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Survey says…The top tips for the high school graduating class of 2013

My husband and I were in Virginia Beach last weekend for our nephew’s high school graduation. (Congratulations again, Cuyler!) My hometown of East Aurora, New York, will hold its ceremony this weekend. Some graduates turned their tassels almost a month ago.

Thank you again to all who responded to my one-question survey: As you think back to the “aha” moments you’ve had since graduating from high school, what is your top tip for the class of 2013?

Tips for the 2013 high school graduation class from the "aha" moments of prior graduates - a survey conducted by Donna Hartney, author of "aha" moment self-help bookDrum roll please. Here are the top three most frequent tips in a survey of more than 200 contacts and colleagues, ranging from recent grads to those who had been out of school for decades. As a bonus I’ve thrown in the most poignant tip and the laugh out loud funniest tip.

Let’s do this the David Letterman way. Shall we?

Tip #3 – Focus on your connections

As Anne Rogers (class of 1981) put it, “Always CONNECT with the people in your life!  Whether it is university professors, cafeteria servers, people in your dorm, or the provost, learn their name and make sure they learn yours.  We are all human, we are in this together, EVERYONE needs to connect.”

Tip #2 – Do what you love

“If I had a time machine to bring me back to the day I graduated high school, the one tip I would give to my younger self is do what makes you happy,” wrote Kelly (class of 2001). “Life is too short to live it the way you think you have to or the way society tells you. If you are not doing what makes you happy, inevitably you will live a mediocre life. You are only as rich as you are happy and now as an adult I have truly realized the meaning in that.”

Tip #1 – Be a learner

Ronni Price (class of 1987) summed it up, “Even though you’re graduating, don’t stop being a student.  Become a learner for life. Take each day or year as an opportunity to grow. Seek, discover and engage in something new; learn from an experience.  If you make the effort to do this, life rarely (if ever) gets boring and you’ll most likely always have something to look forward to.”

The most poignant response came from Nancy Maloney (class of 1977 and winner of the random drawing for a $25 gift card).

“When my former CEO,  who had devoted his life to his job (running through multiple marriages, always working, being thrown out by the Board after executing the most successful area merger) died of a heart attack at age 51, I thought, ‘Life is too short. I’ll never again give up the ones I love, the things I love, for a job. I’m going to do what makes me happy, not necessarily what I’m good at.’ I went back to school and became a master cabinet and furniture maker.”

The funniest response came from Mark (class of 1972). He wrote, “Check with your wife before doing something stupid.” Lol! OK, in fairness to Mark, here’s his complete list:

1) If you always tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.

2) Your attitude is the most important choice you make every morning.

3) Be thankful in all situations.

4) Check with your wife before doing something stupid.

5) Be on the lookout for opportunities to show kindness.

Thanks again, everyone, and best wishes to the class of 2013!



AHA! Creating change through the power of insight

If you’re in the Buffalo area on Friday, June 14th, I hope that you’ll stop by the ODN meeting. Click here for meeting details.

 Donna Hartney, Ph.D., author of aha moment self-help book will speak to the ODN of Western New York


How did Brad Pitt land in Hollywood? In the flash of an “aha” moment

22-year old Brad Pitt experienced a pivotal "aha" moment that prompted him to move to Los Angeles.

I just bought my first copy of Esquire magazine. (It’s probably no surprise to anyone that it’s my first copy. I’m not, after all, a member of the magazine’s target demographic.) On its pages I found a new and curious world of humor, language, pictures, and scents—although I could have happily done without the men’s fragrance samples.

Why buy a copy of the June/July 2013 issue? I had received a tip last week from Google Alerts that in it would be an interview Brad Pitt in which he discussed a life-changing epiphany, one that he experienced about the time he turned 40. That’s something I can’t pass up! I’m always on the look out for stories of defining moments. Was or wasn’t it a profound “aha” moment for him? That was my question.

Well, I can’t answer that question. Not yet anyway. I was so excited to read about a different AHA! (the one took Brad to Hollywood in the first place) that I haven’t read the rest of the interview.

Brad was a senior at the University of Missouri with graduation was just a few weeks away. Write one more paper. That’s all he had to do before a journalism degree would be his. Then a flash of clarity propelled Brad out into the world, far beyond his Missouri home.

“Then it occurred to me, literally two weeks before graduation: If the opportunity isn’t there, I’ll go to it. So simple. But it had never occurred to me. I’ll just go to it,” Brad recounted his pivotal realization to Tom Junod in the Esquire interview.

After the insight, 22-year old Brad stopped what he was doing, went home to Springfield, and focused on earning money. Soon he had saved up enough to drive his Datsun 200SX 1,600 miles west to Los Angeles.

Wow. What a great story. It has all the markers of an AHA!. In a flash of clarity, Brad gained a new understanding of the way the world works, one that was so convincing that it gave him all the focus, motivation, and determination he needed to change course immediately.

And, I love that Brad said, “So simple. But it had never occurred to me.” That’s the beauty of a transforming “aha” moment. Once you’ve had one, it all seems so simple.