer knows differently.  

The law of the farm says that there are no shortcuts.  Anything you want to accomplish will take consistent effort, just like a farmer planting seeds and cultivating his crops.  There is a natural process to follow.  We need to embrace the process and realize that a harvest takes time and there are no shortcuts.

2.   Decisions Now Can Affect You Forever

We are only young once, but we have to live with the results of our choices.  Opportunities will present themselves.  But opportunities do not last forever.  And the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.  Sometimes, you do not get second chances.  Make good decisions every day – you will have to live with the results of those decisions until the end of your life.

3.   Formula for Success: a few simple disciplines practiced every day

Jim Rohn gave two formulas – the formula for success and the formula for failure.  You need to understand them both.

Here is the formula for success: a few simple disciplines practiced every day.  Note that it says “simple”, not easy.  You have to discipline yourself.  But also note that it says “every day.”  This too can be hard.  But this is part of the process for success – you have to perform every day.  Not every other day, or every other week.  Every day.

4.   Formula for Failure:  a few errors in judgment repeated every day.

Here is the formula for failure: a few errors in judgment repeated every day.  What’s the most important word in this formula?  “Few.”  It doesn’t take many errors – just a couple repeated every day.  Think about that – we could be right about everything we think about, except two things.  And we could think we are “right” about those few things – and act on them every single day.  And that could lead to complete failure in our lives.

We need to make sure that we eliminate these errors in judgment.  How do we do that?  Find mentors.  Find people we trust enough to be open with – and then be transparent.  Share your thoughts and struggles.  Ask questions – not to everyone – but to people who you trust.  Most importantly, realize the possibility for errors in our own judgment.  Every day, try to eliminate the errors in judgment and perform the small disciplines that will lead to greater success.

5.   When a Brave Man Stands, the Spines of Those Around Him Stiffen.

Napoleon is attributed with saying, “When a brave man stands, the spines of those around him stiffen.”  He was probably talking about soldiers, but this applies to everything we do, for men and women.  Very few great things in life happen without courage.  But it can be difficult to be brave.  But we need you to have courage – because when you have courage everyone around you will suddenly be a little bit more courageous.  I need you, too.  I would love to be inspired by your courage.  

Unfortunately, the opposite is true.  If we cower before our problems, the people around us will do the same thing.  It is a cycle.  So start the cycle with your own courage, and others will be strengthened.  This is true in your career, with your family, and in your community.  

6.   There Is a Right Way to Treat People.  And a Wrong Way.

Life gets busy – there is no question about that.  And in that busyness, some of us have a tendency to forget that the people around us are, in fact, people – and not just “objects” to help us get what we want.  In that regard, in everything that we do, there is a right way to treat people and a wrong way to treat people.  Even if we need to have difficult conversations, this is true.  We should not blame other people for our own problems.  We should not say things about someone that we would not say to his or her face.  If we make a promise, we should keep it.  If we find out we can’t keep a promise, for some reason, we should make that known as soon as possible and apologize.  We should be loyal.  We should care about what is important to other people – even if it is not important to us.  Listen to people—not because we want something from them—but because we want to understand them.

Even if someone cannot help us in any way, we should still treat them as a person who has hopes, dreams, desires and is important.  There is a right way to treat people.

7.   You Don’t Have to Start Strong, But You Do Have to Finish Strong.

No one cares how you start.  Some of us started really well – maybe you had a great family, maybe you had a great childhood, maybe you loved your school experience.  But not everyone has those things.  Some of us have had pain, and have struggled.  Life has been really hard for some of us.  Some of us have lost loved ones or careers.  But I want you to know that it doesn’t matter how things “started.”  It matters how you finish.  It is like playing poker – it is not about the hand that you receive.  It is about how you play the cards that you have been given.  

People will not remember you for where you started.  They will remember where you end up.  Do not be afraid to start small because small things can lead to great things.  Do not be afraid of starting “behind” others.  Focus on what you can do right now, in the moment, and then move forward.  Remember: you cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction overnight.

Again, you do not have to start strong, but you do have to finish strong.  

Final Thoughts

For students, it is important to keep learning.  Education is important, but it does not stop at graduation.  Napoleon Hill said that an educated person can acquire anything he or she wants without violating the rights of others.  Are you educated?

In my graduation speech nineteen years ago, I quoted one of my favorite thinkers, Bruce Lee.  Bruce was a philosophy major in college and a very thoughtful and introspective man.  He truly believed that he only limits we live by “are the ones we set for ourselves.”  I believe that too.

Now if only someone would let me give this speech somewhere…

Are you interested in change and reinvention?  If yes, get my free book on the three types of reinvention (also titled, “Congratulations, You Lost Your Job!”) here.


  • Ian Elieff

    Thank you John for sharing this!
    A few great reminders. Life can get busy and sometime you can get so focused you lose sight of what matters.
    I was a huge fan of the “Law of the Farm”

    Hope the rest of you enjoy reading this blog.
    Again, thank you John! Keep up the great work!

    • John Mashni

      Thanks Ian!

  • I always have to remind myself that i’m planting seeds and there are no shortcuts in any area of life… Also that learning never stops… thanks for the reminders John! Loved it!

    • John Mashni

      Thanks Eric! I really appreciate it.