HGraduation is the prime time to think about your future—about the things you want to accomplish and the kind of person you want to become. After reflecting back to when I was 22, here are a few things I have learned over the years that would have helped me then, and might help you now.

Think Big

As you make your future plans, many people will tell you to “think big.” Well, I want to tell you that however “big” you’re thinking right now, it’s probably too small.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that when you are thinking big, in reality you’re thinking small. There’s always a bigger big.

It’s important to have big dreams for your future. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail. So if you can’t think big about your future, you’re not going to have a very big future. Big, of course, means a dream that takes you farther than where you are today. Success can be defined in many ways, and I’m not telling you how to define it. I’m simply saying to take your definition of success and raise the bar on it.

Ask yourself, “What is even bigger than what I’m thinking, because that’s what I really want to do?” That’s how you raise the bar far higher on yourself. If you can’t imagine it, you will never achieve it.

Choose To Be Extraordinary

You’ve read about or even seen extraordinary people. It could be a world leader working for a global cause, a business person revolutionizing an industry, or even the person down the street helping to make life better for people in the community. Often, when we hear of these extraordinary people, we think, “I could never do that because I’m just an average person.”

In reality, there is no such thing as an average person; there is only average thinking. You can be extraordinary! The key is to realize that being extraordinary is a personal choice you make every day. Anyone can choose to be extraordinary—especially you.

For example, if you’re planning on furthering your education and will be enrolled in a graduate or doctorial program, you might ask yourself each morning, “What would an extraordinary student do today given the subject we’re discussing in class?”

Or suppose you’re entering the job market and will begin an employment search. Before you enter any interview situation, ask yourself, “What would an extraordinary job candidate do or say to get the position?”

So take a few minutes each day to think about what an extraordinary person in your situation would do. Then, take that action (the bigger choice) rather than what you were going to do. Soon, people will look at you and think, “Wow! That person is extraordinary!”

Direct Your Talents to Support Your Unique Gift

The secret ingredient to making the daily choice to be extraordinary easier is to identify and leverage both your talents and your gifts. You have to tap into that inner magic that comes from deep inside of you. And that unique magic is tied more to a gift than a talent.

You have multiple talents, but the key is to understand that you also have a unique gift. Some people drift into various positions using their talents, and they usually end up struggling because there are others who are equally talented and who can do the same thing.

Talent relates to competency, not your unique inner magic, and it can only take you so far. To maximize your talents, you have to identify your unique gift. Once you identify your true gift, you can then direct your talents to support the gift. That’s when your creativity, innovation, and career really soar.

So what’s your unique gift? What makes you different from all the others who have the same talents as you? When you focus on your unique gift as you create your future, you become a true innovator—one that others try to emulate.

Discover What’s Inside of You

Knowing all your many talents and your unique gift takes time … and some trial and error. To really uncover what makes you unique, explore what is inside of you by learning new things every year. Most people will find one activity they like, such as golf or painting or swimming, and that’s all they do all their entire life. While that’s good, they aren’t discovering all that is hidden inside of them and all they can be. And the thing they haven’t discovered might be what they’re truly great at.

For example, maybe you learned to play the piano when you were young but didn’t enjoy it, so you gave up music completely and never picked up another instrument. However, you might be the world’s best violin player, but if you never pick one up, you’ll never know. So make it an annual journey to learn one new thing every year. The more variety and learning you add to your life, no matter how old you get, the more deeply you’ll discover what’s really inside you.

It’s All Up to You

This is an exciting time in your life, because you really can shape your future. By thinking bigger, choosing to be extraordinary, leveraging your talents by elevating your unique gift, and committing to learning new things every year, you will have the keys to creating a very successful life—one filled with amazing opportunities and unforgettable memories that are worthy of a life well lived.