The Habit of Commencements and Graduations

Tis the season where perfectly reasonable people put on gowns, funny hats with tassels and sit through processionals and listen to great attempts at inspiration. Yes, it's graduation season! You know that special time when we congratulate loved ones and friends for enduring blood, sweat, tears and financial debt to complete a degree. We witness the "commencement"– the beginning of a new chapter where greater opportunity awaits. All of us know someone who is graduating from some school at some level. They may the first in their families to…….There are so many great stories of triumph, overcoming obstacles, and sheer determination that reinforce the value of education. Its a wonderful moment! The value of education, especially higher education or post secondary education comes to light. The research is conclusive that education can be the great equalizer and the ticket to the American Dream.Grad2

The ritual of graduations give meaning and importance to a specific milestone in our lives–the completion of a formal portion of our education. Celebration and congratulatory words and gifts are exchanged. The future seems brighter and yet daunting. Armed with a new sheepskin, some great courses, and experiences, the new grads have more confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. There is pomp, circumstance, and reason for celebration. (although I am not a fan of this "gap" year to "find oneself" or to "rest" after their educational "hardship" and tribulations. The whole idea of education is the opportunity to think–something few of us get to do in the "real world"!!)

It is just so weird how we stop our process of marking and celebrating our educational milestones once we have stopped our formal education. Some of you are still contemplating a run at graduate school. Well if you are in your 30s, chances are slim to none that you will. However, after we graduate from school and have our degrees, we abandon "graduations" and "commencements" for ourselves. Education becomes something we chase in the corridors of our busy lives–it's called keeping up! We might take an occasional class or read a book. We see a youtube or a Tedtalk and feel invigorated. If we are fortunate, these are moments of enlightenment and/or inspiration but usually not education.

Our thirst for learning is unquenchable. Yet, our forays to the pool of knowledge are intermittent and brief. We become complacent. We learn everyday how much we don't know and the obsolescence of our education becomes more apparent.

I may have been to 50 commencement ceremonies so far. Most of them I have been sitting on the stage in my silly mortar board listening to the speaker and watching the audience. A couple of times I have had the opportunity to address the graduates. Once I was asked to discuss "The relevance of a PhD" to 800 new doctoral grads, but that is a different story. A friend of mine is preparing a commencement address and asked my advice. I told her that the message is "You are not done". May sound trite, but education is a process that never ends.

I truly believe you have to treat every chapter of your life as a graduate degree. I often say as an MBA, because of the popularity of the degree. Every job, promotion, new opportunity is a chance to choose "courses", "professors", and "majors". Take 2,3,4 years to earn your next "degree". Use your time at work and while you are awake to focus your post-college educational journey. Its a mindset. Otherwise time marches on, and while we feel like we are learning everyday, we have nothing to show for it. We stay at a company for 6 years, the equivalent of 2-3 graduate degrees, and our resume looks hauntingly the same! The question is always, "What will you learn from whom and by when?"

I know I have stumped more than a few of you, so let me give you five ways to do this.

  1. Your employer as teacher–Fully utilize your employer's support for professional development, tuition reimbursement, conferences, and classes. Even if they do not have a policy, ask your boss about specific relevant opportunities and get her support.
  2. Volunteer work–Most of you give your time to important charities and causes. Be more focused on how to intertwine your educational goals with your generosity. If you want to learn more about say marketing, then volunteer to be on the marketing committee. People don't volunteer for the committees and if you show up twice you will be the vice-chair! Then you are vice chair learning about marketing for your favorite charity and your resume just evolved!
  3. Start-up something–One of the great advantages of being part of a start-up organization is you can do everything and anything. Job titles are irrelevant. There are enormous opportunities to take on functions and areas of responsibility. You have to learn and educate yourself because the team is limited and small. By the way, same goes for most non-profits as well.
  4. Josh Kaufman's Personal MBA–I really like what Josh is doing. His idea is you don't have to enroll in a formal program, take out huge loans, and make the sacrifice of trying to justify the cost benefit of interrupting your career to retool. Check out his blog and his bestselling book. There are many alternatives to a degree.
  5. Find mentors in specific subjects–You want to advance your understanding of an area of interest, a function or methodology. Find experts who will spend time in their "office hours" to coach you and answer your questions.

More than a couple of times in my career I realized I was stagnating. That I was shielded from learning new things by my routines and habits. That I could just go through the motions and be successful. These were the signs that I had to take action to alter and augment my experience. I usually ended up pursuing a new "degree".

Little will happen without purpose and intention. What do you want? Where are you going? What "degree" will you earn in the next 3-4 years? Set commencement and graduation dates.

Once you do, your network and mentors have to be evaluated for their ability to help you. You reconnect with people with a new perspective. You help people around you continue their educations, because the best way to learn is to teach!

 Happy graduation!

Thanks for reading. John

 

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