I learned something this semester: there are similarities between school and everything that comes after, but they need to be explained.
In school, students want a syllabus in order to know exactly what to plan for; in life that clarity rarely happens and so they need to learn the art of flexibility. In school, students want to know with certainty what’s going to be on the final exam; in life things are not so well defined and so being broadly prepared is a critical skill to learn. In school, it’s all about the grade; in life it’s really about whether you can apply what you’ve learned. And in school there’s a commencement at the end; but, like in the real world, the end is just the beginning.
I explained these and other concepts to my students in the course of our Strategic Management Class: while strategy is often thought of in terms of business, maybe it’s also needed when planning one’s life; and while SWOT analyses are good when determining a business’ direction, it’s also good to know their own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and while the clarity of a mission statement is important to making sure every stakeholder in a business is clearly informed, their individual missions need to be carefully crafted and articulated too. I got the impression that in this, their last semester, these concepts took on a deeper and more urgent meaning within the context of their imminent entry into the real world and the relatively unforgiving nature of life’s multiple-choice options.
The semester came to an end much more quickly than I expected, and I suspect the students were equally as surprised that the end of their academic lives was upon them. Two busy weeks filled with formal reviews, final exams, final grades, final GPAs and teary hugs as they put on their caps and gowns and prepared for Commencement – the end of college and the beginning of the rest of their lives.
I could see the uncertainty in their eyes as they walked across that stage and into the real world. Nothing really prepares any of us for that kind of change but maybe now the lessons they learned in class will begin to make more sense. Maybe that’s why I’m getting requests from so many of them to connect on LinkedIn. I’m really looking forward to hearing about their experiences in the real world.
My message this week is the one I gave to my students on the last day of class:
“Take pride in who you are as a unique individual by trying to be more today than you were yesterday, more tomorrow than you were today.” Edwin Mamerto
What will you try to be today? If you’re not trying to be better than you were yesterday then you might end up being worse. The competition is always looking to see what the new baseline in service and pricing might be, and then developing strategies to outdo you and others. And the best way to avoid getting caught unaware is to keep your eyes and ears open and to continually strive to learn and be more. If it’s leadership: watch other leaders and emulate what you see; if it’s service: visit the competition and see whether they’ve come up with new practices that you should consider; if it’s pricing: always look for process improvements to reduce costs; and if it’s personal style and effort: take pride in who your are and try to be more today than you were yesterday. That’s how you and your team can be more tomorrow than you were today!