The Insider's Guide to Life

The Insider's Guide to Life

In classrooms and residence halls, on athletic fields and theater stages, students get guidance from experienced pros who want them to succeed. Whether they’re choosing a major, applying for an internship, or navigating a roommate relationship, they can always find someone on campus who will help them make a smart decision. But what happens after students toss their caps at Commencement? To whom can they turn then? As the Class of 2016 prepares for graduation this spring, we sought out a few folks who were once in their shoes. In the pages that follow, more than a dozen alumni, who are five to fifty years beyond graduation, share the lessons they’ve learned about careers, money, and decision-making. If you’ve got your own words of wisdom you’d like to share, send us a note at denmag@denison.edu.

ON UNDERSTANDING YOUR PLACE IN THE WORLD

Ex nihilo nihil fit translates to “nothing comes from nothing.” To me, it is a reminder to pay respect to everyone who helped you get where you are, because none of us came from nothing. It is also a charge to do what it takes to achieve what you want, because nothing great will happen on its own.
—Scott Roberts ’00, Director of Instructional Excellence & Innovation, Teaching & Learning Transformation Center, University of Maryland

ON SUPPORT SYSTEMS

Build your own personal advisory board of mentors and people whom you respect. This should be your go-to list of people who don’t just support you, but are committed to helping you not fail.
—Greg Holden ’03, Vice President, Manning & Napier Advisors

ON LEARNING

Too many people are told to “ask a lot of questions” or that “no question is a bad question.” I disagree. People should do research and try to learn answers themselves and then ask a more educated question. Asking questions purely just to be heard is not a good practice.
—Dan Kreer ’07, Vice President, Morgan Stanley

ON GRATITUDE

It’s important to be thankful for whom and what you have in your life. Prayer is a great way to intentionally give thanks.
—Ryan Mills ’03, Vice President, The Granville Investment Group Inc.

Insider's Guide to Life

ON GRAND PLANS

It’s great if you have one grand ambition to sustain you, but don’t feel your life is meaningless if you don’t. Be micro-ambitious and passionately dedicate yourself to what’s in front of you.
—Lucy Reynolds ’94, Certified Co-Active Career & Leadership Coach, Facilitator

ON CHARACTER

Reputation is everything. Don’t do anything to jeopardize it.
—Lia Evans ’09, Director of Alumni and Development, The University of Akron School of Law

ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Stop trying to capture the perfect moment to publicize to the world. You’ll end up missing the moments that matter.
—Emily Merrell ’09, Founder, Six Degrees Society

ON WANTING IT ALL

Our culture is bombarded with marketing messages that essentially tell us to “have it your way.” While we each have our own preferences and wants, life is about loving and serving others.
—Ryan Mills ’03, Vice President, The Granville Investment Group Inc.

The Insider's Guide to Life

Insider's Guide to Life

 

ON TIMING

Never, ever be late.
—Dan Kreer ’07, Vice President, Morgan Stanley

ON MONEY

You have more than you think you do, but you’re saving less than you should.
— Scott Roberts ’00, Director of Instructional Excellence & Innovation, Teaching & Learning Transformation Center, University of Maryland

Before I was married, I thought that the most important thing I could do for my family would be to provide for them financially. For several years I did that, to the detriment of my relationships with my children. But I learned before it was too late that being present and engaged fully in the lives of my children was much more important than any amount of money I brought home.
— Robert Caldwell ’82, Executive Director, AnswerPoverty.org

In my first year as a museum director, my board treasurer told me to build the income budget first and match our expenses to it. Otherwise you end up inflating what you think your income could be to meet the appetite of your expenses.
— Nannette Maciejunes ’75, Executive Director, Columbus Museum of Art

Debt is not something to take lightly. In law school, they tell you that if you live like a lawyer in law school you’ll end up living like a law student when you’re a lawyer.
— Demi Johnson ’11, Staff Attorney, Ohio Department of Higher Education

The Insider's Guide to Life

ON MONEY

You have more than you think you do, but you’re saving less than you should.
— Scott Roberts ’00, Director of Instructional Excellence & Innovation, Teaching & Learning Transformation Center, University of Maryland

Before I was married, I thought that the most important thing I could do for my family would be to provide for them financially. For several years I did that, to the detriment of my relationships with my children. But I learned before it was too late that being present and engaged fully in the lives of my children was much more important than any amount of money I brought home.
— Robert Caldwell ’82, Executive Director, AnswerPoverty.org

In my first year as a museum director, my board treasurer told me to build the income budget first and match our expenses to it. Otherwise you end up inflating what you think your income could be to meet the appetite of your expenses.
— Nannette Maciejunes ’75, Executive Director, Columbus Museum of Art

