As promised, I’m sharing the “5 Habits For The Road Ahead”, comprising the key points of a talk I gave to a group of high school seniors this week. The idea of 5 habits was born out of a notion that our high school seniors are glazed over by now with ideals and values that are as glorious and elusive as beautiful puffy clouds in the sky. They need something more tangible. Something they can start doing today and know they have done it.
Somewhere along the way we stopped training our kids systematically on developing habits. Long gone are the star charts on the fridge, remember those? After intensive drilling on fundamentals such as teeth brushing, bed making, etc. we relied on the magic of daily reminders and re-enforcement at home (aka nagging in their eyes), teachers and coaches to imprint the rest. Can we declare Mission Accomplished?
Based on what I experienced in the business world with new hires and the laments from friends on the front-lines in colleges, we might do well to put up that star chart on the fridge again for some practice, before they leave home. If I was brave enough to do that, these are the five essentials I would put up there. These are a gift to them as they jump out of the nest after graduation this spring.
1. Bring Pen & Paper. And use them!
Because, the priorities and assignments set by your boss, won’t be findable on Google — you better write them down.
Because, the priceless insights from the senior expert on your work team are not documented in any electronically retrievable source — they only exist in his brain and in the space of that conversation — you better write them down.
Because, the best tips and tricks from your professors are not included in the official notes and text books — you better write them down.
2. Take Care of Basics. Handle the easy stuff. Just DO IT!
Because, life gets very complicated, messy and unfriendly when you let your driver’s license expire, you don’t turn in your assignments by the given deadline, your car runs out of gas on the freeway, you fail to remember April 15th, you don’t respond to the request to make sure your passport is up-to-date for an overseas business trip, and much more. The simple, easy, basic stuff can wreak havoc if it’s not handled.
Because, the built-in, old-faithful reminder machine (aka Mom) is not moving with you when you leap out of the nest.
Because, per the hiker’s mantra, “The Mountain doesn’t care”. The bigger, wider world will not care if you mess up.
3. Show Up & Man Up. Be there, or beware.
Because, you don’t get picked for cool projects, promotions, or one-of-a-kind opportunities if you don’t build a reputation for showing up and pitching in.
Because, if you are in the habit of skipping out on school, team practice, or volunteer events now, it’s not easy to flip a switch overnight and suddenly no longer be that kind of person.
Because, nobody is interested in your excuses about being tired, not hearing the alarm, being shy, never done it before, or I forgot.
Because, those who step up, come forward, roll their sleeves up for even the smallest of requests, are the ones who get noticed, who learn, who build credibility and dependability.
4. Figure Out The Norms. The unspoken rules.
Because, missed cues on what is ok and not ok can cost you a job offer, a promotion, a scholarship, and more.
Because, your acute perception of you peer group norms may blind you to the wider world you enter beyond school. What’s cool and ok with your pals may be way out of line with your new work culture.
Because, you don’t get to make the rules until you get to be the boss, and you don’t get to be boss, if you can’t figure out the rules.
Because, texting in class, short shorts, ignoring RSVP requests, tattoos, emoticons, forgoing thank-you notes, etc. may close doors to opportunities you are otherwise well qualified for.
5. Do AARs (After Action Reviews). Learn from your experiences. After every event, big or small, ask yourself: 1) What was the expected outcome? 2) What was the actual outcome? 3) Why were the outcomes different than those planned? 4) What was learnt?
Because, the best lessons are those we learn from our own experiences, but that requires that we take the time to learn them.
Because, your teachers, parents and loving community have been doing this for you since day 1 without your awareness. Now you need to take it on yourself.
Because, your most faithful, knowledgeable, concerned and always-present coach on the entire journey of your life is YOU. Do yourself that favor. Be that coach.
Instead of preaching from these notes, I told real-life stories and did some experiential exercises. We did find an expired driver’s license in the audience – pretty predictable, and quite memorable. (Have you checked yours lately?)
I could have talked about countless others … life is so rich, colorful and full of opportunities for growth. It’s all about being a Life Long Learner. Topic for another day maybe.
Thanks to all of you who gave me input for this talk. Special shout outs to Dr. Karen Dodwell for her real-life experiences as a college professor; to Alan Snipes for his personal insights as a young professional; and to Jay Balchan for reminding me of some funny real-life stories from days at the office.