An Important Message to the Graduating Class of 2020

Congratulations Class of 2020 on your fantastic accomplishment!

No matter how you feel about your college experience now, if you haven’t already recognized how much the experience has helped you grow, I promise you, the view a decade later will be very different, and much more positive.

As wonderful as this accomplishment is, it can feel like an ending. It isn’t; it is a new beginning, and just like you had to learn to be successful in college, your new journey is going to require you to be successful outside of college, with many of the things that helped you in college being detrimental outside of college.

You Have Been Trained to Be Compliant

Much of the education system, including university, is designed to make you compliant. You are given assignments or tasks, provided with direction as to how you are to complete them, and graded on how well you did on the assignment. You have been required to do this thing or that, following a long list of rules and regulations, some of which made no sense as far as you could tell.

While there are always going to be areas in work and in life where compliance is necessary, your success is going to depend on your decision to decide for yourself what you need to do, and how and when to do it. The best word we have for this behavior is “initiative,” the ability to take action and produce some outcome without being told to do so.

Initiative is the opposite of being directed to do something, and the most successful people you will meet along your journey will all be “driven,” which is to say, there is something inside them that compels them to act without anyone needing to ensure they are compliant.

You will struggle to find success, or rather, success will struggle to find you if someone has to direct your work, prod you for your best effort, and keep you on track, forcing you to do your job. If your natural disposition is that of the non-compliant, self-starter, and you find you are happier doing things your way, you are likely a leader or an entrepreneur or both.

Someone Else Has Chosen Your Learning Path

Up until this point in your life, other people have determined your learning path. We create the illusion of choice by allowing you to pick your major, something that, while giving you a foundational education in some area, is mostly irrelevant after you graduate college. You are also permitted to choose your classes, as long as they are on a predetermined list created by some group of people who decide what the curriculum must contain, based on their experience and their preferences, limiting your choices.

You have always been free to follow your interests where they lead you, but that task is made difficult when you are already saddled with a heavy workload of reading and writing and classes to attend. Now, you are free to pursue your learning path, especially as you start to recognize that you know very little, and not always what you need to know. For example, you have not been taught anything about how to be successful outside of college.

Unless you have spent time in humanities and philosophy, you may know too little about what makes a good life or how to live one. There is a high probability you haven’t been taught anything about financial success or how to create wealth and abundance.

College prepared you with an education in some areas, and there is no doubt that it improved you. But like the Zen Buddhists say, “You are perfect just the way you are, and you have a lot of room for improvement.” Becoming the person that comes after the one you are now is going to require you to determine your learning path.

Adversity Provides Growth

Circumstances have conspired against you. The time that you spent in college has been a time when our cultural growth has been towards a greater sensitivity to others, something that has been necessary to our growth as the species Homo sapiens.

While you have been in college, we have been in the throes of our evolution, one that has found us being much more respectful of others who don’t share our values our beliefs or our preferences. This has helped us improve.

Sadly, some have taken the need for greater compassion to mean that no one should ever have to be exposed to something with which they disagree, or anything that might make them uncomfortable.

You have been given trigger warnings when you should have instead been triggered, the great value of a university is arguing about what is good and right and true while being exposed to ideas. You have been told that hearing things you disagree with somehow invalidates or harms you when a large part of growth only comes from being exposed to other perspectives

In short, you have been taught that adversity is something negative and that you should be protected from it. There is no way you can grow while shrinking in the face of adversity. Ending your time in college in the middle of a global pandemic and the deepest recession in history is more adversity than any of us would have wished for you, and it will shape you in ways you may not recognize for many years.

The highs only feel like highs because of the lows. Adversity is something you push against, and in doing so, become more robust than you might have been otherwise.

What Has Not Been Taught

The university or college you attended is designed to teach you certain things; let’s call them knowledge and hard skills. The science classes you took taught you a few things about biology or physics. The humanities courses taught you something about what it means to be human. The accounting course taught you about debits and credits, among other concepts useful for being an accountant or being able to converse with one.

All of this is good and useful, without being what’s most important.

Most of what is going to be important to you is your ability to work with other people, something we call soft skills, or interpersonal  skills and emotional intelligence, some of which you may recognize in your experience with your first college roommate, the one that was so different from you that you couldn’t wait to get away from them. If you didn’t have a roommate you couldn’t get away from fast enough, you might have been that roommate, a thought that might not have occurred to you before now.

Much of that type of conflict would have been around boundaries, common courtesy, and a willingness to remove the naturally occurring friction that is built into humans in close quarters. Your success is going to be in large part due to your people skills.

The ability to work with other people, agreeing on some things, disagreeing on others, and finding common ground is a necessary competency you are going to need to develop continually. Much of what you are going to do is going to require you to solve problems, requiring you to not only work with others but to exercise your greatest faculty as a human being, your creativity, and your resourcefulness.

You are going to need to do things for which there are no existing answers, requiring serious problem solving skills. This has been something required of every generation, starting with the very first instance of Homo sapiens.

You’ve Got This

Like all that have come before you, we have failed in preparing you as well as we could have. You are sure to do the same to the next generation. Not to worry, as you will improve the world in ways that we did not. And even in your failing the next generation, they’ll improve it in ways you couldn’t imagine.

All of which to say, “You’ve got this.” The best thing I can tell you is to believe that your work is play and that play is your work. Getting that right will go a long way to making you both happy and successful.

Filed under: Mindset

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