graduation

Your moment

As you may have noticed I have been slipping in my poetry into my posts. :) To be honest I am writing more poems than anything else. It is a cleansing, meditative process for me.  I know my work is personal. Yet I want to share it in the hopes it resonates with you. 

Choice is the enemy of commitment. (attributed to Jerry Brown)

Just know many folks who are going through decision trees right now---school, career, family, relationships......Some dark decision jungles and others delightful and glorious forests. Nevertheless--Choices! First, always be grateful that you have a choice. Second, try to enjoy the process no matter how complex. Third, never look back and embrace the decision!  Chinese-Bamboo-Forest

The challenge is in every moment and the time is always now. James Baldwin

Your moment
 
This may be a tough moment or a great moment,
 
It may lead everywhere and nowhere,
 
A moment that reveals the possibility
 
The possibility of change, of joy, of surprise
 
Not from a plan of specific steps
Not from a promise from the past
Not from the expectations of others
 
The possibility of what it can be
The possibility of what you can be
 
Seeing the now of it
 
Feeling the here of it
 
Breathing the you of it
 
Becoming the it of it
 
Make this moment, your moment
 
 
Thanks for reading. John

 


The Graduation Crisis

We tend to give in to averages. For example, if the "average" married couple divorces, then we accept it as natural. However, we rarely think of ourselves as average. In fact, a US survey showed that about 75% of think we are above average. We know that is mathematically impossible, but we tend to think that our lives are better, that we are better than most. Call it over confidence, call it lunacy--you would be right!

Many of us will attend graduations during this part of the year. We expect college degrees from our children, our peers and our co-workers. And when I say "college" I mean 4 year, 2 year and even post-secondary certificates! But college graduation is increasingly becoming a rarity. While there are more college students and college grads than ever in history, the percentage completing their degrees is shrinking. College drop out now exceeds high school drop out. Somehow we accept this as part of the "weeding" process. The law of averages. Or a function of the state of our schools and budget cuts. Part of all of these things is true, but most colleges are not held to any standard of graduation. 

The percentage of college dropouts from college will exceed divorce too. So more than half of college students quit and never come back. They acquire debt instead of a diploma. 

But for those of us who are "above average" we will not accept drop outs--not for our kids. So "other people's" kids drop out. 

But if we ignore this graduation crisis, we do so at our own peril. We need more college grads to make our economy work, to make the USA competitive in the global market. CompletionCrisis

So helping others graduate IS our business---all students need our support to graduate. 

A few random facts about college education:

  • Estimated that the state of California will have 2.3 million shortage of degree holders for jobs created in the state by 2025. 
  • 65% of all US jobs will require a college degree by 2025. Less than 39% of all US adults are college educated today.
  • This gap will require about 23 million net new college grads above and beyond what we produce today!
  • 88% of all 9th graders who start high school in LA county do NOT get any college degrees. This is lower for higher for low income students.
  • Low income students who qualify for college have few choices. Private schools don't take many qualified and competitive low income students so the burden falls on public institutions. Consider that UC San Diego has more low income students than Georgetown, Duke, MIT, University of Chicago, Penn, NYU and Stanford combined! 

There are silly debates about "the value of a college education." Look everyone needs more education. Everyone has to continue to learn and to grow educationally. Anyone who stops a formal learning process is DOA. I am not an education snob. Well maybe I am. :) But I am not saying that all people should go to a university, but it is very tough for anyone to get and keep a good job without the sheepskin and the socialization of an education. Not going to regale you with the long standing stats on lifetime comp, the ROI of an education, or the lower unemployment rates for the educated. These are truths. 

Every individual. Every student. Every human being has the desire and need to grow. To grow their ideas, their ambitions, their sense of significance.  They want more for themselves and their families. The only way to achieve these things is to adopt a lifelong love of learning. To engage in continuous education. To adopt an education mindset. This can start before and during college. 

How do we help people adopt this mindset, graduate and then start their next educational program? It is not easy.

Because you are never done learning. Not talking about how to use Office 2010 or your new iPhone. I am talking about the process of opening your brain to new stuff that reveal more about what you don't know. 

