Dad’s Sage Advice for Sophomores

Posted Posted in Advice Column

keep-calm-and-sophomore-onMy annual advice for new college students is really focused at freshmen, but you sophomores need advice, too. In fact, if my own personal experience is any measure, sophomores need it more.

You’re Experienced, but You’re Not an Expert.

Returning to college this fall will feel familiar. You know the locations of your classrooms, you have established friendships, you even know which dining hall lines have the best food. Despite all this experience, you’re not a collegiate expert yet. It’s very easy to get distracted and make costly mistakes. One bad semester can create years of work rebuilding a reputation and a GPA. Don’t get cocky, maintain the edge you had during your freshman year.

Set a Good Example.

Remember your first day of class as a freshman? Well, that’s happening to somebody else now, and guess what: they’re looking at you to see what to do! Set a good example for the new guys–be respectful of the campus and others, don’t lord your new status over the new guys, and be the kind of upperclassman you wanted to see when you were new.

Help a Freshman.

Remember that nice sophomore girl who showed you the way to the classroom in the cryptically numbered building? Or the nice guy who helped you pick up your stuff when they piled into a heap in the bookstore line? Or maybe the helpful clerk at the bursar’s office who waited patiently while you filled out the correct form this time? Be that person, pay it forward.

The Coursework Gets Harder–This Is the Weed-out Year.

Freshman year, at least for me, was more like a repeat of my senior year in high school than a first year in college. It’s intended to ease the new student into college-level work, as well as encourage the new student she can achieve at the next level. It doesn’t mean the work isn’t demanding, but freshmen work at a basic level. That was then, this is now. Sophomore courses are intended to remind the student that this is college. It’s serious. Nothing to be afraid of, you can do it, but recognize you’re now working at the next level.

Build and Maintain a Network of Friends.

As I’ve said before—college, well, life for that matter, is a team sport. Up until now, anyone could be academically successful by locking themselves in their room, doing their homework, and passing tests. That won’t work any more. Your success in academia and in life depends on both your skills and your network. Figure out how you can help others, and never pass up an opportunity to expand your circle of friends.

Commit to Your Faith.

Now you’re living off campus, things that used to be very easy–like practicing your faith, working out, grocery shopping–will require planning and effort. As an adult now, make a commitment to your faith: with time and with heart. That commitment should include being involved in your parish and including both pastor and peers in your network.

Don’t Hesitate to Bail–There’s Always Summer School.

You have three or four more years, including summer terms, to sort out your degree plan. It’s good to have a plan (you do have a plan, right?), but a degree plan is not a suicide pact. If the prof is a screwball, or if the course isn’t what you thought it was, if the class is full of smelly people—whatever–don’t hesitate drop the class. You can always take it in summer term—from the graduate teaching assistant. You know, the cute one.

Don’t Worry, You Can Do It.

Your sophomore year will be a great year, full of challenge and maybe even a little fear. You will do great–know why? Because you made it into college in the first place, and you made it through your freshman year. Don’t worry, kiddo, you can do it!


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Dad’s Sage Advice for the Class of ’20

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A&M Students 1894The Class of 2020 is arriving at college this month, and so keeping with August’s “Advice That Sticks” theme, here’s the latest version of Dad’s Sage Advice for College – 2016 Edition

1. Keep Yourself Healthy

You can’t run at full throttle all the time-be sure to maintain your mental, spiritual, and physical health. Don’t be a cave dweller. It’s easy to remain locked away in your dorm room for four years making excellent grades and few friends-resist the urge. Eat right, exercise, and attend to your spiritual health. Beer and Xbox is not a hobby, and just because Mom isn’t there to get you out of bed on Sunday morning doesn’t mean you don’t have to go to church.

2. Remain Authentically Free

There’s plenty of things “out there” that will steal your freedom-never let your or someone else’s appetites prevent you from choosing what’s good for you. There are all sorts of “freedom stealers” from the benign (video gaming) to the downright dangerous (drugs, alcohol, porn). Don’t let the “freedom stealers” prevent you from being the amazing person you were born to be.

3. Guard Your Chastity

I know this sounds very old fashioned, but remember you’re there to get an education, not find a mate or a date. Believe me, with all the other drama involved in getting through college, you can do without relationship drama. Regardless whether or not you’re a virgin, respect the power of sex and leave it for later–there will be plenty of time.

4. Make Friends 

Find a group of people who share your values, and with whom you can be yourself. Additionally, it’s good to make friends with people who aren’t like you. You need both kinds. You don’t have to agree on everything or be the same in order to develop a friendship. Everyone needs friends who can build us up, and challenge us to be better people.

