Graduation Toolkit: A Leading Career Coach’s 5 Most Inspired Tools

the world is in the hands of knowledgeToday’s graduate, just like the rest of us, faces an uncharted world.  Creativity, not conformity, is the new security.  Back in the days of “snail mail,” horse and covered buggies and Ford Pintos, we were advised to stick with one career path, work hard, and aim “sky high” for the promise of predictability and a gold watch.  Those days are gone.  Today, there is no external job security.  Yet there is a stable and intensely satisfying way to make it in the world.  It’s called following your passion.

I’m grateful the world no longer supports the status quo.  I want more for today’s graduates or anyone who may be graduating into a different period of learning in their lives.  You deserve more than a gold watch.  You deserve to experience a golden time.

Typical career advice focuses on vocational assessments, resume writing, and networking skills, along with studying the hot fields and companies in the available job market.  But real career success, at any age, involves staying true to your talents, putting your nose to the ground and tracking your destiny, following the genius that you alone possess.  It involves studying yourself, more than the job market.  Because today’s world isn’t about “fitting in” to finite opportunities.  It’s about waking up to new capacities and needs, stirring the pot, and revealing, creating, designing and divining the infinite opportunities available.

Business guru Daniel Pink says, in A Whole New Mind, that we are moving away from the information age to the conceptual age and that “right-brainers will rule the future.”  He explains, “The keys to the kingdom are changing hands.  The future belongs to a very different person with a very different kind of mind—creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers.  These people—artists, inventors designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers—will now reap society’s richest rewards.”  Pink emphasizes that in the imminent future an MFA degree will serve you more than an MBA, because global business and industry now require creative, emotionally intelligent, out-of-the-box, intuitive thinking to meet the divergent and evolving climate of business and life.

I’ve been a career coach for over twenty years now, and I’ve seen the fall-out of old career thinking, both in the lives of my clients, and in my own professional life.  For me, traditional, now archaic, career advice garnered me a way to make a living, but not a way to discover and express my soul.  Sure, I was “successful,” on the surface, at a major law firm, having graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.  But, I could not sustain that kind of success.  I was born to be a writer, and the truth will always out.  Inevitably, the soul’s desire to express is stronger than the ego’s desire to maintain equilibrium.  The Universe or nature gave us our desires for a reason.  They are seeds that are meant to turn into orchards of good in our lives.  And if those energy sources are denied, then those seeds become time bombs designed to destroy limitation.  The infinite within us will always prevail.

In coaching, I’ve seen a pattern I find strangely encouraging.  I’ll put it this way.  The velocity of our times demands authenticity.  Our fast-paced world is a 24/7 kind of marathon.  So if you’re not doing work that comes from your soul, you will have to work too hard to keep it up.  And you will always have to wrestle too hard to keep your true passions at bay.  We used to have more of a buffer to keep our secrets, even from ourselves.  But increased demand requires an efficient use of our energy.  And living your calling is the most efficient, practical, joyous, and generous thing you can do with your life.

So, here’s my idea of a graduation/creative life kit and gift.  Of course, I’d give anyone who’s graduating, or laid off or retiring and graduating into a new phase of their lives, a brand new copy of This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love(Tarcher/Penguin).  And I’d give them this invaluable “tool kit” filled with 5 unconventional totems—designed to reinforce a creative, inspired approach to discovering the right work and the sweetest life:

A Breadcrumb:
Give up on trying to figure out your whole life all at once.  A creative career life is one of following the breadcrumbs to the Ginger Bread house of everything you desire.  When I work with clients I tell them, you do not need to figure out every detail.  I only want to focus on the one inspired direction or action of this moment.  One intelligent, conscious moment will lead to the next and the next and you will find yourself in places you could not have navigated in any other way.  I am not interested in the brain’s strategy as much as I am interested in the present directives of your core intelligence, which issues from your heart, gut or soul.  You do not have to figure out your whole life.  You have to pay attention to what feels right to you in this moment.

If you try to see too far up ahead, you will be frustrated and incapacitated.  And you will miss the direction, clue, or necessary step opening right in front of you.  There will always be a breadcrumb.  There will always be a next step.  There will always be something to do, feel, heal, shift your thinking on in this moment.

