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Lessons for 20-year-old Chris

Last week I had a speaking opportunity at my alma mater, Truman State University, called “The Bridge Ceremony”, which marks business students entering upper level classes. Each year a graduating senior and an alumnus speak to the hundred or so students.

Extolling the value of a great vanilla cake donut

Both talks center around advice and lessons learned. I had been handed the topic, “Becoming prepared for the work world”. I was intrigued by the opportunity to the point where I spent an unreasonable amount of time preparing for the roughly 15 minute talk. I regularly asked myself two things in the process:

  • What’s worth sharing?

  • How do I avoid sounding out-of-touch or like I’m lecturing them?

I made a list of everything that came to mind and started asking around to family, friends and colleagues. What had served them best in the work world? What do they wish they had learned or known prior to graduating? What I came across almost universally was the importance of soft skills. People referenced the value of building relationships, work appropriate behavior, understanding generational differences and priorities amongst co-workers, the value of listening, and that you have to work for what you earn.

One of the ways I attempted to sum this up comes form the cleaning company Method and a question they ask people after a final panel interview with a candidate, “would you want to fly on an airplane with this person from New York to Los Angeles?” Meaning, do you like the idea of working with this person enough you’d enjoy being seated next to them for five hours. Or as my former colleague Ashley once said, “its possible I see you more than I see my husband."

Aside from building relationships, the one other area I focused on was the importance of ongoing learning and new experiences. As I said to them, “the day you receive your diploma it starts aging. Many of the successful people I have met, never stop learning and broadening their horizons. Do not take your degree, grades and projects as a golden ticket.”

I summed this area up with a couple reflections

  • The value of new experiences and getting outside the environment you know is critical. Studying abroad is a great way to be faced with the fact not everyone lives the same way, eats the same things, or has the same values. This is important to building tolerance, curiosity and is also often the source of innovative developments

  • Volunteer in your community. Its important for giving back and also building relationships

  • The final thing I shared is worth writing out because its new-ish to me and comes from Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert.

  • "If you want an average, successful life, it doesn't take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1) Become the best at one specific thing. 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. The first strategy is very difficult. I don't even recommend anyone try. The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort... At least one of the skills in your mixture should involve communication, either written or verbal."

I'm out Truman. [drops mic]

Reference: full outline here if you want to take a look

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