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Advice to the Class of 2020 - from the Class of 1982

The advice you wish you could tell your 18-year-old self.

As many of you know, I have an amazing wife and three beautiful daughters. As I write this blog, our youngest daughter is preparing to graduate from high school - and this will be released just a few days after her graduation.

I’ve frequently admired people who have the opportunity to deliver commencement addresses. I’ve often thought about the type of advice I would give if I’m ever asked to deliver a commencement address - something I secretly hope to do one day. (Let’s keep that between us, shall we?)

So, with my daughter graduating this week - our podcast and this blog post are dedicated to her. However, rather than directing my commencement address to her, I’m addressing this advice to my 18-year-old self. So, make no mistake, this message is not to my wonderful daughter, Emily. But I hope that she might benefit from the advice I’d like to give myself back in 1982. Things that I wish I’d heard back then. The reality is that I probably heard most of it - but didn’t listen. So here are a few things I wish I’d paid more attention to when I was her age.

1. Face challenges head-on and be part of the solution.

Never shrink from a challenge or throw up your hands and say that there’s nothing you can do. There’s almost ALWAYS something you can do - no matter what the situation is. Take, for example, a pandemic that is going to basically shut the world down in 38 years from now. It’s going to impact nearly everything. But, there will be examples of manufacturers that retooled to make face masks, and distilleries that immediately convert to making hand sanitizer, or the thousands of school districts that will convert to online teaching. We all have challenges and believe me, you’re going to face plenty in the coming years. But you have the power to choose how you will deal with the challenges that come your way. With every challenge you will face, there is always opportunity if you look at the situation from another perspective.

2. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.

You’re going to stumble around, and you’re going to fall flat on your face from time to time, but if you truly want to do something - Try! If you don’t, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. And, if you’re surrounded by people who constantly tell you that you can’t do something you truly want to do, then you need to find a new circle to run in. You already know that you’ll never get better at tennis if you don’t play with people that are better than you. So, find people who are better than you at whatever you decide to pursue, and get close to them.

3. No one is going to do it for you.

Despite the political environment today (in 1982) and 38 years from now - there are no free rides to success - no matter how you define your success. And, by the way, life isn’t fair. Get over it. Never, ever, ever be a victim of your circumstances. If you ever slip into that mentality, then change your circumstances - and don’t think for one second that you can’t change your circumstances. Take control of your own life, make good choices, and recover quickly from your bad choices quickly. The only thing that can hold you back is your own beliefs. When the time comes that you’re being held back, it’s time to examine yourself.

4. Pursue your passion.

Discover what you’re passionate about and pursue it like a racehorse with blinders on. It’s not enough to want to do something, you have to take action. And, I’m not talking about doing a few things, running into roadblocks, and then giving up. If you really want to do something, you can’t let anything ge

t in your way. I’m talking about taking Massive Action toward the pursuit of your dreams and goals.

5. Set goals for yourself.

The wise old philosopher Yogi Berra once said that you should be careful if you don’t where you’re going because you might not get there. Set goals for yourself, write them down, reach for them, and celebrate them before you set new higher goals.

6. Learn to have a great work ethic.

Listen, Tom, your father told you when you were growing up that if you work for someone, then WORK for them. What he meant was to always give your employer your best effort. Don’t ever give half an effort or three-quarters of an effort or even 99% of your effort. Always give your very best effort. By the way, you don’t realize it yet, but you’re going to veer off that path at some point. Get centered again quickly. This advice applies to yourself, too. When you decide to work for yourself (and BTW even when you’re working for someone else, you’re working for yourself), then get committed and work every day like it’s the day before your vacation and you need to clear off your to-do list so you can enjoy your time off.

7. Have a servant heart.

Be patient, gentle, and kind. That doesn’t mean that you can’t challenge or question the status quo - or criticize things you think are wrong. But it does mean that when you do so, so it with a spirit of gentleness and kindness. You will almost never win someone over to your opinion by arguing with them. Learn to disagree and debate. It will serve you well.

