I feel let down and mildly annoyed at the grand opaqueness of advice given by university commencement speakers such as “follow your bliss”, “listen to your heart”, or “do something you’re passionate about.” That’s all well and good, but that advice isn’t very practical if you haven’t found your bliss, or you don’t have a passion, or perhaps have a difficult time listening to your heart. For those still searching, what are they to do? What advice should they heed? How should they manage their careers post graduation? I’d offer a suggestion of embracing an entrepreneurial mindset; a mindset focused on maximized learning.
A philosopher named John Dewey had a catchphrase, “learn by doing.” Paraphrasing from An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones, he developed a theory of acquiring knowledge, emphasizing the problem solving nature of humans, and the importance of learning through experimentation. Dewey believed that the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. Now that’s a big idea.
By maximizing your learning through tangible experience – that is, by gaining authentic insight into what you like and don’t like – I believe you will eventually discover your passion. Below are a few suggestions on how you can maximize learning when starting out after graduation.
Take Survivable Risks
He encouraged all of us to take risks that we could recover from – both economically and emotionally – and eloquently named them “survivable risks.” Essentially, he suggested we risk to a point where we are in a position to continue living and learning in a healthy manner.
Taking on risk and tasting failure are important because taking those actions build resilience and demand reflection, and it is through this reflection we can maximize our learning and grow as a person.
Demand an Education
Despite what you may think, no one is going to give you an education, so you must demand and take one for yourself. In Education of a Wandering Man, Louis L’Amour writes: “No matter how much I admire our schools, I know that no university exists that can provide an education; what a university can provide is an outline, to give the learner a direction and guidance. The rest one has to do for oneself.”
No matter what situation you find yourself in post graduation, you must demand an education and strive to learn something new. No excuses. Not every company is going to take the time to invest in your education, so you must be making a constant investment on behalf of yourself. These investments can come in the form of reading classic literature, diligently taking online courses, visiting meetup.com groups, participating in hackathons, having authentic conversations over coffee, coding a Ruby-on-Rails side project, volunteering internationally, listening to university hall lectures or religious sermons, public speaking, poetry readings, taking a sculpting or wood working class at a local community art center, and my favorite, conversations with strangers while traveling within foreign lands.
Take the time to constantly expose yourself to other fields of study and learn from your surroundings. Be an observer and feel the world. Don’t let mindless, every day, accessible pleasures dull your mind and prevent you from mastering something. Be creative and seek challenges.
Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over
Each day you sell your time to an employer to perform an activity that may or may not be leading you to realize your full potential, and while you perform this activity you should be learning as much as possible in any environment. However, you want to avoid getting stuck doing something you don’t care about for too long. You aren’t doing anyone any good if you genuinely can’t stand the work. You won’t perform well enough and run the risk of sacrificing your reputation within the organization and among your co-working peers. If you are unhappy with a situation for too long, take action and move on. This is sometimes easier said than done because of the economic realities in which we all live, but you must be honest with yourself. The time you spend being miserable is time wasted on not learning or exploring something else.
Ask Questions – Lots of Them
People are fascinating creatures if you take the time to learn their stories and understand the forces that have molded them. So, ask lots and lots and lots of questions. In doing so, you will develop your emotional intelligence which will take you far and is applicable in all of life’s various arenas.
Ultimately, people want to work with people they can get along with – plain and simple. So take the time to gain empathy, see things from another person’s point of view, consider how words or actions might make people feel, learn to listen and listen to learn. All of these skills will help you manage and resolve conflicts as well as help you develop great working relationships.
No one can survive and make it in this world alone. You must invest in relationships because one day you will need a support network that can catch you when you fall and bounce you onto another opportunity.
In closing, I believe that by taking survivable risks and continuously demanding an education, no matter the environment, and pulling knowledge out of others through questions, you develop an authentic sense of what you’re passionate about and simultaneously develop into your full potential.
As recent graduates are bravely born into the workforce and take on something new, I hope they take a chance while they can, I hope they go exploring and gain perspective, and I hope they have the courage to spend time on things they – at least for the moment – believe are important and good.