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Podcast 270: Very Special Episode with Great Advice for Graduates.


Note: One question for us: How much should we talk about the COVID-19 situation? People have told us they want us to talk about it, people have said they prefer to have a break from talking about it. Because the show is based on our own experiences, it’s impossible for COVID-19 not to be part of the conversation. But do know taht we’ll also be talking about ordinary things, which can be very comforting to think about, when the times seem so un-ordinary.

One thing that’s confusing about this situation is that it’s hitting people all over the world, but at different times, and in different way. We’re speaking from our own experience, what’s happening right now, to us, where we live. We’re lucky, because we’re in the situation where we’re hunkering down at home. Others of course, are courageously grappling with tremendous challenges right on the front lines. We’re thinking of you essential workers with tremendous gratitude, and wishing all our best to people who are sick or are close to people who are sick.

Update: Elizabeth and I now record from our home offices. Here I am at my desk:

Also, we’re now doing daily Instagram Live "Coping with COVID-19 Conversations" Monday-Friday at 4 pm ET/1 pm PT. (If you miss one, you can watch the replay for up to 24 hours. Follow me on Instagram—I'm @gretchenrubin—and click on my profile image to join once weve started, or to watch the replay.) You can also check the schedule to see upcoming guests. And if you’d like to join these daily Live conversations on desktop rather than mobile, you can participate using this link.

Very Special Episode: “For graduates—what’s the best advice you ever got, the worst advice you ever got, the advice you always give, or the advice you wish you’d gotten yourself?”

Gretchen: This is the advice I give: Beware of drift.

"Drift" is the decision we make by not deciding, or by making a decision that unleashes consequences for which we don’t take responsibility.

You go to medical school because both your parents are doctors. You get married because all your friends are getting married. You take a job because someone offers you that job. You want the respect of the people around you, or you want to avoid a fight or a bout of insecurity, or you don't know what else to do, so you take the path of least resistance.

The word “drift” has overtones of laziness or ease. Not true! Drift is often disguised by a huge amount of effort and perseverance. For me, law school was drift, and it was hard every step of the way, from the LSAT to my clerkship with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to the New York Bar exam. In the end, I’m happy I did go to law school—and that’s another tricky thing about drift. Sometimes drift does make you happy. But don’t count on it.

One of my drift-related aphorism is “You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.” And here’s another one: “Approval from the people we admire is sweet, but it’s not enough to be the foundation of a happy life.”

One of the problems of drift is that we try to deny we’re drifting. To see if you're drifting, take this quiz.

Bonus advice from me: Remember, you don’t have to be good at something to be good at something. I did a A Little Happier about this advice, with the example of Dolly Parton.

Elizabeth: Our father gave the advice to both of us, “If you take the blame, people will give you responsibility.”

Taking the blame shows a willingness to step forward, to take responsibility. You’re saying “I will shoulder this” and by saying “it’s my fault,” you’re really claiming power. And you show that you can analyze a situation and figure out how to do better.


  • Use your connections! Ask your career center, alumni organization, supervisors, and professors for advice & job leads.
  • Don't get caught up in comparisons.
  • Max out your contribution to your company’s 401k plan.
  • Experience is experience. You won’t start out as CEO. Appreciate the value in any job you do.
  • Never take a job that doesn’t intimidate you.
  • Very few decisions are truly final. If you make one decision and it doesn’t work out as you hoped, it’s okay to pivot and make another decision.
  • It's okay to change your mind.
  • It's okay to outgrow people. Your friends from high school/college might not be on the same path as you as you grow.
  • When you're in the early stages of your career, where you work matters more than what you do there.
  • Skim the news every morning.  It's a conversation-starter and a way to join in.
  • Use your Career Services Office!
  • When there's cake, eat cake. When good times come into our life, enjoy the heck out of them.
  • Take a basic accounting class.
  • Remember, your first job is not your last job.
  • Remember, the only person in charge of your happiness is you.
  • Take pictures of your home town, your family, of the beautiful things in your life, to take to school with you. This advice reminds me of my Scrapbook of Now from my "20 for 2020 list."
  • If you're planning on going to grad school, consider applying for a Ph.D rather than a Master’s degree.  
  • Figure out if you want to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond.
  • Study what you find interesting, and the rest will come.
  • Frame your diploma right away. (When I was writing Outer Order, Inner Calm, I wrestled with the question of what to do with the framed diplomas that Jamie and I have collected.)
  • Get comfortable with frustration and confusion.


All this advice reminds me of some terrific advice that our mother once gave me: "The things that go wrong often make the best memories." Although it's disappointing not to have the graduation celebrations as planned, these unusual celebrations can make great memories.

  • Plan a living-room commencement ceremony and a celebration dinner.
  • Contact the neighbors to ask if they can put out balloons on the day.
  • Make congratulatory posters for the path you walk. 
  • Plan a surprise Zoom graduation ceremony where everyone holds up signs and cheers for graduate.
  • As a keepsake for the student, write a letter to the school to explain why this person is so extraordinary.

Want still more advice? Check out my post My Best Advice for Graduates: 12 Tips for a Happy Life. 


  •  If you want to check out all of the resources I've created related to COVID-19—from blog posts to podcast episodes—click here.
  • If you're like me, you're using books, TV shows, movies, and podcasts to help distract you from the COVID-19 news. Since we often give a "gold star" to a podcast we love, I compiled a list of podcasts featured on this show.

Quote From the Podcast

Don't get caught up in comparisons. Some of your fellow alum will look more successful than you. Some less. Some will get loans from their parents to start their own businesses. Some will work menial jobs for years. You'll all get there.
Kristen Meinzer

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