My One Message To The Graduates In Order To Help You: Challenge Me

To you, as a graduate, here is a tip of tremendous value I can provide to you: Challenge Me.

Before we get to why, let me offer you congratulations on your graduation! This is a tremendous achievement in and of itself, but even more tremendous if you do all that you can to build off of it.

Whether it’s a high school diploma, or an undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate degree, you’re further along your path of knowledge (and self-discovery) than when you first entered your most recent program or institution. And with that progression you advance into a new level of development and self-awareness.

Do you know how to approach it?

Do you know enough to stop and ask, or think about how you should approach it?

Everyone will have tips for you as to how to approach your endeavors after your graduation or commencement, whether you’re going straight in to the first or next step of your career path, or moving on to the next level of your educational odyssey. (Yes, odyssey.)

All of those tips will carry worth in one way or another. They will either provide value immediately in and of themselves based on how they’re expressed at face value in their words or the tip might not make sense to you immediately, but you can learn something by understanding why that tip is of value to the person who provided it to you. (I’ll get deeper into perspectives in a bit.)

The goal is to understand the world you’re entering. The majority of the work/battle is understanding people and what drives them. So in the aforementioned example, never dismiss a tip someone may have for you, even if you think it doesn’t correlate directly to what you’re exploring. They might see something you don’t see right away.

Aside from that tip, here are five more to consider as you move on in your development:

(I should preface the list by stating that being a decent human being goes without saying. You know–having and exuding respect, courtesy, integrity, diplomacy, honesty, sympathy, empathy, patience, commitment, loyalty, etc.)

(Not that I think you’re a horrible human being but I just want to put the reminder out there that these attributes, among others, should first and foremost underlay all your endeavors for building a successful career and…I also don’t want to have to utilize precious spots in my short list with these honorable attributes.)

(You’d be surprised how many people need to be reminded of this.)

(Anyway, on to the list…)

1.  Journal Your Worth

Ok, you don’t actually have to buy a journal or write a journal’s worth, but the main point of this tip is to road-map everything you’ve done and learned to-date.  Your technical, work and educational experience is one thing; it can be denoted—you either finished it or you didn’t.

This journaling is a means by which to outline what you’ve learned besides the actual aspects and tasks of the work. So, what are the soft skills that you learned in addition to the hard skills?  How did your jobs help you develop as a person?

For instance, besides the actual job description responsibilities, how would you answer the following questions regarding all the work experiences you’ve ever had?

  • How and what did you learn about yourself? About others?
  • What were your takeaways?
  • How did each step guide you in one way or another?
  • What was the best part of the experience? Why?
  • What was the hardest part? Why?
  • What did you enjoy and what did you not?  Why?
  • Who was your best boss? Who was your worst? Why?
  • Who was your best manager? Who was your worst? Why?
  • Who was your best leader? Who was your worst? Why?
  • How did reality align or misalign with your perception beforehand?

These questions are a way for someone, especially yourself, to understand the subjective takeaways of a job.  When it comes to a company hiring a position, all the invited candidates will meet the objective criteria—degree or technical experience—but which will have the subjective understanding of what is important in how to handle that objective criteria, and the mission and people in that workplace or group?

Companies hire for skills but they should also be open to the other attributes someone brings to a position. They need to make sure the requisite skills exist in their candidates, but an ongoing question they should ask is, “What other residual and ancillary abilities, viewpoints, and attitudes should we seek out?”

They should want you to start with their script, but not to stick to it completely.

What can you deliver above and beyond checking the boxes of the job description or job ad?

2.  Retain Your Outsider Objectivity

A big handicap in the workplace or group of any kind is groupthink.  We shouldn’t just go along with what the group is doing because we don’t want to slow down its momentum or feel left out.  Be able to have, maintain, and respectfully reflect your ideas if you feel they will provide value to the group.

Don’t get blinded by everything taking place within your organization or group.

Aside from fulfilling your responsibilities on the inside, it’s ALWAYS about providing value and serving those outside your organization, who are the lifeblood of what makes your organization thrive.

Much in the same way Washington D.C. representatives and leaders are chided for their “insider” mentality, so should you be careful to not do the same to those you serve. People weary of the insider mentality with which Washington has been painted are concerned that those voted there have been in that environment so long that they are out of touch with the needs and concerns of the environment outside, the actual people they’re serving.

