It's graduation season, which means luminaries are dispensing their best life and career advice to newly minted grads on college campuses across the land. But you don't have to sit through a long-winded and perhaps pretty banal speech to learn what super smart and successful people wish they'd known at the start of their careers.

The TED Ideas blog has helpfully rounded up 25 of their accomplished speakers to ask them to share their best bit of advice for those embarking on adult life. The list is a gold mine of wisdom.

1. Biologist Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, on following your heart.

You can get the best career advice in the world, according to Sánchez Alvarado, but none of it beats listening to your own heart.

"Although I think I already knew this back when I graduated from college, I didn't do it enough: trust your instincts. Deep inside you, you already know what you need to do to pursue your goals," he tells TED, adding, "and just as importantly, do not seek permission to pursue your goals. Pursue them. Only by doing so can you show the world what you had in mind and get the support of others."

2. Economist Tim Harford, on the case for quitting.

Most of us learn sometime during our formative years that success and quitting don't go together. Economist and author Harford begs to disagree: "It's OK to quit your first job -- even if it was really hard to get it, it paid well, and everyone seemed to admire you for getting it. If you hate your job, you'll be wasting your life acquiring skills, contacts, and a reputation that you don't want to use. The sooner you find something you love, the better." 

3. Philosopher Ruth Chang, on the value of expertise.

"The world can only thrive when people know what they're talking about. Find the thing that makes you want to know what you're talking about. Then talk about it," is Chang's simple but powerful advice.

4. Psychiatrist Judson Brewer, on the seduction of shiny things.

"Pay attention to the difference between the quick hits of excitement that come from that first kiss of a new relationship or job and those feelings you get when you think about your strong connections with family or friends. Don't get fooled by shiny things -- that shine fades over time, while the gold of strong relationships never tarnishes. Remember the differences between these feelings to help you make decisions as you go forward," Brewer recommends.

5. Mental health advocate Bill Bernat, on the power of empathy.

Studies show empathy will help you thrive at work, but according to Bernat, looking through other people's eyes offers more than just a career boost. "Look for people's inner worlds. Imagine their hopes and fears and what it feels like to be them," he advises. "Seeing into other hearts can make you more effective in achieving personal and professional goals. It may also give you the comfort of remembering how deeply alike we all are."

6. Management expert David Burkus, on the downsides of speed.

"Give yourself more time," Burkus urges grads. "So many college graduates immediately start wanting to make all their dreams come true at once -- this can go wrong in many ways. The first is the frustration that you're not 'there' yet. It's going to take time to find (or build) your dream career. The second is burnout. If you find your career early, you can find yourself setting all sorts of unrealistic goals with arbitrary deadlines and chase them until you drop from fatigue. You can have it all -- but not all at once."

7. Attorney Anjali Kumar, on discomfort and growth.

"Whenever possible, get as uncomfortable as possible," instructs Kumar. "Challenge yourself to get outside of your comfort zone regularly -- spend time with people you deeply disagree with, read books about experiences you will never have, travel to places where you don't speak the language, and take jobs in industries you've never worked in before. And if you feel yourself resisting, try again. Those experiences will help you build deep empathy, and we could all use more of that." Research backs her up.

8. Researcher Shawn Achor, on success and happiness.

You might think happiness follows success, but according to researcher and author Shawn Achor, it's actually the other way around.

"When I graduated, I wish I'd known the research showing that future success doesn't lead to happiness. I sometimes got paralyzed by the fear that happiness existed only if I found the perfect job, degree, or position. In truth, the research is clear: happiness exists down almost any life path as long as you are grateful for the present, and develop meaningful relationships. Choose optimism and gratitude now and invest more in others, and happiness will be a lifelong advantage as you pursue your dreams," he says.

9. Journalist Emily Esfahani Smith, on the beauty of the ordinary.

Ambition is great, but too much can make you miserable. That's why journalist and author Esfahani Smith reminds grads, "you don't have to do something extraordinary to lead a meaningful life; you don't have to cure cancer, become an Instagram celebrity, or write the great American novel."

"In your relationships, lead with love. Be generous, be vulnerable, give of yourself to others, and don't do the expedient thing just because it's more convenient for you. Make the effort to put others first. In your career, find work that makes you proud and adopt a service mindset -- remember how what you're doing helps others, no matter how big or small the impact may be. Touching the life of just a single person is a powerful legacy to leave behind," she continues.

10. CEO Margaret Heffernan, on the limitations of planning.

"It's traditional at graduation to offer neat, packaged stories of triumph over difficulties. But life isn't like that -- it's open-ended, subject to a million contingencies and constant change," explains businesswoman and author Heffernan. "This doesn't mean you shouldn't make plans. But it does mean you should be alert to all the changes in the world and in yourself that could render your plan suddenly obsolete, unattractive, or perverse. Be open to change. Be prepared to experiment. Take risks. Keep learning. Make your life your own."

Check out the complete post for lots more advice along these lines.

Published on: May 24, 2018