Bill Sniffin’s Advice To Grads: Follow Your Dreams But Keep Your Day Job

Bill Sniffin writes: I worry a lot about this generation of graduates, that is, until I spend some time with them.

Bill Sniffin

May 19, 202210 min read

Sniffin 1
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

By Bill Sniffin, publisher emeritus

Holy cow, where do I start?

I have been writing these “advice to graduate” columns for almost four decades and each year some of the main points remain constant.

For example, go find some mentors.

Also, if you fail, move on.

You are young – that can be your advantage. And so on.

But this year? It has taken me a few weeks to put this message together. We are living in the strangest times.

At my current age, I could never have imagined living through a worldwide pandemic that killed 1 million Americans. Or watch as Russia pounds a perfectly innocent country into submission while threatening the rest of the world with nuclear annihilation. Or watch our federal government fumble and bumble on every conceivable serious issue.

Yes, these are strange times, indeed.

I worry a lot about this generation of graduates, that is, until I spend some time with them. The ones I hang around with are just wonderful. But these young people are way different from their parents and grandparents. They are among the first of the digital generation to graduate from high school and college.

It has been widely speculated that because of social media, these human beings are wired differently from previous generations. Their attention spans are smaller compared to the rest of us. Their faces are buried in their phones for countless hours of the day. A great many of them are paranoid because they have spent their whole lives barely avoiding being ruined socially by social media.

All of us, when we were in junior high and high school, walked through our days worried that someone would start some awful gossip about us. But that was child’s play compared to what the internet can do to a reputation of this generation.

My advice to grads today is to do what you love. I have long promised to write a booklet of advice to my grandkids called: “Follow Your Dreams – but keep your day job.” It is a work in progress.

In 1964 when I graduated from high school, the last thing we worried about was finding a job. Good-paying jobs were everywhere. It has taken 58 years for a similar time to come along. It appears that today’s grads have it made when it comes to finding a job.

Lots of jobs – but there is a catch

A young Cowboy State Daily reporter Leo Wolfson begged to differ with my above conclusion about the easy job market today. When I sent him a draft of this column he responded: “When I graduated college, it took me four months to get my foot in the door in journalism and another four months after that to find a halfway decent full-time job.

“There are lots of jobs out there no doubt, but due to the skyrocketing inflation and housing shortages, there are many jobs people aren’t taking because they simply don’t pay enough. A lot of employers are firmly against giving out overtime as well, which is self-detrimental, because those who are willing to work it are some of the best employees.

“I completely see eye-to-eye with your ‘do what you love’ argument and I think young people are taking it more seriously than ever before these days to chase their dreams. I’ve got a friend who is basically living out of his car and staying with friends to pursue his dream of working in the film industry. He works every chance he gets and doesn’t want to be tied down to a high-priced rental that cuts away from his financial freedom to pursue those job opportunities. I’ve heard of a lot of people doing similar things.”

My grandson-in-law Taylor Barnett, who has a degree in history but most recently managed a very nice pizza restaurant said: “As someone who has hired, managed, and worked alongside many from this younger generation I can tell you it’s hard to generalize. I knew kids who were lazy, but also plenty who were some of the most dedicated and hard-working people you will ever meet, and still more somewhere in the middle. Today’s grads are just like any other group. 

“The mainstream thinking is that America is in desperate need of labor. There’s a plethora of think pieces from corporate media that has proclaimed a ‘worker shortage.’ As if labor was just another broken link in the massive supply chain destruction witnessed over the last few years.

“Certainly, there is ample data to back up this theory, however, I think the better way to look at this situation is that while jobs are plenty, good jobs are scarce. How many stores, gyms, restaurants, daycares, movie theaters are now hiring? A lot.

“How many of them are offering a wage that keeps pace with inflation, benefits, a clear path to advance one’s career? A sparse few. A job is certainly a noble and just thing, but not all of them are made equal. This is not necessarily a dig at small businesses, rather Americans’ collective experience with the pandemic has changed everything.

