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An Open Letter to a Graduating Daughter


by Danny Pancho

The writer's daughter graduates this March from the Ateneo de Manila University, and he shares his letter of advice to her with all college students graduating this year.

Dear Elynaea,

Today is your day. As you sit barely listening to the endless stream of graduation speeches, a lot of things must be rushing through your head and producing a mix of emotions.

You must be recalling those days of struggle -- the countless hours spent studying, doing research, preparing projects, agonizing over possible test results -- and relief passes through you as you realize that they are finally over.

Too, your mind must be trying to peer into the future. You daydream of landing your first job, of earning your first salary, even of eventually getting your own car, acquiring your own flat and traveling to different places.

But as you gaze around, the sight of your classmates must dampen your enthusiasm and fuel feelings of anxiety. So many new graduates soon to go looking for a job, just like you. And you must be wondering: How will I fare in the job market? Will I be another jobless statistic? Or will I be among the lucky ones who find a good job right away? How tough is it really out there? Will I be successful in my chosen career?

Your trepidation is understandable, and I wish I could guarantee your future for you. But I can't. Only you can decide your fate through the priorities you set, the decisions you make, the efforts you spend, the sacrifices you make.

The best thing I can do for you today is to share years of insight on how to effectively manage one's career. These insights come not only from my own experience but also from observing successful people -- friends and former classmates, peers in the profession, my superiors, work associates and many others. They come from different fields and took different approaches, but the underlying principles for their success are uncannily similar. Here they are:

Have a clear vision. Your vision should be as clear and as specific as you can make it. Aim as high as you believe you can go. If you aim too low, you might find the challenge insufficient and the achievement too shallow. If you aim too high, you may have difficulty hitting your target and may live a life full of frustration.

Your vision should be something you truly believe will give your life significance and meaning. Being young, you may think that financial reward or fame would make you happy. They won't. People with such vision often end up miserable and empty inside even when they do succeed. To find your vision, imagine yourself retiring four decades later and asking yourself, "Did my achievements make me the best of what I could be?"

Draw up a focused plan. This plan will give you the focus and the general guidelines to attain your vision and mission. For now, it should contain only the broad strokes and offer answers to the "what" and the "when." The specifics (the "how") will come later.

It is also very important that you know the value of properly pacing yourself. A pace that is too fast can lead to exhaustion and burnout. A pace that is too slow can lead to complacency, meandering and loss of interest.

Right now, you will not be able to determine your correct pace, but you can start creating a time frame containing rough estimates. With experience, you will develop a better sense of timing and can adjust your plan accordingly.

Prepare a specific action plan. After you have defined your vision and mission then it is time for implementation.

The first thing you have to do is, of course, get a job based on your vision. Find the organization that can help you achieve your vision -- provide you proper training and development, recognize your talents and give you opportunities to move up. The search may be long and hard, but if you put your heart and mind to it, you will find this organization. There are many articles on job hunting, including those that I have written. Now is the time to apply the insights you have gained from them.

Once aboard that organization, try to acquire a clear idea of how the company works. What are its vision, goals, strategies and priorities? How aligned are these with yours? Use this information to prepare your strategy for accomplishing each step of your mission. These are now the specifics, the detailed action plan.

To help you draw up that action plan, try answering these questions: How long will it realistically take you to move from one level to the next higher one? What are the things you have to accomplish? What preparatory training and developmental steps must you take? Can the organization provide you these? If it can, how can you avail yourself of them? If it cannot, can you obtain them outside the company? How much will it cost you? What assistance will you need?

As I said earlier, this is just a very rough framework for career success. The gaps and details will have to be filled by you.

Later in life, certain events may occur that will require you to revise your plan, rethink your strategy, or adjust your timing. Some of them may be good -- an unexpected promotion, a significant transfer, even a better job offer. If this happens, do not become complacent or overconfident. Always keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

Some may be bad and derail your plan -- an economic or industry slump, a shift in the organization's priorities, a change in management. Don't despair. Adjust your plan and timing, but keep your mind focused on your vision. The road to success is not always straight and paved; there may be detours and rough trails along the way. But with patience, perseverance and determination, no doubt you will make it.

I have saved the best for last that you may remember it best: Always pray to God for guidance and strength in all your endeavors. No matter how well you plan and how hard you work, without His blessing, all will be in vain.

God bless and Godspeed!

Papa