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Think New All the Time

May heralds the arrival of graduation season in many countries around the world. This year, many of us have family or friends who are feeling disappointed because their high school, college or graduate school graduation event has been cancelled or postponed or is going virtual.

No one is more disappointed than the actual graduates themselves, and thankfully the world is trying to help fill the gap. Former U.S. President Barack Obama, for example, is delivering several virtual commencement speeches to graduating high school and college seniors during the season. Athletes and celebrities ranging from LeBron James to Oprah Winfrey to Jimmy Fallon are joining in as well.

Time and luck have a way of restoring some graduations. I missed my law school graduation because I had a job in Dallas (I had never been to Texas) and I couldn’t wait in Chicago for the event and couldn’t afford the trip back to Chicago to attend. Thirty-five years later my daughter was graduating from the same school with the same degree and the professor doing the honors (now a former dean) had been a first-year professor who had taught me in my first year of school. I told him the story, and as her father, I was already going to be up on stage with my daughter when she was “hooded.” The professor told me he would wink at me and that would be the signal that I had finally attended my graduation – 35 years later. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Something New Along the Path

If you listen to any commencement speeches this year (or any year), you might hear words that apply – to you! That’s true whether you are a new graduate or an experienced professional. Yes, graduation signals something new (because we are usually no longer attending classes at that school, it is time to leave), but as we continue on our life’s path we should think “new” all the time. Like the human body that regenerates cells, we regenerate our lives and careers almost every day – certainly every year.

So, what are a few things I would suggest, as we ponder how to better ourselves and refresh our skills?

  • Choose a professional path because of passion. The old adage that working is the thing we spend the most time doing is statistically true, so make sure it is something that gets you excited. In that regard, I am fortunate to work in IT. There are very few fields that change as quickly as technology. We all have to work at keeping up our skills, but we can stay relevant and productive for as long as we have the will to do so. A field worthy of passion.
  • Don’t limit yourself to the trends of today. Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote about ice hockey – “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” – applies to just about any organization or industry. Who would have known 10 years ago that cybersecurity professionals would be in such high demand? The Aspen Cybersecurity Group, for example, is working with leading companies to match jobs of cybersecurity professionals to leading companies and increase their numbers.
  • Never stop learning. Now is a good time to apply your innate sense of curiosity and build and/or expand your skills in key areas. In IT, these include creative problem-solving, design thinking, getting started with cloud, the Internet of Things (IoT) and cybersecurity. The more of those skills you have, the more successful you can be.
  • Embrace change as opportunity. Unisys, for example, has done exactly that with the Embrace the New Normal Innovation Campaign Challenge. The campaign challenges our associates to think about how COVID-19 may influence how our clients and Unisys will do business in the future and what “new normal” will emerge. It will be interesting to see what insights and ideas we receive.
  • It isn’t all about work. We may spend more of our time at work than any other activity, but not all of our time. Balance your interests, find other (appropriate) passions, be an active part of your family, your circle of friends and your community. Rewards abound to you and them from your presence.
  • Never stop having fun! See the bullets above and apply fun to all of them.

If You Come, They Should Build Them

Kerry Washington is an American actress best known for her role as Olivia Pope in the television series Scandal. “You and you alone are the only person that can live the life that writes the story that you were meant to tell,” she said in her 2013 commencement speech at George Washington University, “And the world needs your story because the world needs your voice.”

Ms. Washington brought a unique perspective to the speech. George Washington University is her alma mater, so she had once been one of the people in the audience. She may have been delivering her speech from the same spot at which her own commencement speaker once stood. Her bottom line advice: it is up to you to write your own story.

Most good employers need your story. Most good employers need your voice. My bottom line advice: look for one that needs both – and make sure they are committed to helping you build them along the way. Do they support a culture of learning? Do they offer a plethora of online classes? Are they making opportunities for re-skilling available during COVID-19?

Think new, all the time.