Life Is Like High School
Earlier this month, my daughter Morgan graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. Our family shared a weekend filled with celebrations, fond memories, lofty inspirational messages, and the promise of unbounded opportunity. The keynote speaker was Anne-Marie Slaughter, a critically acclaimed author and trailblazing public leader who made waves with the article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All."
During a recent discussion with my business coach about ways Todd Herman Associates' (THA) popularity might be increased, another college commencement address came to mind. It was by actress Meryl Streep and included a different kind of catchy phrase — "Life is like high school" referring to her observation that success in life depends more on popularity (high school) than knowledge (college).
As a high school student, I was Salutatorian. Despite being a very deep introvert, I was also Student Body President. Was I elected because I was popular? Or was it because of my knowledge, attention to detail, and leadership skills? Perhaps some of both, but I do know you can't win elections like that unless you're popular. I was known and I was liked — well, at least I was not disliked.
When I decided to leave AA&Co. and start my own firm, I was still focused on the knowledge and skills I could bring to clients. What I soon learned, however, was there was quite a bit of truth to Meryl Streep's statement — no matter how good I was, I would not succeed on my own without becoming more well-known. Thus, I began studying the marketing and selling of professional services — and quickly applied what I had learned. (Remember, I finished college at a time when only a few business courses were required for accounting majors, and marketing was not one of them.)
- High School is where I honed "nice" and "reliable" and achieved popularity.
- College is where I stepped up being "smart" and "hardworking" and developed skills I use to this day.
- Workplace success requires "all of the above" — and then some.
As my coach and I probed deeper, we focused on a recent client situation where our firm was substantially more responsive than the vendor tasked with providing a specific service to our client. My coach asked (rhetorically) if that surprised me— reflecting a moment, I answered, "No, I guess not — it's just I sometimes forget how good THA really is." There's a certain "take it for granted" attitude at THA, since everyone has the golden combination of "smart, hard-working, nice, reliable" and approaches work with "passion and commitment."
Working for Enjoyment or for a Living?
Fortunately, I've always had jobs I've enjoyed and paid reasonably well. Of course, as an entrepreneur, some years are better or leaner than others — a reality that comes with the territory.
We're Always Graduating and We're Always Commencing
"Graduate" and "grade" both trace back to the same Middle English word. Just because you've finished high school or college doesn't mean you no longer get grades — merely substitute "manager" for "teacher" and "performance review" for "grade." The key difference is your workplace "grades" impact your raise, promotion, career opportunities, employment status, and ultimately, your quality of life.
We're also always going to be commencing something — beginning a new job, kicking off a new project, receiving a promotion, starting a family, raising kids, organizing people for a purpose, or transitioning from full-time work to part-time work or retirement.
So remember, the lessons learned from each graduation event, and how we choose to apply those lessons — or not — to our next commencement opportunity, will shape our character, our personal brand, and our enjoyment of work and leisure throughout life.