Great mentors do not let others get away with laziness, or giving up on graduation. Great mentors don't accept excuses or allow exceptions to education for those they care about. Great mentors hold others accountable. They push and pull their mentees so that graduation is the only option. 

 So what else can we do:

  1. Help low income students around us seek all of the financial assistance available to them to make their college education more affordable. It is estimated that LA County students left over $100 million of financial aid grants on the table last year. 
  2. Help all students find a college option that meets their needs. An educational institution that matches their interests, not their parents interests. A college that has a track record of supporting students to graduate. 
  3. Hold our alma maters, our local schools, our school boards accountable to graduation rates for all students, especially low income students.
  4. Help students we know get in but THROUGH college. Provide them with moral and financial support that lasts well beyond the freshman year but all the way to commencement. Giving small one time scholarships to start college is only a start. Multi-year scholarships make a huge difference.

College access is just the beginning, we need graduates! What are you going to do to help people graduate?!

Every student who pursues post-secondary education is precious. We can't afford this graduation crisis. We need to mentor all students so they don't end up with just debt and regret. We need their dreams and degrees.

The graduation crises is all of our problem. If we accept the average, we will become it. 

Thanks for reading. John


A Life of Internships

I think experiential learning is the most important and meaningful form of education. In my humble opinion learning by doing has no peer. The idea of internships may be at least 150 years old. Its origins really come from the medical profession where docs in training learn, under expert supervision, about the body and the various disciplines--to understand the whole of medicine and in part to select a specialty. I love this as an metaphor for life and careers--Continuous education about the "body" of your work and your life. A process to adapt, morph, and sharpen your understanding of what you want and the whole of who you are becoming. 

For students in school, internships may be more important than any elective. A student who graduates without experience: volunteer, internship, apprenticeship, or work is at a serious disadvantage. But more important, the student--now just an alum--has not learned about what they want. One's career development can not come from a book or even a blog for that matter. :)

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.  Confucious

For students of life ( that would be everyone!) the concept of internships has to be adopted as a part of your life. Shorter stints that stimulate your intellectual and spiritual self. Internships are "test drives", career dress rehearsals, due diligence with experiences.

So internships have been elevated to a new level. They enjoy a new popularity and status amongst people who left the ivy covered halls decades ago. Now there is even a movie coming out this summer about this! Why? Simply put, people are trying to adapt. Trying to figure out what they are going to do next. They lack the experience in a field that appeals to them. But this movie and the popularity of internships are too often thought of as an emergency oriented intervention. A drastic last resort step that requires sacrifice and risk to reboot a career. While that can and does work, internships are most effective as a mindset. An open mindset of learning, seeking experiences, and for mentorships. Testing new ideas, interests and embracing failure. 

One of my major gripes is the linear nature of people's approach to education, career development.... There are steps, there is myopia, there is a focus that ultimately ends the same way--too many eggs in the same narrow basket of experience. Wow, is that risky!

How do you become multi-talented, multi-facted? How do you invest in your career to make it more recession proof? More resilient to change, turbulence, and downturns? No financial portfolio that intends to grow and survive is invested in one thing. You need growth opportunities, and less risky investments that "hedge" the downside. You need international and domestic. You need large cap and small cap. The same applies to a career. Silly to rely on a single job to sustain your development.  

Every good job is an temporary assignment that is an adventure, a seminar and is fulfilling. Dick Bolles 

I think life is an internship, many internships. You enroll in internships to continue to grow, experiment, and learn. Your job is your core internship. Your hobby is an internship. Your start-up on the side is an internship. Your volunteer work is an internship. 

Your approach to all of your internships is the same. Who will mentor/teach me? What do I want to learn? What will make this experience meaningful to me? 

If we understand the truth that nothing is permanent. That our expertise is perishable. That our connection to our evolving personal, spiritual, financial, and professional needs needs to be dynamic. Then we realize that doing our job will predictably and inevitably lead to dissatisfaction and worse--the inability to transition to other worlds. This always makes the whole of life less rewarding. So how will you change this outcome? 

Fish out of water
Courtesy of Start-Up You

Throughout my career (of internships) I have worked with and met many people who have used internships well. A few examples:

  • 24 year old employee who asked to do "extra work" at a school mentoring project I was managing. This was an internship added onto her job.  She wanted experience with "education". Today she is a principal of a school.
  • 48 year old consultant with an MBA who interns to use his expertise to help non-profits become more sustainable. 
  • 30 year old lawyer who wanted to go into marketing and volunteered for the marketing committee of her favorite charity. Today she is the head of marketing at a telcom company.

