I've learned far more in the years since I've graduated than I did while at school.
Here are a few pieces of advice for those finishing university or college.
Read a lot
During university, I didn't read much aside from textbooks, and I wish I had. Reading great books is like having those people as mentors. Reading lets you explore a wide variety of topics, and helps speed up your career progression. In a world of constant distractions, reading becomes meditation and a way to practice deep work, an advantage that grows daily.
Indulge your curiosity
Reading is one way to do this. Meeting interesting people, reading blogs, writing, or learning web design are all other ways. Whatever it is you're interested in, explore it. Paul Graham has written extensively on finding ideas: they often come at the intersection of unique interests. The key part is they should be unique to you, and the best way to find them is to be curious.
Credentials matter, but don't sacrifice happiness to get them
Many ambitious university graduates seek a job with a well-known consulting, accounting, or investment banking firm. It's not a bad start; brand names like that still have value, though less than before. When I graduated, I knew I wouldn't be happy working at a job I was doing for the credentials or money. Earning money after graduating and working for a brand-name firm are both good things. But if they conflict with your personal values, you will suffer. There is almost always a better path, like working for a top-notch startup.
Get good at learning
Daniel Ek, CEO of Spotify, cited the rate of learning as his best predictor of future success for employees and execs. My experience has been the same. You can master almost anything if you have the will and desire to learn. There are tactics for faster learning, of course, and you should learn those. But you should be learning and getting better as fast as possible. That approach to your work, and to your life—learning as fast as possible—will get you a long way. It also makes your list of possible jobs much wider.
Find what great looks like
When I left university, I decided to learn on my own, attempting to build a startup. In hindsight, I wouldn't recommend it. Being exposed to great work has taught me much more. Exposure to great work shows you what to do, but it also gives you confidence that you know what to do. This is very hard to get on your own.
Where do you find great people? Great companies. The best companies are well-known: Stripe, Shopify and Airbnb, for example. There are lots of resources online that are specific to your location. If you don't know, ask around: email some people in the industry and they will tell you.
Pay off debt, and start saving and investing
Paying off debt—and avoiding it—should be top priority. Debt takes away your options. One of the largest success factors in long-term investing is getting started early. To have money, you have to save. Investing is then almost a side-benefit; it's what you do with the money you've saved. The habit of saving is the most critical part. We live in a world of constant distractions, marketing, and the feeling that we need one more thing. It's particularly tempting if you've left school and have some income for the first time. Breaking that habit will serve you well in the future.
Be impatient in the short-term, patient in the long-term
As humans, we tend to overestimate what we can accomplish in the short-term, and underestimate in the long-term.
So be ambitious in the short-term: push yourself, learn fast, and iterate. Sample many things as fast as you can to find out what you like and don't like.
But be patient with results. No one is successful immediately.