4 Character Traits to Help You Soar After College

Grow into a better person by learning four key principles you need to know after college.

Earning a college degree may mean the end of all-night study binges and standardized tests (hallelujah!), but it isn’t the end of learning. At least it shouldn’t be.

Here are four traits to cultivate for success after college.

Tolerance (The Art of Travel)

I want you to take a moment and recall the first time you ever spent the night at a friend’s house. Remember the differences between their house and yours. Maybe at home you ate in front of the TV, but your friend’s family ate at the table. Perhaps your parents let you stay up late into the night, but your friend’s mom insisted on lights out at eight. Maybe you were used to showering in the evening, but your friend shook their head sadly and informed you that decent people showered in the AM.

Now imagine, if you will, how that night would have gone had you pitched a fit at every turn. If you’d been (gasp!) intolerant of the way your friend conducted their life.

Tolerance, it turns out, is what makes the world work.

And just as traveling a few blocks down to spend the night with your friend was an instructive exercise in tolerance, traveling abroad during and after college is one of the best methods for engendering tolerance in adults.

Mark Twain wrote in his famous travelogue “The Innocents Abroad,” “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

Such wisdom is as true today as it was then. In a study conducted by the Institute for the International Education of Students, the majority of respondents concluded that foreign travel had not only influenced their careers and educational choices, but had launched lifelong pursuits, increased cultural tolerance and understanding, and facilitated lasting friendships.

Community (The Art of Service)

It’s a fast-paced and mobile world out there, but human beings are still programmed to put down roots and get to know their neighbors. One of the keys to a successful life is not just living in a community, but interacting with a community.

One of the best ways to do this is through volunteering and community service. Turns out it also has a direct effect on your health.

A long-term study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service gave statistical support to decades of anecdotal evidence. The most revealing points are as follows:

  • Those involved with volunteer service have lower mortality rates than the uninvolved, even when accounting for socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender and ethnicity.
  • Volunteers report greater life satisfaction, and life satisfaction and physical health improved at greater rates as a result of volunteering.
  • Those who volunteer with two or more organizations have a 44% lower mortality rate.
  • Volunteering was found to contribute more to low mortality versus high religious involvement or perceived social support.

Friends, it’s time to get involved.

Wisdom (The Art of Self-Reflection)

Sure you’re book-smart. I’ll give you that. But are you wise?

Human beings have pursued wisdom throughout the ages, turning to philosophy, religion, science and the arts to ask the deepest questions about the most important subjects. Unfortunately learning isn’t the key to wisdom. Neither (sorry, Grandpa) is experience. The key is self-reflection.

According to University of Florida sociologist Monika Ardelt, self-reflection is more critical to growing wise than any other factor, including sympathy and compassion.

“To become wise, you must at least have the desire for human development and spiritual growth,” Ardelt says. “To simply say, ‘This is the way I am and there’s nothing I can do about it’ doesn’t bode well for wisdom.”

But just how important is wisdom anyway?

“Wisdom is important because people who have it tend to be much more satisfied in old age. They’re also less likely to be afraid of death,” Ardelt claims, pointing to the body of work gathered at UF’s Institute on Aging and the Center for Spirituality and Health.

If you are looking for a good way to look inward and reflect, try writing.

Eccentricity (The Art of Not Being Boring)

Do you really want to be the person who tells their grandkids that all you did your whole life was sit in front of the television watching “Mad Men” and “Grey’s Anatomy”? Get off the couch, man. Get a hobby.

Believe it or not, the pursuit of just-for-fun activities can have a direct impact on your health. A study conducted by the American Academy of Neurology found that reading books, playing games, and participating in craft or artistic activities led to a 30-50 percent decrease in the risk of memory loss.

“Know this…Cognitive impairments of aging are potentially avoidable,” says Robert N. Butler, M.D. and author of “The Longevity Prescription: 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life.”

Need a hero? Butler points to Nola Ochs, who resided on-campus at Hays State University and researched term papers on the Internet, earning a degree in history…when she was 95.

Whatever your passions and pursuits are, make time for them. They’ll keep you young, sharp and healthy. Plus they will give you far better stories to tell those grandkids.

Sources:

American Academy of Neurology. (2009, February 18). Can Exercising Your Brain Prevent Memory Loss? ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 18, 2014 from Science Daily

Brown, S., Nesse, R. M., Vonokur, A. D., & Smith, D. M. (2003). “Providing Social Support May Be More Beneficial than Receiving It: Results from a Prospective Study of Mortality.” Psychological Science, 14(4): 320–327.

Keen, C. (2001, November 30). UF Professor: Self-Reflection More Critical to Wisdom Than Knowledge. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from University of Florida

McMillan, A. R., & Opem, G. (2014, January 1). Study Abroad: A Lifetime of Benefits. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from IESAbroad

Oman, D. Thorensen, C.E., and McMahon K. 1999. “Volunteerism and Mortality among the Community-Dwelling Elderly.” Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3): 301-316.

Van Willigen, M. (2000) “Differential Benefits of Volunteering Across the Life Course.” The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55B(5): S308-S318.

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