This is a week of beginnings. Graduation is in the air, which brings celebration, excitement and an air of uncertainty for those moving the tassel. I myself graduate with a Masters Degree from Fordham University this week and have spent the last two years working with many young people focused on their future. As the old guy (51) I get to observe as an outsider. I watch and wonder as these young and exuberant people push forward both with optimism and trepidation about what's to come.
Will they be successful?
Will they be wealthy?
Will they find love?
Will they be happy?
Will they have an amazing life?
These questions are not just for millennials, they are the same for all people at the beginning of life's journey. But each generation shares a common era ready for them to make their mark, and today it's the millennials' turn to determine their preferred future.
Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Ushkowitz best known for playing Tina Cohen-Chang on Glee. Despite our generational differences we both share backgrounds in theater and business and had a great time discussing how young people today have more opportunity to be successful then ever before.
At 30, Ushkowitz already has an admirable life, succeeding in the arts, media, and now business. Aside from her huge fan base of Gleeks, the South Korean-born American has had success on Broadway, as an author, and now as an entrepreneur as well. She recently co-founded a podcast network At Will Radio with business partner - entreprenuer, restaurateur, Zagat's and Forbes's 30 under 30 list maker, Will Malnati. With her incredible ability to manage and run multiple projects at once, Ushkowitz believes that millennials should embrace every opportunity available to them too. 'Lately I've been hearing, 'if you spread yourself too thin, take on too many projects, try to do too many different jobs, you won't be able to excel at any of them.' Well I say, 'why the hell not?' When inspiration and creativity lead you down a road, you take it -- and you put your whole heart into it,' she noted.
Here are Ushkowitz's tips for embracing and enjoying life going forward.
1. Turn a world of 'NO' into a world of 'YES.'
'In life, the word 'no' is so often attached to the things that we can't control. To make a 'yes,' you have to grab onto the things you can control and put everything you have into them. When I was on Glee, so little of my time was my own -- from shooting the show, to recording in the studio, to arena tours -- that it felt like the universe was saying 'no' to even thinking about doing anything else,' explained Ushkowitz. 'But my dad always said, 'strike while the iron is hot,' so to have any other creative outlet, I had to find something I could do in the time that I could control. The day I decided I had the time to write a book, after a long day of shooting, I went home and pounded out a 75- page manuscript to show to my manager. One year later, my book hit the shelves. Because I made the most out of the best opportunity that I could control, I was able to create a 'yes,' which lead directly to more opportunities, like my podcast Infinite Positivities, and the podcast network, At Will Radio. There are going to be times where 'no' is a real thing -- when some things are just not possible. In those times, all you can do is ask 'what is possible?' and make the most out of whatever the answer is.
2. Establish and share your purpose.
The word purpose gets used a lot when discussing Millennials. Oddly enough I have always had purpose in my life, maybe that's why I relate. Ushkowitz explains why expressing that purpose publicly is important. "When there is a culture of purpose, everyone is feeding off of each other's belief and dedication, and the affect it has on the success of a project, in my experience, is pretty special," said the Glee star.
3. Surround yourself only with incredible people.
At the beginning, the people around you shape your destiny more than later in life. Ushkowitz and I both agree that building a base of successful people around you will take you farther and faster."In your personal life, and as much as you can in your career, surround yourself with people who push you to be your absolute greatest. And the people in your life that are simply unhealthy? Sometimes they just gotta go," advised Ushkowitz. "It can be very hard, but to create the life you deserve, especially when you've found that sense of purpose larger than yourself, these are the hard decisions that you have to make."
4. Have conviction.
People like to impose their approach on others. Ushkowitz insists you must keep core strength to push out the naysayers and stay on your path to success. "If your intent is good and your purpose is true, don't worry about how other people might want to rationalize your conviction. In order to create an amazing life, to live up to your potential and to pursue your purpose, sometimes you're going to have to be a 'stubborn' and 'competitive' hardhead," urged Ushkowitz. "But if you're working with integrity towards something larger than yourself, I say you're acting with 'tenacity' and 'conviction' and 'perseverance.'
