Five Things I Wish My Commencement Speaker Had Mentioned

Once again this year, no institution invited me to be a commencement speaker. Good thing I have a blog! It’s the perfect vehicle to list five things I wish my commencement speaker had mentioned.

Continuous learning is your lifelong asset.

One thing that’s common to all careers is that requirements change. Stay relevant through learning. Learning is not limited to formal education. But all learning can be facilitated by cultivating curiosity, establishing the habit of reflection, an openness to new ideas and trying a different way to do things. From cycle after cycle of disruptive change, those most willing to learn are those who thrive. Those stuck in what they once knew wonder what happened.

Happiness and generosity are related.

Dan Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, has research to support the view that generosity contributes to the happiness of the giver. Give two people $20.00 with directions to spend it. The one who gives it away to someone who needs it more often reports being happier than the other who buys “stuff.” It doesn’t matter if happier people are more generous or if more generous people are happy- the undeniable relationship also exists in the workplace. Be generous with your support, wisdom and resources. See if what you give away makes you happier at work.

People skills, not technical skills, are your competitive edge.

Technical skills are the price of admission for your job. Hired as programmer?  It’s hard to write code significantly better than the others hired with you. Hired as finance pro? Everyone has access to the same software, spreadsheets and formulas. Those with similar smarts, education and experience will produce technical results that fall in a narrow range. Those with the strongest interpersonal and leadership skills more frequently engage others and thereby produce a greater impact. Technical skills get you in the door. Technical skills supported by strong people skills create your success.

Walk on the edge.

Margaret Wheatley suggests that our optimum experience and development comes when we walk on the edge. You know the edge -the point where you are outside of your comfort zone but not into chaos. Your path is doable, but demands your full attention and effort. Shooting for over the edge encourages chaos, walking far inside of it minimizes your talent. Stay sharp and find the edge.

Make self-awareness your most valuable trait.

Don’t worry so much about your “leadership style.” By the time you read this, your personality preferences are set. Trying to be someone you are not will ultimately be inauthentic and ineffective.  Do put effort into cultivating self-awareness. Self-awareness is like a GPS for leadership navigation. Find ways to take in feedback to know when to tone down or dial up your preferences.  Know when the route to success requires your strengths or someone else’s.

What have you learned that you would add to a commencement address?

To 2012 graduates everywhere, congratulations on your achievement. May this important passage be one of your many successes.

4 thoughts on “Five Things I Wish My Commencement Speaker Had Mentioned

  1. Great list Susan. I might add (from painful experience)…that while performance is important, your relationship with and gaining/retaining the trust of your Boss is a critical success factor.

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