For reference purposes, you should balance your inside responsibilities with your outsider perspective.  Do not become complacent. Develop the ability to execute the responsibilities with which you’ve been charged but be able to see your work and workplace from an objective standpoint to determine how your mission is viewed from the outside. There is no safety in getting a job and getting paid, alone; the world is shifting and evolving at a rapid pace. Become complacent and you disappear in that shuffle.

What do you bring to the table?

Will you stand up for what you can bring?

How are you going to stay alert for your organization as well as for yourself?

What will you stand for?

3.  Seek Fresh Perspectives

With retaining your outsider objectivity serving as a prerequisite to this bullet, be able to open your mind to new ideas, experiences, and peoples.  Beside your previous experience and gained knowledge, your worth also fluctuates based on what you don’t know so it is imperative to not get sucked into the tunnel vision of your current experience and knowledge. Instead, set out to also learn different perspectives of the world, both in your personal life as well as in your career or industry, no matter whether your industry is non-profit or for-profit, public or private sector, etc.

Use your individualism to not be swayed so easily and then build off of that platform by learning from others, digging deeper past the facades and scripts that are presented to us from day-to-day.

People who think they know it all and believe that no other person’s opinion or ability matters are not only negligent, but very dangerous from an organizational, leadership and morale standpoint. They are a liability against an organization’s future success. This isn’t urgent rhetoric for the sake of dramatic effect; it happens every day.

A leader’s true power is harnessing all the tools at their disposal, including their people and other resources within and outside of their organization or group, those which are obvious and those which need to be sought.

Be curious!

4.  Keep Your Fire Burning

If you are lucky enough to land a position or endeavor that reconciles perfectly with what drives you, that’s amazing. The chances are that it might not happen right away, if at all. Regardless of whether you’re in your first job now, or your tenth job in your career later, always make sure that you’re getting the most out of your life.

There are objectives we have in our personal lives and those that we have in our professional lives. Sometimes they can intersect, and other times they might even be the same. This fourth tip tends to cross those lines: If you’re not fulfilled in your day-to-day work life at any given point in time, make sure you’re seeking that which makes you feel fulfilled outside of work.

So, for instance, if your satisfaction and fulfillment levels at work are at a 5 (out of 10) day-in and day-out because the work doesn’t tap into all that you are capable of from a professional and ability standpoint, make sure you do something about it.

Remind or alert your bosses of those skills and volunteer them so that you’re not spinning your wheels where your potential energy’s rubber isn’t meeting the road. If those skills go uncalled, seek other opportunities outside of work to provide and volunteer those skills for the refinement of your value, the benefit of others, and the sake of your own sanity.

Granted, not everyone needs this type of fulfillment. Various professional types exist. In short, there are those who are complacent with where they are now and there are those who are driven by the hunger for growth, to determine how they’re going to exceed their expectations for tomorrow.

Which one are you?

Do not wait for life to come or bring the fight to you. Instead, bring the fight to life.

Do not roll with life’s punches. You deserve more. Counter-punch.

5.  There Is Always More To Learn

Don’t ever think you know it all. That would demonstrate ignorance, and lead to complacency and, on a certain level, vulnerability. Always be open to seeking out what you don’t know. You can learn from others whether through formal education or through asking questions of colleagues, partners or mentors.

You can also learn from yourself. Assess and reassess your own journey. How often do you debrief and determine what you learned from the goals you’ve achieved and the goals you weren’t able to reach?

Not being able to reach a goal is not a failure, but refusing to take the time to recompose yourself and reassess your previous steps can be a more appropriate definition of failure. There are countless stories told by people, even the most successful, that are prefaced in the fact that their “failures” made them better. It happens.

If you fall, learn from it, do your due diligence on the next endeavor, get up and try again.

There you have it. Those are my top five. I only listed five because there will be many more lists you come across in your quest for knowledge. You’re going to read so many lists of what the “Top This” or the “Top That” are in terms of any field, industry or interest you might have. Everyone has their lists of what is important.

These tips above aren’t law.  They aren’t rule.  They aren’t set in stone; they will evolve. They’re my perception, as someone who seeks to help people find the right endeavors and abilities in themselves to achieve fulfillment.

But does my list work for you? How does it compare to what you have heard from others?  Will you parse out what works for you from what does not? And will others’ lists of advice and tips work for you?

Be sure you dig deeper and try to understand what the items on a list or a piece of advice might mean to you.  Try and reconcile how you can utilize the message to what you have gone through, are going through, or will go through.

Other common Sage knowledge: Opinions…everyone’s got one.

Challenge me. Challenge others. Expect more.

The Final Tip: Don’t take my word for it! Ask questions…lots of questions!

jmj

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