Older Americans Advise College Grads To Be Risk Takers

NEW YORK — Travel, don't work for money, make the most of a bad job.

These are some of the life recommendations older Americans have for young Americans. What's the most important piece of advice? Get excited, because life goes by fast.

This month, college graduates will don their sheepskins and accept their diplomas in something of an anxious state.

Unemployment is rampant, with younger workers bearing the brunt of the jobless burden.

CNN reported that 86 million Americans were seeking work last year, but couldn't find a job.

Of those, 20% — about 17 million – were younger Americans aged 16-24. And a study from Georgetown University reports that the jobless rate for recent college graduates with Bachelor's Degrees "has been running at an unacceptable 8.9 percent."

Furthermore, grads are hitting the job market with a huge albatross on their backs — huge student loan debt.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average student loan debt is $23,000 this year, with a total of $870 billion amassed in such debt among 37 million student loan borrowers. Already, 27% of newly-minted college graduates are already delinquent on their student loan debt, the Federal Reserve reports.

All is not lost for college graduates. A new book out offers some sage advice from elderly Americans that might help take the sting out of a sour economy and groaning student loan debt.

The book, entitled 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans, was penned by Cornell University human development professor Karl Pillemer.

In it, Pillemer says that America's senior set has some invaluable advice for college graduates that, frankly, they'd be foolish not to take.

"The advice for living of the oldest Americans is amazingly relevant for today's college and high school graduates," Pillemer says. "Like those entering the workforce this year, many of our elders encountered a battered economy and a country scarred by war. Their advice for overcoming adversity and living well through hard times is extremely useful for those just starting out."

Job one for graduates is to take risks, and say, "yes" to opportunities. "People in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond endorse taking risks when you're young, contrary to a stereotype that elders are conservative," Pillemer explains. "Their message to the new graduate is 'go for it!' They say that you are much more likely to regret what you didn't do than what you did."

Recent grads, especially in this economic environment, may find themselves in a job they can barely tolerate. But that's OK, older Americans say — and it's up to young workers to learn from the experience.

"The older generation has this advice for work: Make the most of a bad job," Pillemer says. "Remember that many of these folks who grew up in the Great Depression had bad jobs early on — in fact, their bad jobs make our bad jobs look like good jobs. They found, however, that they learned invaluable lessons from these less-than-ideal work situations. You can learn how the industry works, about communicating with other employees, about customer service. As one man told me: 'You can even learn from a bad boss – how not to be a bad boss!' All this is useful in your future career."

Pillemer says that the majority of the 1,200 older Americans he surveyed also advised younger Americans to "choose excitement over money" and to use any graduation gifts they might receive not to stash away in the bank, or to pay off loans, but to use that cash to travel.

"When asked what they regret in life, many of the oldest Americans said: 'I wish I'd traveled more,'"he adds. "They recommend that people embrace travel, and especially when they are young. So if you are wondering what to do with those graduation gifts, elder wisdom says to look into some travel — and low budget is fine — before you begin that first job."

That, of course, assumes there will be a job waiting for college grads back from a trek across Europe, or from touring a Costa Rica rain forest.

But few would argue that, when it comes to taking advice, it's best to take it from wise sages who've already traveled the same road young college grads are embarking on now.


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