This week it was suggested I write a graduation themed article. My initial thought was to decline. I said to myself, “I’m the last person who should write such an article. Too young to offer a lifetime of wisdom and yet too old to communicate, as a peer, to the current graduating class”.

But, after a conversation with a co-worker in which I expressed how genuinely satisfied and content I am in my life, it occurred to me that since most people are seeking contentment in their life, I might have something to contribute after all. This thought led to a few questions: how did I do it? What lessons did I learn along the way? How can I inspire others to reach this same level of satisfaction in their life?

As I started to look back on my life and examined what influenced me most to be the man I am today, I came to an unexpected conclusion; my years of working part-time as a restaurant server while in college were profoundly influential. This experience prepared me more for “life” than my actual college degree. Please don’t get me wrong, education is important in making each of us well-rounded individuals; I strongly believe we should never stop learning or growing. However, the skills and character traits I developed as a young man working in the real world have been far more impactful on my life today than any lesson I learned in a university classroom.

One thing I learned very early on was that hard work pays off. As a server, much of what I earned was based on what I did or didn’t do. The restaurant paid me $2 an hour and the rest was up to me. If I wanted to make extra money on my shift I had to put in the extra work. If I wanted it, it was up to me to earn it, not my employer’s job to give it to me. It seems like too many young people today have not yet learned this valuable lesson. In my opinion, we live in a culture today where self-reliance is not valued and the status of victim is too easily handed out. Advising people to pull themselves up by the boot straps, while not politically correct, is sometimes just what a person needs to hear.

Another invaluable lesson I learned working as a waiter was humility. Serving others and placing them before yourself is a character trait that carries over to all industries and careers. Psalm 149:4 says “God will crown the humble with victory”. I believe real success in business and life comes when you have a servant’s heart. My time as a restaurant server often came with customers who treated me like a second-class citizen, believing they could speak to me however they liked; it wasn’t always fun, but these experiences taught me the importance of being respectful to others, and to this day provides perspective that the universe doesn’t revolve around me … even when I like to think it does.

Last, but certainly not least, I learned how important it is to connect with others. Whether it came in the form of a brief conversation with someone dining alone, or cooperating with my teammates, I learned how important it is to connect with people. More than anything else, people just want to feel special and cared for. How I did this varied from person to person. For some customers it was simply remembering their “usual order”, for others it was chatting with them about a subject I knew they were passionate about. In every instance though, it meant caring enough about who they were to make an effort to connect.

I realize not everyone reading this will graduate this spring. But I think the characteristics and behaviors I have mentioned are universal to every person and every situation.  Obviously, my advice to you the reader is not to drop what you’re currently doing and start waiting tables. But, I do advise anyone seeking success in life to look at these three skills/character traits and identify at least one you could improve upon. I guarantee you, being viewed by others as hard-working, humble and caring will garner you more success, happiness and contentment than you ever dreamed possible.

(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Advice is intended to be general in nature.)