They came to the realization that there current "portfolios" were inadequate. They needed to branch out. They had to diversify.

Here's the kicker, internships super charge your network. New colleagues are a new network. While you should invest in reinvigorating and deepening your network at your job, having a constellation of mentors and networks has gigantic advantages.

So I am advocating that you evaluate your current opportunities for internships. Follow your heart and find intentional experiential assignments both in your job and outside that will deepen your understanding of the body of your work and life.  

Thanks for reading. John


Final Advice to the "Freshman"

Dropped my third child, my son,  at the dorms to start his freshman year this weekend. Three kids and three kids in college! That's what my wife and I set out to do. What we planned and hoped for. Of course, their graduation and successful employment will be the next steps. But we celebrate this milestone.

As you might imagine, my kids have received a pretty steady stream of observations, guidance, and advice from me. My wife and I have tried to give our kids an edge in preparing them for their futures. The edge of confidence to become who they are. The edge of unconditional support so they can take chances. The edge of parents who don't get in the the way of their kids' DNA and talents.

I said we tried. We had our victories and our defeats. Parenting is the hardest mentoring assignment of all! :) It is a marathon of change. You wrestle with how much you push and how much you pull. You ride the emotional roller coaster of puberty and the emerging demand for independence. Parenting is about second guessing, worrying, over compensating, and enjoying the incredible twists and turns. 

In the end, it is a small miracle that our kid's survive their parernts. After doing this a few times I am still not convinced that the nurture is any stronger than the nature. We think the wild stallions need to be tamed, but I have seen the beauty of the stallions and learned how to watch them run.  Pegasus2

In the end, you can only do the best you can. No time for regrets or shouldas. The next chapter is the best chapter and your role evolves. 

Took my son out to dinner for one last session with Dad. We had a manly meal and talked about his future. I told him how I see him and the story of of his growth and development Here  is a summary of what we discussed and my last words of advice before college:

We have tried to teach you and show you how to live your life.You know right from wrong. How to be respect others. You are now responsible for your own actions. We trust you. 

You have a slight head start in the game of life, don't waste it. Your great grand parents sacrificed to come to this country. Your grand parents were placed in internment camps on your Dad's side and escaped North Korea on your Mom's side. Your family has given you the opportunity to go to college with no financial pressure. Make something happen.

Escape certainty--Certainty will be your enemy to learn. If you think you know everything about a topic or have decided not to understand the "other side" of an issue--college is a waste. Open your mind. It is amazing to learn what you don't know. Gravitiate to opinions and perspectives different from yours. Trust yourself but question everything.

Ask for help--The most important thing you can do is to ask questions. Never pretend to know things you don't know. No stupid questions just stupid people who don't ask questions. Seek advice. Takes courage to ask for help because you can't do it by yourself.

Get involved but shop-- Pick organizations and causes that interest you, not just what everybody is doing. Augment your classroom work with experiential education. Internships, volunteering, and jobs can be powerful learning opportunities.

Beyond the minimum--If you get bored, you have not done it long enough. Let yourself get lost in topics and subjects that interest you. Dive deeply into your classes to see where your passions lie. 

It's not your major, its your mojo and your mind.  Explore yourself and everything around you. Take the classes you want. Don't take courses because you think they will help your career. You don't have a career. Your major is secondary. You are looking for purpose and passion not a job.

We had a good discussion about careers and jobs. He asked me which were my favorites jobs. I have been lucky because I have sought these jobs or they sought me. I approached all of them as college degree programs and tried to master them. We will all be a "freshman" many times during our lives. So each of my careers and jobs have been my favorite for the time I did them. But my purpose has been to help people become the best in the pursuit of a cause bigger than us. 

I gave him three things that I had already given him. Three documents I wanted him to re-read anew. He looked at me with those eyes of compliance, not acceptance..... :)

Johnny Bunko, The Last Career Guide You Will Ever Need--Daniel Pink

7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens--Stephen Covey

Pyramid of Success--John Wooden

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.  attributed to Hodding Carter

We can only give our youth and anyone we care about roots and wings. The roots of heritage and humility. And the wings to fly further, faster and free-er. Time to let go now and watch my son fly!

