A letter to the class of 2020

David MoonBlog

Congratulations. Now your work really starts.

If you are leaving high school and headed to college, do not listen to the people who tell you that college will be the best time of your life. I certainly hope that isn’t true for you. Living mostly independently for the first time can be the most important time of your life, but I hope your life doesn’t peak at 20.

Right now, you are developing the habits that will serve you for the remainder of your life.  Don’t leave that to chance. Decide what habits you want to have when you are 30 years old – and intentionally work to cultivate those habits now.  Choose friends who live those habits. Habits are critical – and they sneak up on you. Warren Buffett was right; the chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.

For new college graduates, the employment world just instantly became a buyer’s market. For new graduates, that’s true. But for anyone who has been out of school more than five years, it is always a buyer’s market. You just have to figure out how to get your foot in a door.

However, choose that door carefully. Don’t let The Great Suppression make you desperate. Your first boss is more important than your first job. Choose one you admire and who inspires you. Don’t be swayed by an extra thousand dollars of starting salary. You’re already poor; for the right first job, you can be poor a bit longer.

Assess risk; don’t spend your life trying to avoid it.

Be intentional about what you put into your mind. What you read and who you associate with will, as much as anything, determine who you are. Your internet browsing history provides useful clues about where you are headed in life.

There are a lot of ways to make money, but the most lasting and fulfilling ways all involve providing something of value to someone else. Concentrate on what you can give, not get. If you fulfill enough high value needs, you will make money.

Don’t expect society to adopt your definition of “high value needs.”

Set goals. They should be in writing, be measurable and have deadlines.

Being happy is highly overrated as a major life goal. Life is hard, cruel and, at its worst, disappointing. At its best, life is hard, cruel and joyous. Like money, happiness is more likely to be lasting if it is a by-product of doing something meaningful. If you pursue a life of meaning you will have some built-in systems to deal with life’s crappy times – such as now.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management. A version of this piece originally appeared in the USA TODAY NETWORK.