I offer you the example of Ray Kroc, a former high school drop-out, who took over the small-scale McDonald’s corporation franchise and built it into the most successful fast food operation in the world. Kroc started off by wanting to sell milk shake mixing machines.  Noticing that the currently small hamburger chain McDonald’s had bought 8 milk shake mixers, he got the idea to buy the chain to expand his sales.  He followed his next step.  At the time, he wasn’t trying to become the leading fast food, or even hamburger, company in the world.  He was just following a nudge.  But that one breadcrumb led to a whole lot of buns.

A Yellow Birthday Candle: 
Pick the desire that will stay lit, your spirit’s birthday candle, even when a thousand winds blow.  Your true desires have invincible energy.  Please don’t talk yourself into being “realistic.”  When you compromise your desire, you will compromise your strength.  I’ve spoken to men and women in their eighties. “I always wanted to write.”  “I always wanted to sing,” they say, wistfully.  The desire never went away.  They had children, good and bad marriages, sickness, financial challenges, trips to distant ports in the world, and they never lost the desire.  That’s the thing about your inspired dreams.  They may look fragile or frivolous, but they have the power to outlast all other desires.

I tell my clients, “Only the real dream has the power.”  You can’t marshal all your mysterious forces of strength, creativity, and tenacity for a desire you “sort of” want.  Mild wants won’t do it.  You need to follow the wild wants.  They will take you on a journey you could never imagine and you don’t want to miss.

I spent 12 years writing This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love and faced many rejections and disappointments.  But real desire gives you stamina.  You can withstand pain and detours, because it’s more painful to give up on the desire.  Thomas Edison failed thousands of times, but continued his research and finally produced the light bulb, among other inventions.  He didn’t give up because he had a “yellow birthday candle,” the inner demand to invent, an inviolate pilot light, a true desire.  He would not have had this same tenacity for a goal he didn’t love.

A Pez Holder:
Trust your crazy ideas.  Resist the temptation to think “Oh that’s stupid,” or “That would never go anywhere.”  You have no idea the journey a single idea can take you on.  You have no idea how often fun or silliness or whim is the precursor of massive creativity, discovery, opportunity, and success.  I’m offering you a Pez holder as a totem because of the legendary story of how eBay, the foremost online revenue generator in the history of the Internet began.  In 1995, Pierre Omidyar started eBay from his home so his girlfriend could have a way to trade Pez (candy) dispensers with others.  Aren’t you glad that Omidyar didn’t just say, “Oh for god’s sakes, why do you need another candy dispenser?  Can’t you do something productive, like get a real job or start an internet company?”

Listen within and do not listen to others who do not hear the music.  No one knows your path.  You won’t even know your own inspired path.  Solicit information, experience, and advice– but choose what you listen to.  I always tell clients, “I never take advice from unhappy people.”  The truth you listen to determines your whole life.  Pay attention to things that ring true for you or expand your possibilities.  Creative innovator Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Computers, says, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice…have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.  They somehow already know what you truly want to become.  Everything else is secondary.”

In her early career in journalism, Oprah Winfrey was advised to drop the emotional “touchy feely” aspect of her reporting.  But Oprah put on her earplugs and chased her strength instead.  She didn’t listen to those who did not support her innate gift.  Now the world listens to her.

An Acorn:
Begin anywhere– and know that your potential is huge, even when your beginnings are small.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.”  We live in a culture that celebrates fast, big, and instant success stories.  But real success comes from the humility to start wherever you can and remember the magnitude within you.  Self- help author Alan Cohen says “Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin.  Beginning makes the conditions perfect.”

Academy-award winning film director and movie executive Steven Spielberg ached to be in the movie business.  He tried to enroll in college to study film but was repeatedly rejected.  Finally, he got an unpaid apprenticeship at Universal Studios.  Spielberg says even after his apprenticeship, he snuck into the movie lot in order to learn.  “I visited the lot every day I could and got to know people, observed techniques, and just generally absorbed the atmosphere.”  Do not wait for the world to welcome you.  You know the golden promise within you.  Just find conditions that help you grow.  Grab every opportunity.  Do an internship.  Volunteer your time.  And always work with and from love.


As you toss your graduation caps into the sky, I take off my hat to you.  You will inherit this world that is unlike any other time before this time.  This is the world that matches you.  This is the world you were born for.  You have everything you need– and the world needs what you alone have to give it.  You are loved and guided always.