How to Not Succeed in Life: Nine Things Every Young Graduate Should Know

Tis the season for graduation speeches, when accomplished individuals draped in medieval garb deliver words of wisdom to anxious twenty-two-year-olds. I usually hate such occasions: the sappiness, the clichés, the self-congratulation. I skipped my college graduation and likely would have passed on my high school ceremony too, if given the chance. When it comes to doling out generic life advice, I am certainly no expert.


But with so many wonderful speeches floating around right now, I thought I would offer up a timely antidote. As you can see from the title of this post, my “speech” will focus on how to not succeed in life. That’s right. I plan to dispense terrible advice, carefully designed to deflate the hopes, dash the dreams, and derail the destinies of our country’s brightest young minds. Why, you might ask? Well, keep reading, and hopefully you’ll see.

Good afternoon, class of 2015! And what a fine looking bunch you are. Today is finally here, the day you will each receive that expensive piece of paper henceforth entitling you to a life of quick and easy success. The hard part is pretty much over, so I suggest you begin the celebration tonight, and continue for at least the next few months. Relax. Rest on your laurels. Trust me; you’ve earned it!

Fortunately for you, I’ve decided to keep this address mercifully brief. After all, I know how short your attention spans are! Still, should you get bored at any time during the next fifteen minutes, I encourage you to get out your smart phones and start scrolling around on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Chances are you will find something stimulating enough to distract you for the few seconds you might have otherwise spent developing a complex thought, or just mentally recovering until something genuinely interesting turned up.

So, here it is. A lifetime’s worth of advice condensed into nine convenient points.

1. First, I want to just remind you that you’re awesome! Thirteen years of grade school and four years of college should have been enough to artificially inflate your self-esteem, but I’m not willing to take any chances here. As Exhibit A, just look at your awesome grades. A’s are now the most common grades awarded, up from 15% in 1960 to 43% now. Think about how much smarter that makes you than your grandparents! Humility is okay, but only when it’s the false kind. Like, “look at me over here; I’m awesome, but I’m so humble about it! Which pretty much makes me double awesome!” Right on, bro.

2. Second, let me remind you that whatever is going on in your life at any given moment pretty much predicts the entire rest of it. When times are good, assume the rest of your life will be nothing but smooth sailing. By no means should you plan for a “rainy day”; those only happen to other people. Don’t bother giving thanks for your blessings. Everything good that comes your way is the direct result of your unparalleled brilliance.

3. On the other hand, should you find yourself experiencing a moment of doubt, much less a major setback, take this as a clear sign that your life is now headed for total and irredeemable failure. You have fallen off the smooth escalator ride of personal advancement, and there is simply no getting back on. Didn’t get the job you wanted? Your boyfriend broke up with you? You feel a nagging sense of discontent, as though something important is missing from your life? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s rare for people to recover from such misfortunes.

4. Compare yourself to other people about your age, and worry obsessively about what other people think about you, including casual acquaintances and strangers on the Internet. This is best done through the infallible lens of social media. Your friends sure seem happy on Instagram. Look, some of them are even at the beach right now. Or dating someone awesome. Or just landed a dream job in your field. Yep, something is definitely wrong with you.

5. Don’t take risks. After all, you might fail. Instead, play it safe. Put in the standard forty-hour work week, and expect to be rewarded generously for it. After the first month or so on the job, begin presenting your boss with a weekly list of demands to help you strike a better work-life balance. Remember, it’s his (or her) job to accommodate your needs.

6. Take this time in your life to experiment with multiple sexual partners. You’re in your twenties after all, which according to virtually every pop culture outlet means you should be having lots of meaningless sex. Don’t worry about the potential for contracting a sexually transmitted disease, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, or becoming emotionally involved with someone entirely incompatible with your values. Instead, find someone cool to cohabit with, and just see what happens. You know, nothing serious. This will all be easily explained to your future spouse, should you choose to get a future spouse.

7. Try to live in as narrow a world possible. Don’t deviate from the routine. Avoid travel to foreign countries, as this is both dangerous and expensive (you need your money for alcohol). Also, don’t read books. You read enough books (or started them at least) in school. Instead, pass the time by watching lots of reality TV.

8. Be selfish! Think primarily about your own happiness. Don’t bother trying to help others around you; that’s their business. Surely someone else is taking care of the poor in your community and helping oppressed people throughout the world. You’ve got more important stuff to deal with. Take your family and close friends for granted, and only show up on their doorsteps in times of personal crisis. Don’t bother returning phone calls, checking in, or helping out. They know they can count on you (when it’s good for you).

9. My final and most important piece of advice is this: make excuses for yourself! Do not by any means accept personal responsibility for your actions. If something doesn’t go your way, it is almost guaranteed to be somebody else’s fault. In a jam over who to blame? Just use one of these handy fall-backs: your parents, society, the 1%, inequality, racism, sexism, oppressive cultural norms, Fox News, and/or the Electoral College.

Well, class of 2015, it’s been great. Thanks for listening. You may have noticed some similarities between these nine points and some of the social and cultural messages you’ve already been exposed to. They are the little destructive thoughts and bad habits we are all prone to slipping into from time to time. But the fact that these mistakes are common does not make them any less harmful, so here is my real advice:

  1. Believe in yourself, and take pride in your achievements. Stay confident, but humble.
  2. Give thanks for your blessings and understand that material success is not guaranteed. If you were to lose it all tomorrow, what would keep you going?
  3. Expect setbacks, but try to maintain a sense of perspective when they occur.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others, especially on social media.
  5. Take calculated risks and be willing to sacrifice for your dreams. The world does not owe you anything.
  6. Think carefully about the consequences before entering a sexual relationship with someone, and don’t cohabit before marriage.
  7. Broaden your mental horizons with plenty of travel and good books, including fiction. If you can’t go abroad, seek out new experiences in your own neck of the woods.
  8. Take time to serve others in your community, but also invest in your close relationships. When you do fall on hard times, it’s not society that will comfort you, but your family and close friends. So make sure you are there for them too when they need you most.
  9. Don’t make excuses for failure; instead use it as fuel to drive your next success.

But first, congratulations! You really do deserve it. A college degree is a major accomplishment, and certainly nothing to scoff at. I wasn’t lying either when I said you’re awesome. So good job, and good luck!

One thought on “How to Not Succeed in Life: Nine Things Every Young Graduate Should Know

  1. Your insight and perspective are on target. My wife and I, in that order raised two intelligent and fairly successful daughters.

    We taught them that the Holy Scriptures are the final authority in every situation.

    We taught them that social equality was theirs only as long as they were willing to accept it as an endowment from their creator and from those courageous souls who had given themselves in order to gain it.

    We taught them that they would have to give of themselves in order to defend it or that it would vanish like a vapor.

    We taught them that they were ultimately responsible for their own worldly successes and failures and that neither one, worldly success or failure meant anything in eternity.

    We taught them that their personal relationship with Jesus was all that would sustain them in times of crisis, but that dad and mom would be right there with them.

    We taught them that personal courage would be required if they take a stand for moral purity and personal integrity.

    We taught them to pray with passion and expect God to hear and answer according to His will in their lives.

    Our parents taught us that these are values to live by and we passed it on.

    Our children have done a very good job in honoring us.

    I’m suspicious that your parents are proud of your insight and wisdom.

    Please pass my best wishes to them.

    Semper Fidelis!

    Mike Yates

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