5. Be Adventurous but Not Stupid

Don’t compromise your values or your safety, but don’t be afraid of new experiences either. Join a club, go to a rally, see a play, go to a football game, take a road trip, enter a contest. Challenge the college experience to make you a better person.

6. Never Quit

Success usually goes to the one who is prepared and has asked the question, “what can go wrong here?” Plan for and expect success, but don’t be crushed by failure. The only real failure is quitting; never quit. No matter what happens, good or bad, be able to say you’ve done your best.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. – G. K. Chesterton

7. Go to Class, Do the Work

I know this seems basic, but it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and get behind. You do have to do the work. In the game of football, all you have to do is travel 10 yards and you get to keep going. Make enough first downs and you score a touchdown. Remember why you wanted a college education in the first place, and keep making first downs until you get to the end zone.

8. Remember, You’re Never Alone

Ask for help when you need it, talk to people, share the load with others and allow others to do the same. You have to take tests and do some work on your own, but that doesn’t mean you have to be by yourself. Include your profs in that as well–they’re there to help you learn. College is a team sport.

9. Remember, We Love You.

Keep your loved ones in the loop and stay connected. As a Dad, I want you to know your family wants you to succeed and be your own person–but we want to remain part of your life, too.


Mickey's Rules for Leaders eBook CoverMickey believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 28 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate from the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.

Mickey is the author of seven books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating Teams and The 5 Be’s For Starting Out. He’s a frequent contributor to industry publications and blogs.

Leading Through Tragedy – Part 2

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Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

In the first part, I discussed leaders’ role in guiding an organization through tragedy. But what if it’s you that suffers the tragedy? How do you continue to lead when a personal disaster depletes your attention and energy?

The first thing to remember is if it’s a big deal to you, it probably a big deal. A death in the family, a wayward child, conflict with a neighbor or family member, even a serious accident, can all cause significant disruption in our ability to lead (or even function at all!). There are as many different types of personal calamity as there are people, and just because you’ve “shaken off” a similar event in your life before or others seem to have “handled it,” doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal now to you. Clearly, not everything bad is a life-changing event and sometimes a little perspective is all that’s needed to get through tough times. Nonetheless, simply “gutting it out” is not a universal solution  to personal tragedy (or even a preferred solution!). So even recognizing people can sometimes blow things out of proportion, serious personal issues can and do affect everyone regardless of their role, status, or position. In other words, everyone is human and no one expects you to be super-human.

Recognizing you are subject to the same human frailties as the mortals around you will enable you to get help when you need it, and remain approachable to those around you. Keeping emotions bottled up and living inside your head helps no one, least of all you. If you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, then ask for help. That help can come from clergy, counselors, or friends. Sometimes just talking to someone is enough, sometimes you might need professional help, and sometimes you just need a break. Whatever form it takes, getting help shows strength and maturity. If you allow yourself to spiral into deeper disaster because you didn’t seek out the help, your personal damage will deepen and consume those around you as well. Your work, your colleagues, and most importantly, your family will all suffer. Don’t add calamity to catastrophe because you tried to carry everything around on your own. Of course, some things just can’t be fixed. Having the help of others during the time when you’re grieving and recovering is vital.

As leaders, even during tough times we cannot entirely divorce ourselves from our responsibility to lead. We have a responsibility to many others: teammates, organizations, and our families. We have to recognize when we’re unable to function and deal with those issues in the best way possible. If you’re stressed out as a leader, you’ll do no one any good: you’ll make poor decisions, and you’re likely to be short or rude to others (usually at the worst possible moment). If as a leader, you’ve let the stress get to the point–or circumstances have put you in the position–of simply being unable to execute your duties, then you have a responsibility to step aside for everyone else’s good as well as your own. Hopefully it won’t be a permanent change, but regardless of the amount of time, and even in dire circumstances leaders have to be mindful of their responsibility to others. Whether it’s a little time off, a leave of absence, or a resignation you owe your teammates and the organization the courtesy of removing yourself if you can’t function.

Finally, it’s also important to allow your colleagues and subordinates some knowledge of what’s going on with you. You certainly don’t have to let everyone know every detail of your life, but if you’ve had a death in the family or something of that sort, it’s perfectly OK to share that you’re dealing with a personal catastrophe. It will help your team to understand why you’re not yourself, and you might be surprised at the support you’ll receive from unlikely places. If you’ve cared for others during their own personal tragedies, that kindness and concern will be returned. Be gracious and accept it–after all, when you offered your own support to others they did the same. You’ll also set a good example for others to follow.

Leading an organization when you’re suffering is doubly difficult. Taking time to heal and getting help for yourself is just as necessary for leaders as it is for those we lead. Don’t shortchange yourself or your team when personal tragedy strikes; instead be the leader who follows his own advice.

