These Are Oprah's Surprisingly Powerful Lessons for College Graduates (No, It's Not What You Think)

Eat a good breakfast – because “it really pays off.”

Make your bed.

Pay your bills on time.

Don’t “cheap out on your shoes.”

Vote.

No, these aren’t words from your mom, your aunt, or even your elementary school teacher.

These small but practical bits of advice came from Oprah Winfrey, philanthropist, billionaire, and American media mogul, who delivered the commencement address for a lucky group of graduates this month.

Oprah admits that she wasn’t quite sure what to say at the ceremony for the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism: “I was a little intimidated coming here, because…it’s hard trying to come up with something to share with you that you haven’t already heard…I don’t have any new lessons. But I often think that it’s not the new lessons so much as it is learning the old ones, again and again.” 

Here are the top lessons for this year’s graduates from Oprah:

1. Be so good they can’t ignore you.

“The number one lesson that I can offer you where your work is concerned is this: become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.” Make yourself indispensable and see what heights you can reach! 

2. Pick a problem and work to solve it.

“The homeless need opportunity, the addicted need treatment, the Dreamers need protection, the prison system needs reforming, the LGBTQ community needs acceptance, the social safety net needs saving, and the misogyny needs to stop,” she says. Oprah asks that graduates use their gifts to “illuminate the darkness” in our world. “Pick a problem,” Oprah suggests. “My deepest satisfaction and my biggest rewards have come from exactly that.”

3. Combat cynicism.

“Here and now, I believe, you have to declare war on one of our most dangerous enemies, and that is cynicism,” says Oprah. “When that little creature sinks its hooks into you, it’ll cloud your clarity. It’ll compromise your integrity, it’ll lower your standards, it’ll choke your empathy, and sooner or later, cynicism shatters your faith.” 

4. Be the truth, exemplify honesty

In a world full of media inaccuracies and “fake news,” Oprah advises graduates to “take everything you’ve learned, to challenge to the left, and the right, and the center.” The truth is something highly valuable, as it, “exonerates and it convicts. It disinfects and it galvanizes.” The truth, “has always been, and will always be, our shield against corruption, our shield against greed and despair. The truth is our saving grace.”

And, Oprah states, not only are you — whether you are graduating this year or not — “here to tell it, to write it, to proclaim it, to speak it, but…”

The lesson you can’t learn inside the classroom? According to Oprah:

“Be the truth. Be the truth.”

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Why I Support the NFL's Right to Ban Kneeling

Two things you should know about me before you read this.

1. I absolutely believe in free speech. The government should never, ever punish anyone for voicing their opinion. You should be able to say whatever you want–even if it’s absolutely horrible–without fear of government reprisal. I will support you 100 percent in your quest to make a speech, hold a march, or even burn a flag.

2. I don’t care one whit about football and the NFL. I find government subsidies of football stadiums to be a horrendous thing and would never, ever vote in favor of such a subsidy. I find the NFL’s treatment of cheerleaders to border on criminal, and I don’t think they do enough to prevent brain injury. Would I say I have a positive view of the NFL? Absolutely not.

That out of the way, I support the NFL in their rule banning kneeling on the field during the National Anthem. Why? Because the players are at work.

For some reason, we seem to have this idea that we get to retain all our individuality when we go into the job. Maybe this comes with the idea of “bringing your whole self” which has kind of turned Google into a mess. I’m not sure. Additionally, we don’t really see NFL football players as employees–they are athletes.

Athletes who have a job. We don’t say, “Jim isn’t an employee–he’s a CPA!” Yeah, he can be both, and most likely is. Football players aren’t at-will employees (like almost all of us in the United States), as they do have contracts. But, that doesn’t make the NFL completely impotent in their ability to enforce workplace rules.

You certainly have more rights off the clock than on, but even those aren’t completely absolute. 

As employment attorney, Jon Hyman, pointed out, when discussing the termination of a white nationalist after the Charlottesville protests:

[H]e…has the constitutional right to peacefully express those opinions, no matter how vehemently one might disagree with his point of view. Those rights are what make America great. Those constitutional rights, however, stop at a private employer’s door. And I, as a private employer, have the right to hold my employees accountable for their viewpoints and terminate when I, in good faith, determine that those viewpoints may bleed into my workplace and create a hostile environment for other employees. I certainly have the right to fire when those viewpoints cross the line into violence or threats of violence. 

They can set workplace rules and this one is quite reasonable. You either stand and show respect during the National Anthem or you stay in the locker room (or a similar area off the field).

Last year’s protests were absolutely disruptive. The NFL lost viewership last year, and 50 percent of those who watched less football in 2017 did so because of the kneeling protests. If you had such a strong source for a loss of clients, you would strongly think about changing your rules.

Lots of people question why the NFL has taken such a hard line on this when they seem to ignore the bad off the field behavior of their players. It’s an excellent question and one we should continue to ask the NFL. 