8. A positive attitude is a game-changer.

Nobody wants your negativity, Tom. As you continue down your path, whatever path you choose, a positive attitude is like a magnet to others. Think about it, do you want to spend time with people who have a negative outlook? Do you feel better after you spend time with someone who is pessimistic? Heck no! You want to be around people that make you feel good. So, always seek friends with a positive attitude - and more importantly, keep your attitude positive, and you’ll be amazed at the people you will attract.

9. Nobody likes a know-it-all.

There will come a time when you think you know everything. You’re invincible, and no one else knows more than you. That moment will come shortly before the moment you realize that you know nothing - and that is when you will really expand your mind and your thirst for knowledge will explode. And, by the way, learning doesn’t end with your graduation today, or when you graduate college. The sooner you realize that learning is a lifelong pursuit, the sooner you’ll gain wisdom.

10. Be grateful for everything.

No matter what you have, be grateful for it. Show gratitude to every kindness. Express your gratitude when you have a lot, but also when you have little. And no matter how little you think you have, someone else always has less. No matter how much you have, someone else has more. So you will never be served by comparing yourself to anyone else. Don’t envy anyone. If you truly admire them, for whatever reason, then do your best to be around them and emulate them because if you do, you can become the part of them that you admire.

11. Life is a series of moments.

As you live the rest of your life, good things are going to happen and bad things are going to happen. For the most part, most of those things will fade over time, and you’ll completely lose the memory of most of those things - good and bad. But as you live the life ahead of you, commit to remembering the moments of great joy. You’re going to have plenty of them, and the older you get, if you’ve committed to remembering them, you’ll pull together a tapestry of memories that will always bring a smile to your face. And as you remember those moments with the people who are present with you when the moment happens, you’ll strengthen their tapestry as well.

12. Live below your means.

No one ever got rich by spending all their money. I know it seems like eons away from where you are today, but you should be thinking about your eventual retirement NOW. The social security system was never designed to be a retirement plan. And, it’s going to run out of money before you get there anyway. The sooner you take action to prepare for it, the sooner you’ll be able to reach your financial goals, and the less stress you’ll have in your life. Trust me on this.

13. Be patient with your children.

Your children are going to challenge you someday. You’d be well-served to remember that your children are the very best combination of you and your future wife. I’m also sorry to tell you that they will inherit some of the things that you don’t like about yourself. As much as you see yourself in them, they are not you. They are each amazing and beautiful individuals. Be patient with them. Nurture them. Spend time with them - you will never regret it. You’re going to go through a “dark phase” of your life where you will miss almost everything they do - wake up from that quickly, and savor every moment after you do.

Finally - Know now that you ARE going to change the world... so, act like it! Because, after all, you are a bad-ass.

So there you have it - Congratulations to the Class of 2020. I hope you learn only a little from the class of 1982.

So, stop right now, and give some thought to the advice you wish you could give yourself on the day you graduated! What’s the most important thing you wish you had listened to then - and what are you going to do about it now?

Message me on LinkedIn or on our Facebook Page or email me or call my cell and tell me what advice you’re giving to yourself! I hope that advice will have a significant impact on your business value! What are you going to do today - to Maximize Business Value?

And remember, we’re here to help. If we can help you in any way don’t hesitate to reach out!

Check out our latest podcast on the same topic!

Tom Bronson is the founder and President of Mastery Partners, a company that helps business owners maximize business value, design exit strategy, and transition their business on their terms. Mastery utilizes proven techniques and strategies that dramatically improve business value that has been developed during Tom’s career 100 business transactions as either a business buyer or seller. As a business owner himself, he has been in your situation a hundred times, and he knows what it takes to craft the right strategy. Bronson is passionate about helping business owners and has the experience to do it. Want to chat more or think Tom can help you? Reach out at

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