5. Embrace every moment using fear to your advantage.
"When you hold back from expressing your truest and fullest self, you're not doing anyone a favor -- least of all yourself,"asserted Ushkowitz. "For some reason there's a belief that some people have 'it' and some people just don't- but living wholeheartedly is a choice. Do you? What else do you have to do? It's not giving into the fear, it's facing it head first. Be accepting of the fact that the fear is a part of living that full life you've always dreamed of. Whatever your goal is, throw yourself into it and let the energy from your anxiety propel you forward.
6. Get out of your comfort zone.
Of course growth is hard and uncomfortable. That's what makes it exciting and productive. Ushkowitz advises putting yourself out of your comfort zone in order to develop and grow as a person. "If it's worth achieving, it's going to be hard. But even if you fail, you will gain experience from your mistakes. And if you're successful, you did it! Plus, you'll gain confidence for the next time you challenge yourself," she noted before narrating a situation she once experienced. "I was terrified to host the first episode of Infinite Positivities, even though I was interviewing a good friend of mine, Nina Dobrev. I didn't know how to lead a conversation; I was used to being the one answering the questions. Now that I've done about 15 episodes, and I feel like I've grown a ton as a podcast host."
7. Be direct.
"The fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line," asserted Ushkowitz. "If you're working with integrity and conviction, being direct is not only efficient and effective, but people will respect you more."
8. Finish what you start.
People are busier than ever before and the opportunities are endless. That's why completion is more desired and respected than any other time in history. Ushkowitz shares her own experience. "I decided I wanted to go to college to get a degree in theatre. Soon, I realized for my line of work, I didn't need it. But I had told myself I was going to get my BA. Between auditioning and going to school full-time, I seriously considered dropping out at least five times. But I told myself I was going to get my BA. Once I found myself crying on my knees on the sidewalks of New York City. But I told myself I was going to get my BA. So, I went to my advisor and asked I could get out of there in 3 years. I scheduled summer classes, January sessions, and averaged 22 credits a semester. But. I. Did. It," narrated Ushkowitz. "Was it worth it? Yeah, definitely. I learned how to do laundry and not max out a credit card, how to navigate my way around New York and make meetings on time. I had valuable teachers and made life long friends. And I'll always know that I have it in me to finish whatever it is that I start."
9. Experiment and try out your passions.
"I always liked to write, but did I consider myself a writer? No, but that isn't going to stop me. Now I'm a published author. Did I think I could run a non-profit? No, but I applied to the IRS for a 5013c, and a co-founded The Kindred Foundation for Adoption, where we've received an overwhelming response from adoptees for shining a positive light on adoption. The positive impact we've made (and the feeling it's given me to help connect families) would have never had a chance if I thought I couldn't do something just because I'd never done it before," explained Ushkowitz. "Everyday, people think 'one day.' Why not today? You've been thinking about it -- do it! Write down a plan, start to put some pieces together, reach out to people you might want to start a business with . The first steps towards climbing any mountain begin at bottom; even if you don't know the path; you're still headed in the right direction."
10. Take a break.
There is such pressure today to go, go go. The constant rushing adds stress and can negatively affect your performance. Ushkowitz noted that stopping periodically from the frenzied schedule actually creates better efficiency and results. "I'm such a go-getter I forget to slow down. I have begun meditating and taking yoga to calm myself down since I work, talk and think at a million miles a minute. Schedule in a few days when you can. If not, you'll burn out and you'll be no good to anyone," she added.
11. Find the happiness within.
"Friendly competition is okay, but when you're competing just to prove to everyone and yourself that you're 'better,' you've forgotten your larger purpose. If you're doing something just to prove yourself, that's not good either. Find the things that feed your soul and make them into your dream work," added Ushkowitz. "Speak to someone, a friend or even better, a professional, if you haven't felt that fulfillment in a long time. It goes way back to before you even started to know who you were and you are a product of your environment... but you have the ability to fix, tweak and change what you want and how you do so. You are in control. This is your life and you deserve to feel happy for yourself and for others."
12. Give yourself some grace.
Obstacles and failure happens, regardless of how hard you work to avoid it. But instead of getting frustrated with your lack of progress and lashing out at the world, Ushkowitz recommends taking a step back and giving yourself what she calls "Grace Time." "Remember the bigger picture, remember you have time. Don't rush," she revealed. "Things will happen when they are supposed to."