Back-to-School


Those who have been required to memorize the world as it is will never create the world as it might be.

This quote by Judith Groch resonates strongly with me because the classrooms of my youth required memorization and lots of it: students at desks high school 50s history, geography, trig functions, English prepositions, Latin root words, etc. The Dominican sisters who taught at St. Mary’s made sure of that!

We did memorize the world as it was then: and the boundaries were pretty sound. The literal “word view” was stable, defined by wars, separated by oceans and social or economic milestones. Even with the mind-numbing memorization, I liked learning.

Back-to-school time brings up wonderful memories, mostly because of new school supplies, a new book bag, and new teachers. Even in college, there was something enticing about new notebooks and pens and beginning again: the start of a new opportunity. Learning things that adds to or makes sense of stuff already in my brain.

I may be fortunate in that “Learning” is one of my talents (or ‘themes’ according to Gallup author Tom Rath), and I’ve developed it into a strength. I use that strength in my current work and leverage it so that I am able to look at new situations as challenges and view “change”–so scary for many–as just another puzzle to tackle.

How do you look at learning?

It’s not just for kids!

While our kids are heading back to school, I’m wondering if you are heading back as well. You may have a high school diploma, an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, an MBA or a PhD. Whatever education you have, much of it is out-of-date. Whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago, the world is changing quickly enough that whatever content you have is, literally, so last year.

The phrase “lifelong learning” is one we hear bandied about, and often when we hear it we think, “Oh, I have a degree;” “No more back-to-school for me…don’t have the time!” Or, “I can’t afford it.” But ernestinelearning is no longer contained: in a classroom, or during certain ages, or even within a degree program. The truth is that whatever your age, you must continue to learn to avoid becoming a throw-back that employers see as outdated and provincial, unwilling to keep up with business reality.


What will you choose to learn before year’s end?

The beauty of being adults is that we can choose how we’ll learn: it may be in a classroom or it may not! When you consider options, make sure you include these:

*continuing education: computer programs, communication programs, or specific skills through local colleges or community learning programs;
*degree programs: through universities across the world; e-learning programs are available through hundreds of colleges and may be 2 or 4 year programs, even MBA work;
*mentoring and workplace options: what can you learn by asking someone more experienced to teach you? Or by shadowing them for a few days or weeks; Or by volunteering for a project as an observer or extra pair of hands?
*design-your-own professional development program by working with a coach: career coaches can guide you in figuring out what new directions and/or learning will best help you stay relevant or move in your desired direction.

Now, take action.

Whatever direction you decide to investigate, start small. Define one person you can talk to, or one program you can investigate and write it on your to-do list for this week. Don’t put it off, or wait until you get around to it. Better yet, find an Accountability Partner who will support your investigation and ask that person to check-in with you in a week to see how you accomplished the first step. In fact, if you’ll drop me a note with your first task, I’ll hold you accountable for completing it within a week. This is how you’ll most easily move forward: take small steps and be accountable to someone for doing so.

While you’re at it, why not buy a few school supplies to have on hand while you figure out your learning direction? It may be more motivating than you think!

Does the world owe you a living?


Last week a 27-year old graduate of Monroe College in New York sued the college because in the three months following graduation she had not found a job. Her suit alleges that for $70,000 in tuition, the school’s responsibility is to find her a position. The young woman (whose name I refuse to mention, thus possibly extending her 15 minutes of fame) is angry about her position, especially since her student loans will be coming due. She is in no position to pay on them, and so her family will have to take on the additional burden. (Find the story: http://tinyurl.com/mxh3v4)

Her position on the college’s responsibility: “They have not tried hard enough to help me.” The college’s position: “[we pride ourselves] on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students.”

Sounds to me like a gross miscommunication around the concept of personal responsibility–and by everyone who has been part of this 27-year old’s long, long adolescence!

Expecting a handout?

expecting a handout?

It apparently takes a “crash and burn” event to separate many people from their “entitled” view of the world. Guess the folks at Enron were just doing what they were told, and didn’t have any responsibility in their loss of retirement dollars. Guess the people who hate their jobs don’t have a choice but to stay…have to pay the bills somehow, right? Guess those who are “victims” of this current recession are just that, with no responsibility for their ill-prepared out-of-work status. Guess the “older workers” who aren’t valued in the current workplace are just disrespected for all their Industrial Age experience. And, apparently, the younger workers coming out of college are just not responsible for finding their own jobs–they are entitled to one as an result of the money they spent on the degree they received.

How does this thinking happen?

What happened to the idea of earning what you get? Of taking responsibility to use your talents, abilities and resources (a college degree falls into this last category) to get a job or move in a new career direction? Of being completely responsible for the outcomes in your life?

The young graduate who is suing her college apparently doesn’t know about the ‘personal responsibility’ part of life. [And, whose fault is this? When does it become hers?] And while many readers may see this story and say, “How ridiculous…I would never do that!”, their comments on their current work or economic status would belie this.

Are individuals responsible for having a job or not? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to see that your industry or organization must dance to a different tune, that of a global economy or tightening market? Are you responsible for paying enough attention to make sure that you can dance to that tune…even when it entails taking dancing lessons? And you need to pay for them yourself?

Swimming in your best direction

Swimming in your best direction

I believe individuals do have this responsibility, but when was the last time you heard someone say…I should have been ready for this downturn by sharpening my skills? I should have been ready by continuing to build and take care of my network? I should have been ready by learning which industries are growing and which are dying? Or even, I should have seen this coming?

It’s much more likely that you’ve heard someone say: “they” just called me in, and let me go; or “they” don’t appreciate the last 20 years I gave them; or “they” didn’t give me any training to upgrade my skills; or even “they” just don’t care about the little guy!

Here’s what responsibility looks like.

A few weeks ago, when taking a shuttle from my hotel to the Phoenix airport, the driver asked what I spoke about (I was heading home from the National Speakers Association convention). When I replied “workforce change and development,” he began telling me about his transition 8 years ago from manufacturing employee to franchise owner. Employed by Motorola, he was downsized and in his own words said that he “should have seen it coming.”

John Maelstrom, that Super Shuttle owner, decided to deal with the set-back and find work that works for him. He went into business for himself and now has two employees. He is a great example of resilience in the face of change, of someone with a sense of responsibility that defines his character.

Why not take just a few minutes right now and test your own sense of entitlement: Does your employer owe you your job?

If yes, what kind of guarantee do you have? How sure are you?

If not, what are you doing to be sure that you’re ready and responsible for your own livelihood? When you get to this answer, and don’t know where to start–drop me an email or give me a call. I can help you learn to trust yourself and move toward a true security, one you make yourself.

PS: when you’re in Phoenix and need a ride, call Super Shuttle, 602.244-9000 and ask for John by name.