Monday, May 1, 2017

To the Graduating Class of 2017 : Got Character?

Congratulations to the Class of 2017! Take a breath, but please, don't stop learning! If you do, you will become irrelevant! 

Besides your graduation, take a walk back down memory lane from this past year: 
- the United States changed presidents with what appears to be help from Russia, while Brazil and South Korea impeached their presidents; 
- Merriam-Webster added 1,000 new words to its dictionary including humblebrag and jiggery-pokery
- the Syrian civil war continues with over 500,000 killed and 11,000,000 people were forced from their homes; 
- North Korea, the proposed increase in US military spending and the hottest year on record has moved the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight; 
- the Panama Papers showed how the wealthy hide their money; 
- the Zika virus emerged as a global threat;
- terrorism abounds while we fuss over a wall to keep "bad" people out of our country.

Count your graduation as one of the bright moments of the year! 

Dorothy and Toto in the Wizard of Oz faced lions and tigers and bears ... oh my! You are faced with digital and wireless and downsize ... oh pfft! Neither I nor your parents worried about algorithms, artificial intelligence and robots impacting our work, but you need to understand how these forces are impacting your future. Futurists are forecasting the fourth industrial revolution. The core of this revolution is disruptive business models. Look at what Lyft is doing to the taxi industry. Look at what Airbnb is doing to the hotel/motel industry. Look at what crowdsourcing is doing to the lending industry. Look at what solar and wind energy industries are doing to the fossil fuel industries.

Consider taking stock of what is coming by reading Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

Whatever you do, learn to create memorable, positive, desired experiences. Learn to be THE memorable, positive, desired, experience. This will help you avoid becoming a commodity. In today's world, best experience wins. When you go for those job interviews, how can you be experienced in such a way that you get a callback over the other applicants? What is your overt benefit, reason to believe, unique difference compared to your competition?

I'd recommend you study David Brooks', The Road to Character, which I believe will help you navigate the future. It addresses something that is lacking bigly in today's world. It can contribute to your overt benefit, unique difference and reason to believe. I doubt if you took a class on this subject.

Spoiler alert, this is THE book I will be giving as a graduation present this year. If you want to get some idea of what this book is about, watch Brook's 2013 Baccalaureate address at Sewanee

IMHO, we have a lot of political characters like former Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock, religious characters like Steve Drain, Westboro Baptist Church, tech characters like Ross William Ulbricht, pseudonym "Dread Pirate Roberts", sports characters like Johnny Manziel, and television host characters like Bill O'Reilly. What all of these "characters" have in common is that they lack character. 

There are many self-help books that offer a formula to successful moral living. Brooks shares with the reader the struggle to grow one’s character through the lives of Francis Perkins, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Day, George Eliot, Augustine, Samuel Johnson, and Montaigne. All of these people grew their emotional intelligence through suffering and giving their lives to a higher calling. Brooks explores the formation of their souls.

The formation of one's soul is rooted in humility. Humility is also one of the outstanding characteristics of a fifth-level leader according to Jim Collins, author of the best-selling Good to Great. “A person is a product of cultivation. The true self, in this view, is what you have built from your nature, not just what you started out with.” page 147. 

What does character look like? According to Brooks, people with character "...answer softly when challenged harshly. They are silent when unfairly abused. They are dignified when others try to humiliate them, restrained when others try to provoke them. But they get things done.” Tough situations do not mold or create character, tough situations reveal character. 

Former President Franklin Roosevelt, a self-centered, rich, womanizer, learned character by contracting polio. Polio humbled FDR and made him more compassionate. Polio contributed to FDR becoming a better President.

Brooks' writing may help you discover the will to do right, the will to do what needs to be done, the will to be accountable and take responsibility, the will to suspend your ego and put yourself in the "other's" shoes, and the will to create a nurturing, sustainable world for tomorrow's child.

As you venture out into the next chapter of your life, consider a key question posed by Brooks. Are you living your resume or your eulogy? Do you recognize the difference? Your resume is about what you accomplished, the titles you got, the awards you received, the honors for which you were recognized. Your resume is about you.

Your eulogy speaks to your legacy, the difference you made in people's lives, the hearts you touched, what you gave, the connections you made, the "bridges" you built, your compassion, your kindness. Your eulogy is about the difference you made in other people's lives.

Grab a piece of paper and a pen.

Name the MVP of the MLB World Series last year. Name someone who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year. Name the person who won the Oscar for best actress last year. Name the a recent Pulitzer Prize winner. How did you do with the answers?

Let me change the challenge.

Name someone who made a difference in your life. Name someone who was there for you when you were down. Name a teacher who made a difference in your life. Name the person who makes you laugh. Name the person you enjoy holding hands with on a walk. I'll bet you didn't miss a name! Would you be named in someone else's answers?

My advice, focus on your eulogy rather than your resume.

Those characters I mentioned earlier, they all had good intentions, but "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Choose wisely, thoughtfully and carefully.

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