As in all mentoring, the mentors gain the most. We hope the mentee gained something, enough to become their own mentor and the mentor of others. 

Thanks for reading. John


When is your next Graduation?

Tis the season of graduations and the festivities marking the completion of specific educational milestones. Been to a few more "commencements" over the last week. For the young people in our lives, graduation from a specific grade/level in school is important and momentous. We are proud of them and their achievements. We want to inspire them to continue on their path of education and career. So far, I have attended more than 50 graduations and have heard the best and worst of the speeches. Lots of trite and hackneyed phrases are used at these moments. Talk of dreams, potential, challenges, opportunities. "You can be whatever you want to be." Or multiple YOLO (You only live once) references. As  a speaker and an attendee, no one really listens to these well crafted words of inspiration at the end of a course of study. By the way, they don't listen at the beginning during convocations either!

Graduate: To change gradually or by degrees.

I would add "To change gradually and constantly". Degrees

As someone with multiple degrees, changing and adapting matter more than the diplomas. Never one to argue against completing formal education or graduate education. They add value, but frankly are of of no value if you stop learning and educating yourself.

"But John, I am always learning new things!"

Not talking about the latest youtube you saw or the insightful article you read.  Talking about diving into topics and subjects you dream about that are outside of your work, your "major". You have to keep up with your job, that's your job! I am talking about your education as a human being and a citizen of the world. The education that is going to complete the unique you.

Some of us think about graduation as a nostalgic concept of our youth. A nice memory when we turned a tassel marking our "commencement" into a new phase. Graduation is a good memory that resides in our past. It may trigger thoughts of what could have been and even some regrets. But I submit to you, we graduate every year of our lives. If we are 25 or 65, we continue to grow and advance. Our days are no longer marked by bells or class schedules, but by milestones and lessons. The university of life is so much tougher. The finals are really final! And everything is an elective! And for many it is is a DIY endeavor that can be lonely and challenging. To be successful we have to be our own post-college counselor. 

But the beauty of a graduation event is it makes you take stock of the effort, contemplate the future, appreciate the opportunity, and fear the challenges. After our formal "education" we rarely do that, except at funerals. :)

Maybe you will listen now at the mid point of your 2012 "curriculum". How are you doing on your plans and goals for 2012? We are half way through this calendar year. Course corrections? Recalibrate? Reset? How would you grade yourself? Passing? Failing?

Reminds me of the story of the guy who has swum half way across a lake and is too tired to finish so he swims back to the starting point? Huh?  Maybe you have not made enough progress with your goals or maybe you have not started them. Don't fall into the trap of waiting until next year to start again. Start again now. Keep swimming. You may have set a goal of 12 months to finish. Just finish. Keep going. Ignore all of the distractions and excuses to stop trying. By the way, the  forces of resistance will never give up. So you have to be stronger and remind yourself of the benefits of your goal. 

How do we renew our pursuit of knowledge and experience? How do we overcome the feelings of fatigue and even disillusionment about our choices? 

Isolation is your problem not your lousy attitude. Barbara Sher

To renew you have to reconnect. To renew you have to re-enroll. Your ideas need to be shared. Your passions need focus. Your challenges need feedback. Your goals need to be challenged. Your weaknesses need support.

Nip the blossoming of your regrets in the bud. 

We gain energy, inspiration, and clarity by engaging our network of family and friends. Ask for help and advice.

Ask someone to "coach" you by holding you accountable for your new mid-point goal(s). Tell a trusted colleague your goal--why it is important to you and exactly what you want to achieve. Then ask them to check in with you periodically and push you to make progress towards this goal. To support you in achieving this goal. We do not do this enough. We try to do it ourselves.

You never finish your education. You finish steps. You gain perspective. You gain confidence. But it does not stop. And you do not have to do it alone. 

Today starts a new semester of study. What classes are you taking? And who are your professors? What do you want to learn? Life is an endless series of degree programs and commencements. When is your next graduation? Re-enroll today!

Thanks for reading. John

 


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