Saturday, May 23, 2009

To the Graduates of 2009, Are you a Question Mark or a Period?

First, let me remind you of the state of the world at this moment.

Our national unemployment in the United States is 8.6%. In some states, it is over 10%.

There are 24 conflicts going on in the world. The United States is directly involved in 2 of them.

30,000 children die everyday from a lack of clean water, disease and poor nutrition.

60% of the world’s population has no toilets.

If these sobering facts dampen the spirit of the day, my apologies, but the world needs you now to roll up your sleeves and help erase these negative facts!

My question to you on this day of transition and transformation, “Are you a question mark or a period?”

You might get some indication to your answer by how you reacted to my reminders. Did you react by thinking, “What could I do to help save those children from dying?” “How could so many people in the world not have toilets?” or “What could I do to help resolve conflict in the world?”

Or did you react with, “That is the way it is.” “Thank goodness, none of those facts affect me.” or “People are working that.”

Are you a questioner, someone filled with curiosity, someone who ponders, someone who wonders? 

Or are you someone who accepts things for what they are, someone who doesn’t like conflict, someone who is about themselves?

Are you a question mark or a period?

Nothing on earth has a harder road to travel than a new idea.

I remember back in 1995 when I was in charge of marketing for the organization I was working, we began looking for an overt benefit, a reason to believe, a unique difference for setting us apart from our competition. Our sales people were generalists, drive-by shooters and Lone Rangers who shot clients prices and moved on. We needed more accountability as well as more sales. We hit upon the idea of turning our sales people from generalists to specialists! We noticed sales people get into comfort zones. Comfort zones tend to be what feels good and what we know best. Comfort zones are our habits, both good and bad. We noticed some of our sales people were very comfortable calling on healthcare while others were more comfortable calling on industrial clients. Furthermore, we noticed they spoke the language of their favorite type of customer. We thought it was no brainer to have these sales people call only favorite type of client or customer in other words, sell in his or her comfort zone!

A great new idea and a third of the sales people did not like the idea and left the organization! We discovered people do not like change. The only thing people really want to change is his or her situation, not themselves!

You are going to have great new ideas. The world needs great new ideas. People around you will resist great new ideas. Learn how to get people on board with your great new idea by asking questions. Great sales people talk less than 25% of the time when he or she is before a client or customer. Selling a great new idea is not about telling. Its about asking and listening! Are you known as a listener or a talker?

It is not necessary to hope to persevere! 

I believe the opposite of love is fear. Fear is evil. Fear is what separates us from the people we love and care  about. Fear is what separates us from God and destroys relationships. Fear triggers our primal direction to survive, to remove discomfort and pain and to maintain pleasure and well being. Fear is life-sucking and creates a scarcity mentality as in: “I deserve this.” “I will not be denied this pleasure.” “It’s about me.”

Fear destroys hope. We forget that when hope is lost, people do incredible, unthinkable acts including speaking unkind words, abusing people they love and even the extreme - suicide bombings. 

While hope is a valuable asset, will is an unbeatable force. Love can drive will. The will of God is stated in the prayer that never fails, “Thy will be done.” It is also true of we humans. The will of the English people during World War II was what defeated Hitler and the Nazi’s. The love of freedom and from fear was the will that defeated Germany. The English will was at the heart of what brought the United States into standing beside England to defeat the Nazis.

Fear can also drive will. I am afraid it is the will of the Palestinians and Afghan Talaban that will not be defeated in current world affairs. 

If you don’t possess will power, how is your “won’t” power?

To teach is to learn twice.

At this point of my life, my two greatest teachers are my mother and my son. My mother soon to be 82 years young and my son, completing his freshman year in college are teaching me to love the unlovable, to practice patience, to listen rather than to speak, to ask more questions and give less answers, to seek to understand before being understood, to be compassionate, to be non-judgmental, to be in the moment. My mother is teaching me not to meet a stranger and my son is teaching me to find passion, recognize your gifts and talents and use them as God has given them to you. 

Who is continuing to teach you? After all, if you think you know it all, you have a lot to learn!

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

Those of you who have no debt from college education, congratulations! I hope your lack of debt is due to hard work and not someone paying for your college. I learned a long time ago, that when you get something for nothing, that’s the value to the owner. If someone paid for your education, you need to be eternally grateful and look for ways to pay it forward! 

Some of you have some big bills to repay from your college. You can choose to view your situation in one of two ways. First way involves whining, “poor-me,” “this-is-not-fair” or THE MAN is putting it to me. Remember, to go after your education was a choice. The second way to look at your college debt as an investment in yourself.  Look at this approach as a gift to yourself that will generate big benefits. Consider this. According to the U.S. Census Bureau report in 2007, 19% of Americans over 18 years of age have attended college, but have no degree. Approximately 34% of Americans over 18 years of age and older hold college degrees. Only 8.5% of our fellow Americans has a post graduate degree. You graduates are a special minority. 

I would also challenge you to keep learning and apply what you learn. After all, a person with an education who chooses not to use it is as bad off as the person who has no education. Use your education to stamp out ignorance! Your continuing education is about going from an unconscious mind to a conscious awareness your ignorance. Remember the MasterCard tag line, cost of one’s education, priceless!

The heart of education is the education of the heart.

Your head is brimming with facts, stats, and how-to. What about your heart? In todays world IQ will not get you as far as your I will. I will is about heart as in I will serve others. I will be focused on giving rather than getting. I will practice the Golden Rule. I will collaborate well with others. I will listen to others who have a different opinion. I will practice critical thinking because it gets me out of my comfort zone into my learning zone!

If I were to ask you to name the actor who got an Oscar for best supporting actor last year very few of you could give me the name. If I were to ask you who was the MVP in last year’s Super Bowl, very few of you could tell me. If I were to ask you to name someone who won a Nobel Peace Prize last fall, I’d be surprised if many of you could tell me. On the other hand, if I asked you to name a teacher who inspired you, a person who made a difference in your life or someone you view as a hero, everyone in this place could give quick answers to all three! It’s about the heart, not the mind. 

Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Experience is “compulsory education.”

I am an experience-based facilitator. I create learning labs for people to experience growth by moving out of his or her comfort zones. Its that old Chinese proverb; I hear. I forget. I see. I remember. I do. I understand. I like to add two additional lines; I facilitate. I learn. 

In today’s world, it's no longer about earning a living. It’s about learning a living. In this current economic time we are living in, experiences are compulsory education. Seek experiences to challenge your thinking, your ideas, your habits, and your beliefs. Remember Thomas Kida’s best selling book title, Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Forget your mistakes, but remember what they taught you.

Fortunately, we are beginning to value mistakes and failure as great teaching lessons. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the surgeon to make a mistake as I lie on her operating table under the beam of her laser!

Peter Senge, best selling author of The Fifth Discipline, says the only learning disability is from not learning from your mistakes. 

So back to my original question. Are you a question mark or a period?

The biggest mistake you could make right now is to be a period!