Dear Dave: I am graduating this spring, and to be honest, I am angry that I will not have a chance to say goodbye to my classmates and enjoy normal graduation activities. The biggest thing that I feel cheated out of is a commencement ceremony where I can sit with my classmates and get some recommendations for how to go live my life. I am asking you to give me some commencement lessons that I can take with me for both my career and my personal life. I would appreciate your thoughts. — T

Dear T: I hear you loud and clear. This pandemic is cheating many people out of celebrations of their hard work and achievements. For the record, I think commencement ceremonies are more for your parents or guardians than they are for you. However, as you state, graduations are an opportunity for you and your classmates to sit together one last time and get some [sage] advice about how to handle the challenges and joys in your life.

Your request has got me thinking about what you should hear and know as you “commence” with your life. I know many smart people who have led some very productive – and very challenging – lives. These people have had solid careers, while maintaining and embracing the love of their family and friends. So, I did some field work to find out what these folks would want you to know if they were giving you a “mini commencement speech.” I have created some major themes from what I heard.

Finding your vocation and passion takes time. – The thing I heard most from my colleagues and friends was to not beat yourself up if you don’t know what you really want to do with the rest of your life. Of course, give your future some time and thought, but you may not discover what you should really be doing in your life simply because you earned a degree in some area of study. Give yourself time and get yourself experience to figure things out. One friend told me that he knew he always wanted to be an accountant, but when he started out as one, he could not wait to go find a new profession. He became a math teacher and loved it.

Be thankful and show gratitude for everything you receive. – A good friend of mine is a Vietnam veteran who saw a great deal of devastation and human suffering. He told me we should be happy and thankful for what we have. He told me that the gift of education – which you are celebrating – is such a phenomenal thing that we tend to take for granted. We can learn great things [skills] just about anywhere and we can use those things to build careers and lead well-intentioned, purposeful, and valuable lives. One other person told me that our being given so much means we have an obligation to give to others.

Keep building relationships. It’s all about relationships. There are several characteristics that make up good, healthy working relationships, including trust, respecting others, welcoming diversity, telling the truth, and open and honest communication. These characteristics are the foundation of every good relationship. The better and more respectfully you communicate with your coworkers, customers, and those you might manage someday, the richer your relationships will be. People are attracted to leaders who show they really care.

Learn to take responsibility for your own actions. – It is crucial to understand the importance of accountability. If you are entrusted with a job and some specific work, then do it right and on time. Taking responsibility when things go wrong is crucially and equally important to building trust with others and learning from your mistakes. Deep inside you, you already know what you need to do to pursue your goals – so do them.

Never stop learning. It is essential that you maintain a natural curiosity and understand that you have a lot to learn. An earned degree means only that you know how to ask better questions – so approach your jobs with a “burning learning orientation.” If you don’t know something, then ask questions, observe others doing great work, and admit it when you are wrong. The fact is, too many people gain competence in their jobs, and they stop learning and growing. The most successful people, in work and in life, never stop learning and improving.

Finally, Challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone regularly. – Try these tactics: spend time with people you may disagree with, read books about experiences you would love to have, travel to different types of places as often as you can, and talk to people you would not normally talk to. And surround yourself with people who help you be the best versions of yourself. Avoid those who don’t – especially negative, angry people.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu. Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.