For this year's graduating seniors, it's time to dream big. Or not.
In today's bigger-is-better and more-is-still-not-enough mentality, graduates would do well to resist the temptation to define their future -- and their success -- by how big their paycheck is, how much stuff they own and, if their names appear in lights, how bright those lights are.
Some recent statistics are powerful reminders that small can make a big difference.
Consider this from the U.S. Small Business Administration: In 2006, the most recent information available, small businesses totaled approximately 23 million in the United States, employed half of all private sector employees and paid 44.3 percent of the total U.S. private payroll. They represented 99.7 percent of all employer firms and generated 60 to 80 percent of new jobs annually. Plus, they employed 39 percent of the nation's high-tech workers, including scientists, engineers and computer workers.
That's no small accomplishment.
Or, ponder this news about giving: In 2003, total giving to charitable organizations in the United States amounted to $241 billion -- and most of that did not come from giant corporations or multimillionaires. In fact, most of it -- $179.4 billion, or 74 percent -- came from individuals. At least one study shows 80 percent of those individuals are in households with an income of under $50,000.
The message for grads is this:
First, don't dismiss small businesses as the key to your future. Those same organizations that supported you in your academic and athletic endeavors through your growing-up years may be the perfect match for you as you begin your job search.
Second, don't wait until someday when you're wealthy to begin giving back. Studies show some of the most generous in our midst are those who have the least.
And, in case grads haven't received enough advice, here's a little more:
* Don't let what you do define who you are. Instead, let who you are determine what you do.
* Consider a course in Personal Finance 101 as soon as possible. Here's the Cliff Notes version of that course: Never spend more than you earn. As a wise pastor once put it: "Act your wage."
* Instead of pursuing pleasure and profits, aim to pursue a purposeful life.
* Call home. The world may be more wired than ever before, but people are more disconnected than they have been in previous generations. Never underestimate the value of human contact and never forget the people who made the opportunities you enjoy today possible.
* Become a lifelong student and life will never be boring.
* Don't be one of those people who spends their life rushing from one thing to the next. At least once a week, slow down and enjoy a walk, a slow walk.
* Seek advice from those you admire and trust. No one can know it all. Your decisions will be wiser if you involve others in your decision-making.
While it's important to always reach higher, it's also important to take time to acknowledge what you've accomplished. That's what graduation ceremonies are all about.
Congratulations, class of 2009. Bask in this milestone's moment. But don't get too comfortable. Colleges -- and other learning opportunities -- beckon, and there will be bills to pay.
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