What Every College Graduate Needs to Know About Success


It’s that time of year.  Hope and promise are in the air as excited 20-somethings flee the hallowed halls of academia for the real world. Okay, perhaps there is some fear or anxiety mixed in.

college graduate

This time of year my e-mail fills up with 20-somethings looking for solid advice on starting out in their careers and life.

With each new crop of graduates, I get to test out some of my favorite life principals and see how they stand the test of time.

Graduates are different now than they were 15 years ago when I graduated with my Master’s Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology.

Sometimes I go back as a guest speaker and my mind is blown – all the students have laptops in front of them.

Where did all the notebooks and pens go?

I realize I am dating myself but the perk of not being a 20-something is the exponential wisdom that comes with age.

Another thing that has changed – these college graduates are far more savvy than when I graduated.

They have access to information and knowledge that I couldn’t get my hands on. The most savvy of the students have “elevator pitches” rivaling the most polished and elite corporate crusaders.

But I don’t let their broader access to information and well rehearsed elevator pitches fool me.

One thing remains the same year after year.

They are terrified and have no idea how to start applying all their book smarts.

What every college graduate needs to know is school experience doesn’t equate to life experience.

If you embrace that, you will go far.

When a recent graduate reaches out, I always respond.  I take the time to get on the phone or return their email because their willingness to reach out demonstrates initiative.

In my book, initiative should always be rewarded as it is part of the success equation.  Effort + Initiative + Great Attitude = Success.

Here are 24 other things every college graduate needs to know about success:

  1. Fear is a sign you are doing something right. Learn how to make friends with your fears.
  1. Sometimes you have to “fake it until you can make it.”
  1. Success is something you define for yourself.
  1. Somewhere deep inside of you are all the answers you need to make the most critical life decisions. Learn how to trust your intuition.
  1. At some point you will experience a life crisis. You will survive it. Learn from it and move on.
  1. Be of service to others.
  1. Develop a gratitude mindset. Find at least three things everyday to be grateful for.
  1. Be the best team player you can be. Replace the word “I” with “We” except for when taking accountability.
  1. When taking accountability, it is about you. Stand up and take responsibility even if it wasn’t your direct fault. Fix it and own the solution.
  1. Accountability gets promoted.
  1. Learn how to be comfortable in discomfort – this is where growth happens.
  1. Have a vision for yourself and your life.
  1. Without vision there is no purpose.
  1. Without purpose there is no plan.
  1. Without a plan there is no action.
  1. Be a person of action. Be a doer.
  1. Learn how to build relationships and understand their reciprocal nature. Hint: It’s about learning how to support others in their goals.
  1. Be a skilled communicator. Understand the process and how to deliver a message.
  1. Guard your words because they are more powerful than you think.
  1. Learn how to embrace change and make friends with uncertainty.
  1. Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.
  1. Show up! Yes, sounds easy but some people struggle with this.
  1. Physically show up but make sure you are truly present in every action you take. Mindfulness and intention matter.
  1. Never stop learning.
  1.  It has taken me a while to figure this last one out – Life is a journey, there is no destination.

Fill in the blank: What every college graduate needs to know about success is______________.


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  1. says

    Tara, how I wish you were blogging a few years back or we had connected back then- this would have been such an amazing read- sending this link to all my high school teacher mates!

    Saying that, I can definitely take bits and pieces into entering the workforce!

    • Tara Newman says

      Yeah, well, I have a few years on you and they apply to me too! I am glad you got something out of them.

  2. says

    I love the progression from vision to purpose to plan to action. It’s so logical, and yet breaking it down into those steps is so important. Wish I had these tips years ago! Will be sharing far and wide.

  3. says

    Such great tips for graduates or anyone starting out on a new journey!!!
    I think they are all awesome but I really love the one about integrity!!!

  4. says

    Your tips are wonderful. They need to find a way to implement this in the official curriculum for every college and university!

    Can I add my two cents? Success is not measured by the amount of material possession you amass throughout your life, but the level of satisfaction you feel when you look back at your life.

    It might seem odd and unrealistic but I truly believe that’s what success is really about.

  5. says

    Even though we’re the same age (probably?) I wish I could go back in time and know you back then. Holy cow. I was scared.
    I confess that I still am and that I still feel like I’m on the cusp of that big leap – that big journey.
    So these tips are timeless.

    • Tara Newman says

      I have a few years on you!! We are all just walking through this life with as much courage, purpose and positivity we can muster.

  6. says

    Where were you when I was graduating from college??? This is totally off subject but right now we have an intern who’s 22. I felt so old when the poor boy didn’t know what Miami Vice was. Really???? Kids these days. :)

    • Tara Newman says

      This cracks me up as evidenced by our twitter banter last night! When you were graduating college, I was probably just a year or two ahead of you. I would have been no help to you back then :-)

  7. says

    Tara, thank u! In my staff, my team, 15 are about to graduate…. I’m honoured to work with these bright minds on a daily basis and I will be happy to share this with them all.

    :). Great work!

  8. says

    Absolutely everything on this list is totally spot-on…and I feel like a great reminder to everyone. Am printing this out right now. Because I need to be remembering this fantastic life advice also!-Ashley

    • Tara Newman says

      I am glad you for it useful. I always forget to post something printable to make it easier to print. I need to get on that :-)

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