My Advice to Graduates: Avoid This MAJOR Mistake

Have you ever felt like your reflection in the mirror is different from the real you? 

Have you ever felt like your reflection in the mirror is different from the real you? 

The major mistake I see young graduates make is this: believing that what they do in their “free time” has no bearing on their job performance. Free from the pressures of work, and especially of being continuously assessed by everyone, from their peers to their supervisors, graduates often feel the urge to wind down after work in ways that, over time, are counter-productive. Most of life is spent outside of work, so the ways in which we spend this time deserves more thought and attention than is usually paid.

As a graduate, you need to master how to lead your life when you are away from the prying eyes of your company. I believe this is what ultimately separates good employees from great ones: the ability to lead a happy, productive life regardless of what day of the week it is. The following career tips will help you manage your off-work hours so you can be the best you everywhere—in and out of the office, Saturday through Sunday.

Career Tip #1: Secure mentors.

The easiest way to be successful is to follow the steps of those who already are. Look for people who you admire and approach them for guidance. We all have similar struggles, and having someone to talk to or to follow who has been through challenges is priceless. Mentorship, like nutrition, should be balanced and full of variety. You should have mentors within and outside of your company; within and outside of your industry; within and outside of your age group, gender, and race. Have as many as possible. This helps with exposing yourself to varying perspectives and making your decisions more informed.

Don’t be afraid to ask people to mentor you. Overcome your fear of rejection by keeping in mind that truly successful folks like to teach others the “secrets” of greatness. Professors have open office hours where they help students unravel the mysteries of a subject matter; top executives and managers do as well.

Career Tip #2: Learn on your time.

Companies swear that “on-the-job” training is the best. By that, they mean you learn by doing. I get that philosophy, but it’s not the whole story. The truth is that your performance is constantly being reviewed on the job, so you have little room for error. Let’s face it, the company is not a school, and you were employed by it to deliver, not to learn, per se.

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“True leaders have no off switch: they show up at work, and they show up at life, too.”

-Michael Taiwo, author of DREAM


They devote some time to training you so you can deliver, but they want you to spend more (if possible, all) time delivering than training. The way to navigate this tricky situation is to accept that some of your off-work hours should be spent training for your job.

Let me use an example to make this clear. Let’s say you are a civil engineering graduate in a chemical plant. Your knowledge of process engineering is not at graduate level, but you are in a team responsible for all the heat exchangers in the factory. The company will say, “Don’t worry, we will train you, and you will learn on the job.” This is partially true. If you want to stand out, you will spend many nights and weekends mastering how heat exchangers work. If the company has a library, you will avail yourself of it. You will ask to check out books on heat exchangers. Or you will go online and listen to lectures on heat exchangers. There will be a huge gap in your knowledge initially, but with enough motivation, it will become smaller over time.

The main piece of career advice here is that much of the learning for your job will have to take place on your own time after work. The typical 40-hour week is not enough time for you to both deliver on the job and learn all that is needed to excel.

In my experience, this is what distinguishes those who achieve fast-tracked careers relatively early. They spend time away from the office learning everything about their profession so that it looks as though they have more experience than they actually have. There is one more reason this is important. Remember last week when we talked about differentiation and integration as the keys to professional success? If you spend adequate time learning the technical details of your job while away from the office (differentiation), then you are free to network at work and interact with others outside your team (integration).

Career Tip #3: Take care in choosing your spouse.

Who you choose to marry will have bearing on how happy you will be about life and how much impact you will make at work. Between the posts last week and this one, I have given many pieces of career advice; yet, you can break every one of those rules and still turn out alright if you have the right spouse. The converse is also true: you can uphold every one of the rules and still lose with the wrong man or woman. Never underestimate the power your spouse will have over you. Men are especially guilty of this, falsely believing they will do just fine regardless of who wakes up beside them every day. Unfortunately, I am not a relationship expert so I’ve got no advice for you on what you should look for in a relationship. But know that this is a critical decision—personally and professionally. The benefit of getting it right is invaluable, and the cost of getting it wrong is incalculable. Perhaps the only thing I can tell you is to consult your mother before making this choice. (And if that sounds like poor advice for your situation, I just warned you that I am no relationship expert!) Good luck!

There is no professional life and personal life. There is just life.
— Michael Taiwo

Summary: There is no dividing line between your professional and personal lives.

No one can present one face to the world and another to themselves without eventually becoming confused as to which is real. There is no professional life and personal life. There is just life. And your work doesn’t start at 9 a.m. any more than it ends at 5 p.m.; it is 24/7. True leaders have no off switch: they show up at work, and they show up at life, too. If you keep winning in the ring, and keep losing out of it, eventually you’ll start losing in the ring. Work affects life in the same way life affects work. A holistic approach that helps one positively reinforce the other is best. This means you should watch what you do with your time, within and without the office. It means taking charge of your life, and not running it on autopilot. It means redefining leisure in constructive ways. It means being authentic, being real and living your dream everywhere you are.


I would love to hear your take on this article. Please feel free to use the comment box to share your advice to graduates. 


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Overcome your fears today

For inspiration on how to overcome your fears, please check out the book Dream: A Little Reminder to Graduates and Anyone Beginning Anew by Michael Taiwo