Readers share their best life advice with recent high school, college graduates

The Chattanooga Times Free Press recently asked readers: What life advice would you give a recent college and/or high school graduate? What do you wish you would've known or done differently? Here are their responses, most of them offered anonymously.

* Remember when you are through learning, you are through. Be the person who continues the quest to learn.

* Try to travel and even live and work abroad for a year or two.

* Poor advice would be "Make all the money you can, just make it honestly." Don't make making money your goal.

* Read the book of Proverbs - again and again. Here you will find godly wisdom instructing you on how to live your life, how to speak to others and how to face the realities of living in a world characterized by harsh words and angry judgments.

* Start saving 10% of your income as soon as you earn it, and your retirement will be more enjoyable, less worrisome. Don't get used to spending it!

* Decide what you want to do and decide what knowledge you need to get there, whether it be a college degree, graduate degree or as an apprentice as a carpenter, electrician or plumber. Know this, no matter what you learn in college, you will have more to learn as you go through life. Higher education is like an upside-down funnel. The greater the degree, the more specialized you become, which means there is a lot more you do not know. Again, the key is to learn what is needed to be proficient in your field. Above all, be humble, respect all people as you would want to be respected, maintain high ethics, be forgiving and always be helpful to others. And be a good citizen. If you do these things, success is yours.

* You can think anything you want, but you don't have to say everything you think! Speak wisely and thoughtfully. Count to 10 before saying something in an emotionally charged situation. It took me years to learn to do this, and I'm still learning.

* Paul Simon said it best: When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all.

* Don't get comfortable with your job early in your career. Comfort will prevent you from growing into a better place in your career. Actually never get comfortable. Always strive for better.

* Set your goals high, but not specific. In your lifetime, so many new industries, careers, platforms and technologies will come along with opportunities you can't even imagine today. Be open to change, take calculated risks and find your muse, as motivation must now come from within. Your entire life you've had adults pushing and challenging you. Your next steps are truly your own. May you move forward with confidence.

* Have a backup plan. Life is full of plot twists.

* As a former supervisor and then manager of a large corporate business, I would 10 times prefer an average employee with a great can-do attitude and someone who gets along with fellow employees than to have a super-intellect know-it-all worker who can't work well with others and finds problems with everything.

* Everyone, no matter who you are, has benefited from the help and kindness of another human being. Each steppingstone in life is achieved by holding the ready shoulder of a friend. Remember these helpers. Be kind. Become a helper, too.

* Don't be afraid to not succeed on the first try. You are still in a learning phase, figuring out how what you have learned over the last few years actually applies to the real world and your role in it all. Don't give up, be creative and, most importantly, ask for help/advice if/when you need it.

* Never spend more than you earn.

* No matter what's going on in the world, you can be happy and successful if you practice the basic human qualities that have always produced happy and successful people: Show love and respect to all your fellow human beings, keep an open mind and be willing to change, maintain a positive attitude no matter how difficult it may seem, and never stop asking questions and learning.

* Grab everything that life has to offer - but keep everything in moderation.

* Pray for wisdom for the decisions you will make. Always do the right thing, even if it is difficult. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Doing these things, everything else will fall in place.

* Select a career doing what you enjoy and you will not have to "work" a day in your life.

* Always be willing to reach back and lift someone up. If they achieve even higher standings, that makes you phenomenal.

* Trade school.

* Follow your passion, not the money. Many more highly successful people were high school and college dropouts. I'm not saying to drop out of school, but if you have a passion that college cannot satiate, go for it. You're only young once, and your energy level will never be higher than it is today

* Save $1 a week for the first year, $2 for the second year and then open an IRA. You will be glad you did.

* Assuming your hand has four fingers and a thumb, remember that when you point a finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you. Take personal responsibility for your actions!

* Be honest in all your affairs.

* If, like many people in that "what now?" stage of life, you are struggling with life decisions, take time to take stock in yourself. Ask yourself: What are my natural talents, gifts, skills, competencies, personality (Myers-Briggs), passions (things that energize me) and values? The best path forward will be the one that most closely aligns with those attributes.

* Don't step out into the world blindly by embarking on a plan set by others - parents, counselors, friends - anyone but yourself. Get advice, but make your own decisions. Have the courage to defer college or bypass it altogether if you don't know why you're going or what you hope it will accomplish for you. Take time to talk to yourself and be honest about your interests and talents. Imagine your life 10 years from now.

* Don't let anyone talk you into a career path that you don't want to take. Choose your own life's work - one that you are truly passionate about.

* Never eat yellow snow.

* Keep your eyes, ears and mind open to everything around you. While you will enter school with ideas of your future, be willing to explore new activities. Try to meet people with backgrounds different from yours. In college you will meet an incredible variety of people. Stay open-minded. Be willing to change and reconsider your life plans.

* Three things:

1) Most should not go into significant debt to pay for post-high school education.

2) Many will do better starting at a two-year college.

3) Once enrolled, if you are struggling with a class, seek additional help. Many schools also provide tutoring services.

* Over a 48-year career, I hired many new college graduates in technical disciplines at all degree levels. Here are a few key attitudes and actions that enabled me and my employees to succeed.

Be grateful for opportunities you are given. Your employer had many choices and chose you. Always arrive early and stay late when needed. Understand what is required of you. With each assignment, understand what you must deliver and deliver it, on time, on budget, and as specified.

Recognize that your tasks will be difficult and demanding. Also, recognize that you will make mistakes and fail occasionally. Keep your boss informed about your progress or lack of progress. Following a success, seek greater responsibility. Following a mistake or failure, do not make excuses, seek your boss's help understanding where you went wrong, what lessons to take from it, and how to avoid a repeat. Remember, your boss and the management want you to succeed (that is why they hired you) and want to help you succeed.

A positive, cheerful, confident attitude and good working relations with others enables success. Learn the formal and "informal" organization because key people are not always bosses. Be kind, helpful, and respectful of everyone from the janitor to the CEO. Look up to everyone. Everyone knows something important that you need to know. Your success depends on all other employees and their success depends on you.

Go forth in confidence knowing that you can do it! (Robert Phillips, Signal Mountain)