Share It!: The Power Of Paying It Forward With Your Story

Leadership Lesson: Sharing our personal story with others — not just our technical expertise — can provide some guidance, insight, and hope for those who feel they still have most of their own path left to go, encouraging them to keep their eyes open to the lessons and possibilities in both work and life.

We don’t know what the hell we’re doing. Well, most of us anyway.

Recently, I got to sit on a discussion panel at my alma mater the University of Hartford. I shared the stage as, I guess, the old man with other….fresher-faced (?) UHart alumni – Alexandra, Laura, Bryson, Katie, and Jessica — who had earned their bachelor’s degrees years after me, and even as recently as last year. The goal of the panel was to share with students facing graduation on the horizon our own stories and journeys since we left school.

Related: To The Future Leaders: Here Are Some Tips For Your Path

There were six of us from diverse backgrounds, with different stories and experiences in various industries, facing uncertain futures. (What seemed to be our collective lesson through the night was that, no matter how young or old, even if we are enjoying our current projects and work, we just don’t know what the future holds. Nor should we. Nor should they. But I’ll get to that in a bit.)

The great thing about this career-focused event was that it wasn’t focused on careers per se. It wasn’t about polishing the students’ professional demeanor, intern experience, resume, or interviewing. Sure, those are important tools, but there’s a time and place for them.

Our event was focused on the uncertainty anyone can face after graduation. It covered the emotional aspect of the transition from aspiring student to full-fledged professional.

As panelists, each of us answered questions posed by the moderator, James Brino, and took questions from the audience as well, while also testing its own self-knowledge and awareness by posing questions back at the attendees. Each panelist provided their own responses, while also building on those of others, our memories seemingly being triggered by words of the others. There was just too much information to remember and share that night.

When asked by James if we could provide some parting words, most of us had a short list of quick tips. On the fly, in that moment, I wanted to reiterate four points I had made earlier in the session.

Now, I want to expand on each of those and round out the list to five.

Keep in mind this is a limited list. You and I both know we could go on for days about the tips we’d share with others in our hope that they’d take something valuable away from what we’ve lived and experienced.

Here’s the list:

Appreciate The Journey

I think that by the end of the night this was the tip the panel could agree on most. There was so much uncertainty and doubt in our journeys, whether those feelings were ours or of others watching our steps along the way, that we knew it could be emotional.

And that’s the part students most often need to hear.

As much as networking, professional attire, and resume representation are important for students, just as important, if not moreso, are understanding and addressing the emotional toll an uncertain professional journey can take on their spirit.

Very rarely is someone’s path clear-cut, where what they go into college expecting is exactly what plays out when they’re done with entirety of their schooling. There will be up’s and down’s, certainties and uncertainties, successes and disappointments. It can all be terrifying and exhausting. But it is all part of our stories.

James asked us toward the end to name one thing we would change from our journey if we could. I think most of us responded that we wouldn’t change a thing. Your experiences, regardless of whether they’re negative, poor, or unfortunate, all contribute to who you are after they’ve passed. You can learn from the bad just as much as you can from the good. It teaches you to appreciate everything a bit more, taking nothing for granted.

Bring Yourself Into The Job

When given a chance to speak to students, I’ve always repeated the same message: There are thousands of people across the country graduating with your same degree. You need to keep in mind how you’re going to set yourself apart.

It’s important to stay malleable after the cookie-cutter nature and consequences of education. Education is a foundation of information for the taking. What are you going to do with it? How will you convert it to your own unique workable knowledge? How do you want people to remember you when you leave the room – both metaphorically and literally?

Individuality is valuable. Don’t minimize yourself to fit into anyone’s box of expectations, whether it’s their personal expectations or a job description. Deliver what they expect, yes, but be sure to over-deliver yourself.

Keep The Right People Around You

Fun. Support. Challenging.

Friends and groups of acquaintances can be each, with the 2nd and 3rd building off the previous ones. When it comes to the people around you, of course it’s great to have fun. But within your social circles you also need to seek out those who support you, who will lift you up and encourage you along in the endeavors you want, toward the accomplishments you seek.