Debt is not something to take lightly. In law school, they tell you that if you live like a lawyer in law school you’ll end up living like a law student when you’re a lawyer.
— Demi Johnson ’11, Staff Attorney, Ohio Department of Higher Education

Pig illustration

ON CAREERS

I planned a career in academia and thought my foray in the museum world would be temporary. Thirty years later I’m still a museum professional. It’s important to be open to possibilities and opportunities as they arise.
— Nannette Maciejunes ’75, Executive Director, Columbus Museum of Art

Never have a phone in your hand in front of your boss.
— Cliff Deveny ’82, Senior Vice President, Physician Services & Clinical Integration, Catholic Health Initiatives

Be honest as to what makes you most fulfilled in the work of your life—not what your parents say you should do or what sounds prestigious. If you can align your skill set with your passions, this is where you will have the most impact on the world around you.
— Lucy Reynolds ’94, Certified Co-active Career and Leadership Coach, Facilitator

People often say, “Don’t settle for a job that you don’t love or aren’t passionate about.” But what most young people need is experience—not just vocational experience but people and life experience. Learning how to navigate the variety of workplace situations, relationship dynamics, and challenges in life/work management has a greater learning curve than most vocational learning curves. If you can’t get the ideal job you want right away, take a job that pays the bills, and begin working the people and life-experience learning curve.
— Robert Caldwell ’82, Executive Director, AnswerPoverty.com

In the world of testing (especially the sciences), there is usually one right answer. In the real world there is usually more than one right way to do something. Looking for a right way is a whole lot less frustrating than looking for the right way to do everything. There are many ways to succeed, not just one.
— Sally A. Shafer ’72, Outreach Director, Department of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Kentucky (retired)

ON GIVING BACKInsider's Guide to Life

Start sharing your life and learning by mentoring a first-year student or a high-school student now. Even if you don’t yet have a lot of life experience, mentoring is something that will help you grow as a person. Learn to integrate it into your life now so it will be something you will do for the rest of your life.
—Robert Caldwell ’82, Executive Director, AnswerPoverty.com

ON MAKING THE MOST OF DENISON ALUMNI

The Denison community is a tight one. Stay in touch with your friends, connect with alumni of various generations, and give back to the school by sharing your time or treasure. Investing in the Denison community will strengthen the value of our degrees as alumni and enhance the Denison experience for current students. It is important to give back.
—Lia Evans ’09, Director of Alumni and Development, The University of Akron School of Law

ON THINKING BIGGER

Master a second language.
—Captain William W. Howe III ’71 U.S. Marines (Retired)

Experience the world around you before settling into a career. Find work (even if it is a simple job) in another country. It is a wonderful way to broaden your understanding of the world. While there, hang out with the locals, who will introduce you to their true culture and will share their thoughts on world politics, religion, and the arts. This will make you grow as an individual and will make you much more interesting. Through these experiences, you will gain a more global mind-set and the ability to see the world through a much broader and more understanding lens.
—Lucy Reynolds ’94, Certified Co-active Career and Leadership Coach, Facilitator

Don’t educate your wallet; educate your person. The investment will bring far more return than could ever fit in your wallet.
—Kristi Horner ’84, Independent Representative for Silpada Designs and Chair of Delta Delta Delta Leadership Development Committee Kenneth Horner ’84, Managing Director of Leveraged Finance, KeyCorp

ON TESTING YOURSELF

Set a challenging physical goal and try to reach it.
—Will Minor ’09, Investment Banking Associate, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

ON RELATIONSHIPS

Be open to having someone close to you who will tell you when you are wrong.
—Nannette Maciejunes ’75, Executive Director, Columbus Museum of Art

Conflict is usually resolved by a conversation and usually escalated by an email.
—Scott Roberts ’00, Director of Instructional Excellence & Innovation, Teaching & Learning Transformation Center, University of Maryland

It is difficult to build meaningful relationships via email or text message. Pick up the phone to make a phone call, meet someone for coffee, or send someone a handwritten note. These things will help to set you apart and make a memorable impression.
—Lia Evans ’09, Director of Alumni and Development, The University of Akron School of Law

ON SUCCESS

Dream. Read. But know that a work ethic must be ingrained in your soul.
— Emmy Hauser King ’63, President, The King Family Foundation

Even if you do all the right things and work really hard, you are not guaranteed success. It may resonate more once you have lived it, but failure really is one of the most valuable teachers.
— Greg Holden ’03, Vice President, Manning & Napier Advisors

Never fear the opportunity to place a bet on yourself.
— Will Minor ’09, Investment Banking Associate, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Insider's Guide to Life

ON LISTENING

A person cannot gain any knowledge when they are talking.
— William H. Northy ’71, American Airlines Captain (retired)

