Commencement Season Musings

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Commencement season is one of my favorite times of the year. I love its spirit of celebration, sense of optimism and the energy of possibility. Who doesn’t get inspired by a well-crafted commencement speech? The vivid descriptions of opportunities and passionate exhortations motivate new graduates and old listeners alike to do just a little better.

My single beef about commencement season and its messages is that the events often fail to connect “the future” with “today.” Too frequently, commencement messages emphasize future achievement at the expense of current reality. As T.S. Elliot reminds us, “There are no endings, only additions.”  That’s how greatness is developed; it’s an accumulation of experiences day after day after day.

Once again this year, no one has invited me to be a commencement speaker. Good thing I have a blog to share The Development Sherpa’s advice to new graduates.

Make the Most of Your First Job

The good news is that as a college graduate, you are more likely to get a job. According to The New York Times, college graduates are the only group that has more members employed today than before the recession began. The bad news is that it may not be the job you expected.  The job market is still very tight and employers are still quite picky. Your first post college job may involve more grunt work than glamour.

You may be tempted to blow off your low skilled job as you wait for your “real one.” Don’t.  As discouraged as you may be to be behind a receptionist desk, filing papers or renting cars, you can learn a lot from any job that requires you to deal directly with customers, work with others and work for someone. You can develop the interpersonal skills necessary for that next, better job when it comes along. According to research by Drs. Joyce Hogan and Kimberly Brinkmeyer, strong interpersonal skills are a requirement for 84% of management jobs, the kind you seek. If your job requires effective client contact and collaboration with associates, you are building skills important in future roles. Practice what you’ve studied about working in groups, conflict resolution and communication. If you want to ditch your low wage, low skill “starter” job, do your best and learn from it.

Use Social Media Skills as a Learning Advantage

You are among the most digitally connected generation so far. Make your exceptional social media skills an advantage to your success. My colleagues Keeley Sorotki and Jeff Merrell might encourage you to build a PLN – Personal Learning Network – using your social media skills. Never before has a generation of workers had access to so many world-class thinkers and every day practitioners in their field. Use this access to build your own network to challenge and inspire you, starting now. Don’t wait until you need a network of experts to build one.

Engage With the Broader World

The world is becoming smaller and faster. You’ve probably had splendid opportunities to travel, learn a second (or third) language and study with people from many cultures.  Remain curious about the world. The May, 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review describes the advantages of the “global elite” and offers suggestions you (yes, you) can use to become one. Keep up your language skills; a adopted language is a “use it or lose it” proposition. Understand current events from around the world, and understand them from different perspectives. Read world history; the way things “were” explains the way things “are.” If you can, travel.  Your dream job will probably never be isolated and insulated from social and political events. Be ready.

Skin Your Knees

When do you skin your knees? When you’re going somewhere. When you run and trip. When you carry the ball and get tackled. When you fall off a bike. You may focus on the fall. Focus instead on the fact you were trying to get somewhere.

When you do the things necessary to build your layers of greatness, you will skin your knees. You will take a risk and slip. You will try something new and fall. You will make a mistake and feel some pain. Of course, you could avoid all this by staying in the same place. But then you won’t achieve the unique greatness that you are meant to achieve. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Maraboli: “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving. We get stronger and more resilient.”

Final Words

So, my dear graduates, your greatness doesn’t start “someday.” It starts today. It starts from wherever you are with every day decisions and actions. Don’t waste today dreaming about your opportunities for tomorrow. Be the person you are meant to be. Today.

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