Of course, there are two key differences: one is that they aren’t being utterly horrible at work. The other is that you can’t, legally, discriminate against employees purely on the basis of a conviction. You have to show that it’s related to the work at hand. While you can certainly argue that violence of any kind never belongs in any workplace and that should be an exclusion for work in the NFL, they haven’t made that argument.

Overall, the NFL is desperately trying to regain their viewership, and this is one step along that route. I absolutely support their right to enforce this rule. Now, will it work or will it backfire? It’s hard to tell before the season begins. It will definitely be worth watching, even if the I don’t find the football itself interesting.

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Want to Get Rich? Ten 1-Sentence Personal Finance Rules Anyone Can Follow to Become a Self-Made Millionaire

Every month I get a number of advance copies of personal finance books.

Each includes tens of thousands of words that always promise and occasionally deliver something new, even though wealth building, like losing weight, can be summed up in five words: 

Spend less than you earn. Eat less than you burn. (Hey, that rhymes!)

Here are a number of one-sentence personal and business financial guidelines to keep you on track… 

1. Only make investments you can explain to your kids. 

(No, “Because Elon Musk is awesome!” doesn’t count.)

As Warren Buffett says, “The business schools reward difficult complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.”

That’s also true where analyzing investments is concerned. Like a unique selling proposition (USP), if you can’t explain it in a sentence or two… you haven’t figured it out.

2. The best investment you can make is in yourself.

Spending time every day investing in yourself — improving your skills, improving your connections, improving your health and fitness — will produce better long-term results than any other investment you can make.

Plus, it’s the one investment outcome you can almost totally control. 

3. Spend your money on things and you’re left with the things, not the money.

And not only does the value immediately start to depreciate, so does the “joy” of the initial purchase. Those incredible, amazing, gottta-have-them shoes?

By next week, they’re just shoes.

4. When you work for someone else your income is always capped.

Work for someone else and yeah, you might get raises — but you will never earn more than someone else thinks you’re worth. 

Start a business and your income is only limited by you.

5. Saving $1 is like earning $3.

Ben Franklin was wrong. A penny saved isn’t a penny earned. You have to earn more than one penny to be able to save one. Taxes eat up a third. So does the inevitable lifestyle expansion that naturally occurs when income increases. 

Instead of trying to figure out how to make $3,000 more a year, find ways to save $1,000. It’s not that hard. Be a cable TV cord-cutter. Make your morning coffee at home instead of hitting Starbucks. Take your lunch to work a couple times a week.

That’s a thousand bucks right there.

And don’t say you “deserve” certain things. What you really deserve, and what will make you much happier, is to not constantly worry about money.

6. Not maxing out the employer 401(k) match is giving away free money.

Make sure you contribute whatever it takes to max out what your employer will match. much. Otherwise you’re saying, “Nah, I don’t want your money. You keep it.”

The same is true if you own your own business — especially if you’re the only employee. Set up a 401(k) and match 100 percent of your contributions. That way you’re contributing pre-tax dollars, and so is your company.

As an employee you can contribute $18,500 to a 401(k) in 2018 ($24,500 if you’re over 50), and total contributions (employer match, profit sharing) can add up to $55,000… that’s a lot of money you can sock away.

Which is yet another reason to start your own business.

(Keep in mind that if you have employees you must extend the same match level to them as you do to yourself.)

7. No one cares about your money — and your future — as much as you do.

Especially not financial advisers. The nature of the business means they care more about making money from you, not for you.

The best person to look out for your interests is always — always — you.

8. Borrowing money takes minutes; paying it back seemingly takes forever.

If you have good credit and sufficient income, you can borrow 100 grand and go to a dealership and buy a Porsche. If you have no credit and no income, you can borrow 100 or even 200 grand and go to a private college and buy a degree.

Easy.

But then you have to pay all that money back.

Borrowing money is an investment that should always provide a return. The return is not the thing, though — it’s the benefit from that thing. If you’re scrambling every month to make your student loan payment on a teacher’s salary — and you will for the next 20 years, was the investment a good one? Maybe not.

Don’t think about how long it takes to get a loan; think about how long it takes to pay it back… and the impact on your day-to-day life for all the years it takes.

That’s the real cost of investment.

And speaking of loans…

9. Never borrow as much as a mortgage broker will lend you.

While the front-end and back-end ratios have definitely tightened, still: A mortgage broker will always lend you more money than you can really afford.

As with many things in life, just because you can…. doesn’t mean you should.

And last but absolutely not least…

10. It’s your life, so live it your way.

Some of the time it pays to consider what other people think — but not if it stands in the way of living the life you really want to live.

Don’t buy a particular car to impress other people; buy the car that is right for you. Don’t buy a particular house to impress other people; buy the house that is right for you.

Make spending choices that are right for you. Make investment choices that are right for you. Pick your career, your school, your business — everything — because it’s right for you.

Not only will you make better decisions about personal finance, you’ll also be a lot happier — because you’ll be living the life you want to lead.

And isn’t that what money is really for?

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