The best way to achieve your personal goals in life is to help others achieve theirs. Ask questions, always seeking to understand, minimize statements about yourself seeking to be understood. If you require the world around you to be fair, you will endure constant frustration and anguish. Instead, learn how to accept the world on its unfair terms and drive yourself to be fair and equitable with others. There is greater joy in being and doing for others, than there is in anything that is egocentric.
— George A. Powell ’78, Independent Business Consultant, Small Business Growth Alliance

ON SUCCESS

Dream. Read. But know that a work ethic must be ingrained in your soul.
— Emmy Hauser King ’63, President, The King Family Foundation

Even if you do all the right things and work really hard, you are not guaranteed success. It may resonate more once you have lived it, but failure really is one of the most valuable teachers.
— Greg Holden ’03, Vice President, Manning & Napier Advisors

Never fear the opportunity to place a bet on yourself.
— Will Minor ’09, Investment Banking Associate, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Insider's Guide to Life

ON LISTENING

A person cannot gain any knowledge when they are talking.
— William H. Northy ’71, American Airlines Captain (retired)

The best way to achieve your personal goals in life is to help others achieve theirs. Ask questions, always seeking to understand, minimize statements about yourself seeking to be understood. If you require the world around you to be fair, you will endure constant frustration and anguish. Instead, learn how to accept the world on its unfair terms and drive yourself to be fair and equitable with others. There is greater joy in being and doing for others, than there is in anything that is egocentric.
— George A. Powell ’78, Independent Business Consultant, Small Business Growth Alliance

The Insider's Guide to Life

ON YOUR UNHEALTHY OBSESSIONS

Put down your phone.
— Lucy Reynolds ’94

Put your phone away.
— Mike Kleinfelder ’00

Don’t hide behind your phone.
— Scott Roberts ’00

Stop spending so much time on your phone.
— Emily Merrell ’09

Don’t be consumed by your phone.
— Lia Evans ’09

Leave your phone in your pocket.
— Cliff Deveny ’82

ON DIFFICULT DECISIONS

The most important time that I changed my mind about something was when I left a great job and good friends to chase a girl halfway across the country. It was a risk, but it was the best decision I ever made. We are now married and recently had our first child. You should always trust your gut.
— Greg Holden ’03, Vice President, Manning & Napier Advisors

Years ago, I had decided to move to Seattle—at the age of 50—to begin a new life after divorce. I visited my parents in Ohio to inform them of my decision. My mother spoke to me privately and told me, “We need you.” Within a day, I decided to move back to Chicago. It was a good decision. What I learned is to be open to callings, rather than relying only upon your own understanding.
— Suzanne Morgan ’66, Senior Space Ambassador, Parliament of the World’s Religions

After spending three years in law school and working at a firm, I decided to take a nontraditional career path to work in higher education doing alumni relations and development work for the law school that I attended. It was a scary decision, because I had just invested so much time and money in law school. Nearly four years later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. It taught me that it is okay to go outside of the mold. Just because everyone else is doing something one way doesn’t mean that’s what you have to do too.
— Lia Evans ’09, Director of Alumni and Development, The University of Akron School of Law

ON THE REAL WORLD

One of the worst things to tell a student is that they’ll need knowledge and skills when they graduate and go into “the real world.” This is the real world. You’re real, I’m real, this is all really happening. You’re not getting ready for the real world, you’re in it, and what you do as a young professional in college is far more important than where you went and what you majored in. If you see yourself as a young professional others will too; treat school like you’re at your job, gunning for a promotion, and you’ll do just fine in the transition from this real world to the even more professional one.
—Scott Roberts ’00, Director of Instructional Excellence & Innovation, Teaching & Learning Transformation Center, University of Maryland

ON PRACTICAL SKILLS

Learn how to type 60 words a minute, program a computer, play an instrument, and speak another language. I think this is really smart advice, but I can’t seem to follow it myself.
—Cliff Deveny ’82, Senior Vice President, Physician Services & Clinical Integration, Catholic Health Initiatives

ON CREATIVITY

Take liberal arts, learn to think as a scientist, never freeze your assumptions about how the world works, eschew ideology, and take time to lie on your back to contemplate cumulus clouds. Give yourself permission to create, and harness naysayers’ comments as motivation.
—Robert Firmin ’70, Owner, Daub & Firmin Studios

Sometimes the most productive thing that you can do is to take a break. Go for a walk, a run, or a coffee. Sit with a friend. Call home. Go to sleep! Find your balance and the quality of life will soar!
—Eric S. Campbell ’06, Co-founder, Wealth Underground Farm

If you are a parent, alum, or friend willing to mentor a student or recent graduate, or if you’re willing to sponsor internships or externships for Denisonians, the staff at the Austin E. Knowlton Center for Career Exploration would love to hear from you. Contact Liz Morrison ’06, director of networks and communities at the Knowlton Center.

Published May 2016