5 Things Your Boss Wants You To Know

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Advice Column, Leading Leaders

This time of year I always feel compelled to write advice for young people. Maybe it’s just the season, or maybe it’s I was always a little slow on the uptake as a young person. I made a few avoidable mistakes that if I’d just gotten a little help at the beginning perhaps wouldn’t have happened.

If you’re a high school or college-age person and just entering the workforce, then I have some words just for you today. It’s stuff I wish I’d known–that everyone else seemed to know intuitively.

1. Have Values and Stick to Them

The most important thing you can do is have a moral core and stick to it. This is not always an easy thing to do; it requires courage and fortitude. A contract to work in an organization is not a requirement to compromise your values. While every decision is not a moral crisis, there might arise a decision to participate in something that would tempt you to compromise on your beliefs and values. Don’t give in to that temptation. No job, no matter how much you’re paid or how lovely your co-workers, is worth compromising your integrity. Be an adult about it and go to your boss politely and forthrightly and tell them you can’t do such-and-such because it would cause you a moral dilemma. It might be a simple misunderstanding, or your boss might have not understood the implications of what he/she asked you to do–but your conscience should demand you defend your values. It might mean parting ways with the company. If that’s true, then you can do that secure in the knowledge you kept your integrity. That’s no small thing.

2. Don’t Follow the Crowd–Unless the Crowd is Right

At commencement speeches across the planet, speakers exhort graduates are to “make your own way” and “don’t follow the crowd.” That’s generally good advice; but like all advice, you have to take it both in the context of your own experience and the place you’re implementing it. Sometimes, the “crowd” is “right!  Never compromise your morals or your integrity, BUT “make your own way” is not license to violate the company dress code or evangelize your co-workers to your own brand of politics. Social norms and company policy, like protocol and tradition, exist to make people feel comfortable and help people get along. You don’t have to be a “Stepford Employee,” nor do you have to conform to your employer’s or your colleagues’ political or religious beliefs–but you do have to be polite and do your best to fit in.

3. Take Chances

Did I just contradict myself? No, I did not–growing in your profession and personal life means taking chances. Take on work that stretches you, offer your friendship to the workplace loaner, get involved in the professional society or group supporting your industry–these are the sorts of things employers and leaders notice, and the sorts of things that help you grow as a person. “Taking Chances” doesn’t mean making potentially personally destructive choices, but taking chances professionally and personally can help you grow into the person you want to be.

4. “Don’t Be Stupid”

When I first began CrossFit, I read the rules on the message board, and came across this gem: “Don’t Be Stupid.” I found this to be excellent advice. Any new thing will have activities for the beginner and for the advanced practitioner–know where you fall on that continuum. If you’re a beginner, start there then as you prove your ability to yourself you can move up. It’s always better to be adding weight to the bar than being out of action for weeks because you injured yourself on your first set.

5. Believe Your Eyes

Fight hard for what you believe in personally and professionally, but when you lose the argument and someone above you makes a decision, then move out and get it done. The corollary to this rule is when you see a bad outcome to a project or decision, then believe it to be true. I’ve worked with too many people who either disagreed with a decision made by higher ups or simply didn’t have the vision to see what was plain to others. They’d make some impassioned plea as to “Why Things Were Not What They Seemed” which is another way of saying, “I reject your reality and substitute my own.” That attitude is the opposite of helpful, and it both delays the inevitable and destroys the effectiveness of the organization.  Live in this world.

BONUS: 6. Be On Time, Give A Full Day’s Work

I know…this is “six” when I only said “five,” but for your new boss this last piece of advice is very important and frankly should be a given. The fact that it’s not a baseline of common behavior means old guys like me have to write it: be on time. On time means you’re ready to work when the office/shop opens, and you’re not walking in at 7:59 for an 8 o’clock start.  In the military, we have a saying: “If you’re not early, you’re late.” If your workday starts at 8 a.m., then you should be at your place of business at 7:45 a.m. Believe me, you’ll feel much better if you’re not racing to be “on time” and your boss will notice who’s committed to the work and who’s not. Your boss hired you because she/he wants your skills and your effort–don’t change their opinion of you because you are dashing in the door at the last minute. Then, by all means give your employer a full days’ work.


Mickey is a consultant, author, and keynote speaker. He believes everyone can reach high levels of performance if inspired and led. During his 30 year US Air Force career Mickey commanded thousands of Airmen, managed portfolios worth billions of dollars, and worked with military, civil, and industry officials around the world. He is a Distinguished Graduate of the Eisenhower School at National Defense University in Washington DC.
Mickey is the author of eight books, including Leading Leaders: Inspiring, Empowering, and Motivating TeamsMickey’s Rules for Leaders, and The Five Be’s: A Straightforward Guide to Life.

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