Free advice for the college bound

I recall the unsolicited advice I received before heading off to college. I didn't want nor care for the free wisdom at the time, only to recognize how prescient it was much later in life. So, for all the high school graduates headed to college this fall, I offer a few pearls of wisdom. And remember how lucky you are for the gift of the next four (or five) years.

• Don't let your ideology become your identity.

Having core personal beliefs - political, religious or otherwise - is natural. But being closed-off to opposing viewpoints is a slippery slope. Be open to civil debate.

Read things you don't agree with. Listen intently to other sides of the coin even if it makes your blood boil. Surrounding yourself only with those people and opinions you agree with limits your growth as a professional and person. Developing a well-rounded perspective on key issues doesn't mean you are giving in; it means you are being wise.

• Be comfortable in the uncomfortable.

The business world (and life overall) will not offer calm waters. In fact, most days will regularly throw you unforeseen curve balls and tough challenges. Learn how to navigate the uncomfortable settings and suddenness of change. Those who can calmly and quickly adapt will have a leg up.

• Learn the power of influence vs. authority.

I can't underscore how important this is. Leading a team to a desired outcome requires the strategic use of influence. You won't succeed in the long run because you are the boss and demand it. Or because you are smarter and know better. The ability to effectively make a persuasive argument is a critical skill.

• It's OK to fail (OK, maybe not a course).

College is a big step up and you will be pushed to achieve at much higher levels. At some point, you will fail. However, sometimes failing is a good thing. How one responds to failure, and grows along the way, is a measure of character.

• Become a brilliant communicator.

Many college graduates lack proper writing skills. Re-learn how to write. Exercise new creative muscles. Adopt AP style and apply it rigorously. Write for different platforms and social channels. Learn how to make cogent written arguments.

Also, find your presentation voice and overcome public speaking anxiety, because you'll be presenting regularly to your workplace peers, bosses, clients and CEO.

Find your tribe and explore the others.

College has a community for everyone. Take the time to find yours. But don't stop searching out other tribes. The beauty of the college experience is trying as much as you can to open the aperture of your mind.

• Be kind.

How you treat others is how you will be remembered. Trust me.

• Have fun.

Time will fly, so don't waste a minute.

• Call your parents.

I wish you all the best!

- Kevin Cook of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].