One step further beyond fun and support, though, is challenging. Who do you have around you who’s going to help make you better? Someone supporting you isn’t necessarily challenging you – or vice versa, when it comes to what you do for others.

Related: In Working With Others, How Do You Challenge Them To Make Them Better?

This is the best approach for “finding your tribe” – finding the people who are going to make you better. And like I said that night, they don’t need to have the same goals, desires, or dreams as you do. They just need to want more and get better – period.

Challenging is about general accountability and coaching. The specifics of the work don’t necessarily matter. Sure, commonality between two people can help, but when it comes to goals, pushing each other to improve is the key component.

The example I gave that night was how a ballerina and a metal worker could keep each other accountable, pushing the other toward their goals, calling them on their bullshit, and not letting them quit. (Yes, I know. I’m random. I just pictured what I thought in that moment were the most opposite professions. I don’t even know what a specific goal would be for a metal worker. But that’s the point: The specifics don’t matter. It’s a matter of asking, finding out, and following up with the person.)

Harness those around you and those you can seek out. You can have a master group around you – if you choose to.

Keep Learning / Be Curious

Keep evolving. Keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t stagnate. Don’t paralyze yourself. The more you know, the more agile and nimble you become. The more you seek, the more you can understand and refine what it is you want for yourself or find what the next leg of your journey is or can be. There’s an entire world of observable gold out there in terms of knowledge, information, and people. It’s there for the taking. But it’s also there for you to reject. It falls on you.

The Power of Failure

So, here’s the fifth item I meant to speak to that night — failure.

Examples by the alumni of things not working out – with some even mentioning the word failure — did come up that night, but the word failure didn’t come up in a stronger context of learning from experience.

I don’t like the word failure. The possibility of not succeeding (that’s the phrase I prefer) always scares people from even getting started. We’ve been poorly programmed by society to think that not succeeding is bad thing. And it’s ridiculous.

This also goes hand-in-hand with Keep The Right People Around You. If anyone around you makes you feel like a failure because you didn’t succeed, their involvement in your life and work warrants a closer look and may even be questionable. But I leave that to you to decide. All I ask is for you to consider where someone like that may stand in your priorities.

Oh, and by the way, there’s one more item to round out the list as a bonus item – Consider the Clichés.

Bonus: Consider the Clichés

This tip I did mention to the students that night but just remembered here. I put it here as a bonus because it serves as a user instruction and caveat when it comes to building yourself up.

There are pieces of advice that are common, that are written about, listed, and repeated ad nauseam. Be yourself. Life’s a journey, not a destination. Find your Tribe. Knowledge is Power. It’s OK to Fail.  

Yes, I realize these are all versions of what I just outlined earlier above. All clichés.

But there’s more to phrases than just the words and even just the general idea. If someone repeats these, like us alumni more or less did, ok, there may be the initial eye-rolls by the crowd. And although one’s first instinct might be to dismiss the idea, it’s important to find out what’s behind the words someone shares – their own take on the lessons.

What’s behind those ideas? What can the adviser offer besides the general ideas? What are the workable lessons? What are the valuable experiences? That’s what’s important. If someone repeats a cliché to you, make sure there is value and weight behind them repeating it!

Related: Clichés: What You Lose Out On By Not Considering These Possible Words of Wisdom

Notice that none of these tips had to do with the curriculum work done of the university in preparing its students to find a job.

But what we provided adds to their evolution. You can’t teach someone everything they need to learn. The best you can do is teach them how to learn so that they can continue adapting.

What tips would you provide to someone else about the path in life or work? Even if you’re not 100% sure, that doesn’t matter. The most important part is starting a conversation.

Another piece of general advice I gave them is to open up to trusted colleagues, friends, and family when in need. The more we share, the more we can work toward peace and satisfaction. I find the worst part of any stressor is the fact that people keep it to themselves, and therefore feel isolated, like they’re the only ones experiencing it.

The more we share with each other, though, the more we can learn from each other.

Everyone has something to contribute.

What’s yours?

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