It’s graduation time around the country and, as everyone knows, an integral part of this rite of passage involves listening to commencement speeches filled with advice on living one’s best life and putting all of that recently acquired knowledge to good use. Although directed toward individuals at the outset of their careers, these guiding principles are timeless.
We all experienced it—you walk out of college feeling like you’ve got a wealth of knowledge under your belt and sufficient information to handle any challenge that comes your way. But don’t be so eager to think that you have (or should have) everything figured out, counsel those with experience in hand.
Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO and author of When Markets Collide, recalls a valuable lesson learned from his father that he has carried with him throughout his life: remember that the ‘how’ of a situation can be just as important as the ‘what,’ ‘when’ and ‘why.’ Keeping an open mind and cultivating the ability to examine an issue from many different perspectives will serve you well, El-Erian asserts, in business and in life.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also stresses the importance of an open mind, suggesting that while it is good to have a plan, it’s equally important to embrace those unanticipated developments that may lead you down a path you had never previously considered. “Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected,” Warren suggests. “Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to entertain the improbable opportunity that comes looking for you. And never be so faithful to your plan that when you hit a bump in the road – or when the bumps hit you – you don’t have the fortitude, grace, and resiliency to rethink and regroup.”
If anyone should know about taking risks, it’s Jackie Zehner, Goldman Sachs “phenom” and today the CEO of Women Moving Millions, a non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing unprecedented resources for women and girls. In 1996, at just 32 years old, Zehner became the youngest woman and first female trader to become a partner at Goldman Sachs.
Zehner learned many things during the course of her 14-year career at Goldman Sachs, but one of the most valuable is the benefit of moving outside your comfort zone. Never shy away from a job simply because you don’t know anything about it, Zehner advises. “If someone who knows something about it thinks you can do it (and it is of interest to you), go for it. Then learn everything you can about how to do that job well.”
As the former Chairman CEO of General Electric, Jack Welch knows a thing or two about performance and hitting your goals—during his reign at GE, the company’s stock increased 4000% in value. Welch and his wife Suzy have co-authored two books on succeeding in business–Winning, and its companion volume, Winning: The Answers—and lecture frequently on what it takes to rise to the top.
Among their advice to graduates: do everything that’s asked of you, and then do more. “To get an A-plus in business,” they assert, “you have to expand the organization’s expectations of you and then exceed them, and you have to fully answer every question the “teachers” ask, plus a slew they didn’t think of.”
Make time for yourself
Striving to attain your goals and excel at every turn are laudable aims, to be sure, yet journalist, author & activist Maria Shriver also argues that time for reflection is critical. “You’ll have to work your butt off, too, but today, I’m saying that while you do that, it’s really important to pause along the way and take a break from communicating outwardly, so you can communicate inwardly, with yourself.”
As these thoughtful addresses remind us, no matter one’s age or experience, there’s always something to learn.