“I think this is abundantly clear with the recent announcement from Airbnb. Their CEO just came out and said his company will stay remote ‘forever.’ As a result, over 800,000 people visited the company’s career page.

“The labor landscape has been disrupted and young people are leading this charge. I think the days of accepting less-than-ideal working conditions are long gone. Heck, it would not surprise me one bit if many of these grads first major interview is held over Zoom from their bedroom for a company thousands of miles away. 

Young people learned to be nimble

“Ultimately, I think the best advice I could give a young person is that they need to stay nimble and adaptable. After spending their formative years witnessing one major earth-shattering event after another (school shootings, global pandemic, toxic politics, Afghanistan withdrawal, etc.)  they are used to rolling with the punches. They will need that spunk and spirit going forward more than ever. The world is a tumultuous place, and the only constant is change.

“In addition, I would also say if you are going to go to college, please for your own sanity, pursue a degree with a job in the title. Nursing, engineering, teaching, criminal justice, etc. After spending a ludicrous amount of money on a post-high school education it will make the transition from student to professional much easier.”

Up in Sheridan, Pat Henderson, who manages the fabulous Whitney Benefits, offers this advice for grads: “Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If you believe in your idea – stick it out. Exhaust every opportunity to finish what you have dreamed. Remember that your words always matter. 

“These students have seen so much in their short lives. They should treasure and hold close the things that count – Family, God, Country, Friends, and Community. Be gracious and grateful. Have courage – ‘You can choose courage or you can choose comfort. You cannot have both,’ is one of my favorite quotes from Brene’ Brown.  

“Go to church. God is a good listener. Really, really value, appreciate, and love your future spouse. Say you are sorry when you need to. You will know when that is. My last item – as my kids say – ‘Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff.’” 

Retired Miliary Leader Bob Tipton of Lander still advises young military men and women. He offers up these observations: “I am afraid we have young people who lack the skills or tools to deal with failure. They fail to understand that through failure you have the opportunity to get stronger.

“As someone that still mentors young Army Officers entering the work force (or Army), I don’t believe this generation is as well prepared to handle failure. I believe we, as the generation who raised them failed them in this area out of love. We protected them in such a way that their opportunities to fail in the formative years means they may be less equipped to handle disappointment or failure as they enter the workforce.

“Failures we can’t protect them from and failures that will happen are a part of life. I believe that when a failure occurs there is an opportunity to not only learn from that failure but it makes us stronger and more resilient to handle future adversity. I believe there is a connection here to our increased suicide rates in recent years of our younger population and while certainly not the sole cause, I strongly believe it is a contributing factor.

Fear of failure

“Instead of being able to recognize that we can not only recover from our failures but become better and stronger, many who are not exposed to failure when they are younger and experience such a blow that they truly believe they cannot recover and instead of getting stronger they tailspin into destructive behavior with some even taking their life. 

“I have grappled with trying to understand why this is happening for some time (of course traumatic events such as we see in the Army further drive this issue).

“So when I speak to young people about life skills when entering the work force, I speak at length about the significance and opportunity that failure brings and the importance of how we view failure as we cannot and should not always win . . . and as young parents they need to raise their children to not fear failure and not over protect them to shelter them from an acceptable level of failure.”

Thanks Leo, Taylor, Pat, and Bob for that additional advice.

To wrap up, my last piece of advice concerns seeking a job. It is important to follow the latest trends – will this job be necessary in the next 10 years? Today’s employers know that these young people have strong social values and they will cater to them. Many of today’s young people are not willing to put in the extra time like most of my generation. I loved my work and couldn’t get enough of it.

Just remember this when you go to an interview. Look your future employer in the eye. Be prepared. Answer questions truthfully. Dress appropriately. And for God’s sake, leave that damn cell phone in your pocket.

Good luck and Godspeed.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.