So, you just took your last exam and closed the last textbook you’ll ever read. You walked confidently across the stage at graduation. You’ve done well for yourself these last few years. You studied hard. You made lifelong friends. You even have a few job interviews lined up. You’ve got this whole life thing in the bag.
Congratulations! Congratulations on kicking ass during your college journey. If you’ve figured out what you want to do with your life, I congratulate you again. That is no easy feat. And, regardless of what path you choose to take, what life you want to lead, congratulations on officially starting your education.
I know what you all are thinking: Didn’t you just congratulate me on finishing exams and graduating? The textbooks are closed. I’m done, lady!
This is where I say that if you think your education is done, if you think you have nothing left to learn, you will quickly and assuredly fall behind in this game of life.
You see, when you graduate, your schooling has ended, but your education has just begun. What I mean is that the day you collect that diploma, you are finished with someone else’s curriculum. Someone else decided you needed so many hours of English, or math, or biology and which textbooks to buy. When you started on your college journey you probably were not qualified to make those decisions. Someone else decided what would help prepare you for your future career, and that schooling has been indispensable. Today, your schooling is over, but your education just started.
From today forward, you own your own education. You are in control. And guess what? You get to write your own curriculum. From the second you walk off that campus and into the “real world,” you are in charge of your education. And you will remain so for the rest of your life.
Don’t take this responsibility lightly. No matter what career path you choose, the key to success is to constantly be learning.
I know, because I’ve done it.
I founded and am the CEO of an advertising agency here in Austin called T3. Years ago, my team and I decided that our mission was to learn more about our clients’ customers than they knew. We signed a pact with each other that we would always stay ahead of our clients’ needs.
We work for some of the most successful companies in America: Amazon, UPS, Allstate, Pizza Hut and 7-Eleven. We watched what our clients’ customers were doing. When we saw a trend we ran out in front of it and became experts. When the internet exploded, we already knew how to sell online before we got that first client call asking about our interactive experience.
Today, we are known as an innovation agency. And every single day, someone at T3 has to master a new skill. And I’m not talking the little stuff. I’m talking artificial intelligence, massive loyalty programs based on automated personalization systems. I’m talking about stitching together information from 40 different data sources in a nanosecond to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time and place. Every single day we have to learn something new.
The need to constantly learn isn’t unique to the advertising industry. Medicine, real estate, transportation, government, almost every organization out there is facing a disruptive and constantly changing environment. It’s a little scary, but it’s also wonderful. Constantly learning means constantly expanding upon your skill set, making you a more marketable hire, and constantly learning means never falling into a rut of doing the same thing day in and day out.
In such a dynamic world, the simple truth is that you will have to adapt. You will constantly have the need to learn new things. If you don’t adapt, you may well be left behind. Think about each skill you develop as a piece of your knowledge portfolio that will make you vital to the company you work for, and if you make your education the priority early in your career, you will be more successful.
As you consider a new job, of course you have to consider the compensation package. But, it is actually more important to consider the education package. What are the opportunities for you to learn new skills that are in high demand? As you interview, walk the halls and pay attention. Are people isolated or actively engaged? When meetings end, do people linger for a few minutes and catch up on friends and family? Or, do they race out to their next meeting? Ask if you can sit in on a few work sessions or just hang in the cafeteria. It won’t take you long to figure it out.
Find a company with a culture that promotes learning and that keeps up with the ever-changing environment. Work with people you admire and want to learn from. I’m not just talking about learning new tech skills, I’m talking about management skills, presentation skills, everything. There’s always something to learn. And do you know what’s awesome? Your new employer is going to pay for your education! They will pay for you to learn new skills! How kick ass is that?
Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do.”
So get out there and educate yourself. Learn more. Do more. Go have a kick ass life. And don’t settle for anything less.