Students and the Real World

For students! Enjoy!

I started my university career back in 1973 as a rather chipper young fellow. More accurately, I was alternately chipper and grumpy. But I was brought up not to display excessive grumpiness, so as much as possible I hid it. On the chipper side, I remember well that I had high expectations. I also remember that I had not the faintest idea what I was doing. I knew what I wanted … errr … sort of. I wanted to have new experiences (let’s call it “fun”) and I wanted to be successful. I was informed by reliable sources that “success” meant getting good grades.  I thought the trick was to balance the two and just let the games begin!

So why do I say that I didn’t know what I was doing? In fact, I had a strategic problem without a solution. I knew that after four years, my university days would be kaput. Over. And I knew that I was supposed to use my four years in university to start preparing for what I would do next in life. But here the alarm bells start ringing. I had never been anything but a student. And I had no strategy to figure out how to do anything but be a student. Worse still, I had no idea of how to develop such a strategy. I hoped that it would sort of just evolve naturally. That things would just sort of “work out”. But I had my doubts, which explains in part my occasional grumpiness.

In fact, the problem was deeper. I had been educated so far that success was measured in mastering blocks of information or data. Stuff like chemistry, history, economics, etc. Successful folks mastered these data sets more efficiently than the boobs did. And this was evidenced by great grades. That is what you were supposed to strive for. But mastering blocks of information and getting ok or even great grades do not offer meaning in life. One has to use knowledge to do stuff for meaning to develop. Not just regurgitate information, but create a life. This idea had not penetrated deeply into my consciousness yet. Nor had anyone attempted to teach it to me. But I sensed that something was not quite right in school. Studying seemed artificial. Perhaps life was artificial too? Or perhaps studying had nothing to do with living well? These thoughts were troubling, which added to my occasional grumpiness.

And there was yet more difficulty. Folks around me occasionally asked me what I thought. For example, what did I think about Kerouac or Picasso or Proust or Marx or Hume or Byron or Disraeli or Kennedy or Nixon? People seemed to have strong and well developed opinions about things and they expressed an interest in my own.  But sadly, though I knew what one was supposed to think, I was not confident in drawing conclusions. I feared being caught out that at the core I was not “with it”. On a deeper level, I had a gnawing fear about being wrong about life in general. About screwing it up, so to speak.

So what happened? I did what millions of other university students did then and do now. In intellectual terms, I muddled through university, without developing any strong opinions about what life is about or what I would do with my own life. I said that I was enjoying the freedom, but that included deferring making choices about who I wanted to be and investing in those choices. And then university was over. I was kicked out of paradise, so to speak, with no idea of what lay beyond its boundaries. Ouch!

Quite a few years have gone by since then. In that time, I have been lucky to have met and worked with some remarkable people. And when I did so, I noticed that they were very good at strategic thinking. At first it seemed a bit like magic. These folks made things happen. Slowly but surely, I started developing my own ideas about why they were successful at this and what success is. I also started reading and speaking on the topic. This led me to develop a strategic skills building course. Not strategy chained to a given context – like business strategy or military strategy. But strategy that anyone can use to improve the way we exploit the opportunities that life offers us. To make things happen.

Nice story, but where does that leave us here? This evening, I saw Dan Pink’s newsletter. He offers resources for students who are thinking about how to get started in life. Nice idea Dan! It got me thinking about my own experiences  (as you can see above) and what I could offer as well. And so I decided that I would offer a short “thread” in this blog for students to introduce a few ideas about strategic thinking. Nothing too serious. Just a starting point. All free. No obligations.

The first step? I think the first step is to begin thinking more clearly about what we mean by the word the “future”. It might surprise you! Stay tuned!

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