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by Cathy Vandewater | September 11, 2012


The 84-year old founder of BP Capital Management told Business Insider that he wouldn't mind starting from scratch.

As he recounts during his interview, T. Boone Pickens told an audience of "drifting off" young grads at St. Stephens & St. Agnes that he'd trade spots with anyone of them.

"'Right here [snap] I'll trade with you,'" he recalls saying at the commencement address. "I said I'll come and sit there and put on your graduation hat and you take this and you get the airplane, you get the ranch, whole deal. I said you are in the spot I'd like to have. To be 18 years old, to be you and start out again."

Though Pickens doesn't have to worry about starting over any time soon, he does have a pretty strong opinion on how young people should begin their careers.

Here's some of the wisdom he shared with BI, on what he believes are the keys to success:

1. Good education

Pickens' definition of "education" doesn't necessarily mean "higher education," but rather learning your trade and learning it will.

"I don't believe everybody has to go to college though, not at all—some people it doesn't fit, and there are other skills that can develop. But an education in whatever you choose to do, you better know what you're doing."

This goes hand in hand with Pickens' mention of how he was never bailed out by anyone when his business had trouble as an entrepreneur. Knowledge and expertise, like capital, is a resource, and no one's handing it out. You have to go get it.

Pickens' most important take away: don't depend on formal education to give you the skills you need to succeed. Learn from everything—especially people who you perceive are smart.

2. Working hard

"Have a work ethic…that's going to get you most of the way there," says Pickens, who also remarks that you "reap what you sow."

He advises that you not pay too much attention to the money you make right away, but focus on the big picture: loving what you do overall. "Some of the days are great, and some of the days are not so good—but it's all fun."

As for finding opportunity in the recession, Pickens' doesn't think hardship has to be a big deal. "I was born in the Depression," he says, "and people ask me, what was the Depression like?" But I didn't have anything to compare it to, it's all I knew."

Perhaps new grads can take a chapter from Pickens' book and simply keep working hard and looking for opportunities to shine. Psyching yourself out about a bad economy only uses mental energy—which is better spent learning.

3. Taking care who you get advice from

It's great to listen and learn from others, but there is such a thing as taking too much advice from others. Pickens' father told him to only take counsel from a person that fits three pieces of criteria: those you think are smart, those who don't have a conflict of interest with you, and those who love you.

Don't think a would-be advisor is too bright? "Don't spend any time listening to them," says Pickens, "Move on."

Smart, but not sure they're on your side? "Are they telling me one thing, but they're telling me that for a reason? Maybe they're too smart," says Pickens.

Third (and perhaps most importantly), do they love you? It's important to listen to those who truly have your best interests at heart.

Pickens certainly fits all his own criteria—he smart, has no reason not to give sound advice, and seems to have a soft spot for young people. So would you take his advice?

Do you think he's dead on or out of touch? Tell us in the comments!

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read more:
T. Boone Pickens Would Trade Places With Any Kid In America And Become A Billionaire All Over Again
Required Summer Reading for Recent (Unemployed) Graduates
Attention Millennials: The Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Career


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