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


Elizabeth and I now record from our home offices. 


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 of 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 aphorisms 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 an 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.


ADVICE ABOUT CELEBRATING GRADUATION IN THE TIME OF PHYSICAL DISTANCING: 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 graduates.
  • 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.

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