By Linda Fisher Thornton
I have a special message for our 2021 graduates. Like 2020, this year has veered away from what we had hoped and planned. The COVID-19 pandemic is still a force in our lives that we must adapt to. And we’re weary, but also hopeful that there are better times ahead.
How can you start your college life or career under circumstances like these?
You may be worried about gaps in your academic achievement or your employment history from the impact of COVID-19. I hope you’ll keep in mind that we all have some scars from the pandemic, from dealing with prolonged stress and isolation, from having difficulty adapting or coping, and from accepting changes outside of our control. You’re in good company.
The key is to focus on what we learned from it, how we grew and became more self-aware, and what we can do with our keener self-awareness.
“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.”— Albert Schweitzer
As you make your future plans, I have 5 pieces of advice to share that may be useful in staying motivated and on course as you rise above your circumstances and challenges.
5 Insights For the Class of 2021
1. Notice What is Still Good – Who has been there to support you while you dealt with the challenges of the past year? How does seeing spring flowers make you feel – like there is hope for the way ahead? I keep a gratitude journal, and over the past year I have always found 5 things I was grateful for each day. When you get into the habit of looking for things about each day to be grateful for, you begin to realize that there will always be something you can name, even if it’s that a tough day is finally over and you get to get some rest.
2. Figure Out What You Learned About Yourself– What did you learn about yourself through all of the challenges the pandemic threw at you? What did you learn about life and change and predictability? About your support system? About what really mattered to you? About what you’re good at and need to learn?
3. Leverage It – How can that learning help you rebuild your future? How can it help you succeed in a future job or degree program? How can you build on it as a step to your future? Learning from experience will help you be more resilient, and will help you focus your attention on your long-term journey, not just any one stop along the way that may no longer be available.
4. Rebuild Your Plan – When one dream may not happen, it’s hard to see the alternative opportunity that is right in front of us until we let go of the expectation that we can control our future. My experience is that a “career” is a lifetime series of explorations of your talents and interests until you land in the work that brings you joy. Consider volunteering in your area of interest if the dream job is not available right now. It could open doors that lead to something just as good or better.
5. Never Give Up – Life presents challenges. It’s our job to learn through them. Granted, the challenges we’ve had in the past year have been unusually burdensome and have taken a heavy toll on us and our friends and families. It’s important to keep yourself positive and encourage others. Considering catastrophic change a permanent fixture in our lives, and not just an event, we can set more realistic expectations and be more forgiving of ourselves when we make mistakes. Encouraging others as they face challenges we can find hope and joy, even in difficult times.
We are all in this together – The pandemic has made us more aware of the scope of our global connectedness and interdependence. It’s also shown us that the web of connections we have in our families and communities is fragile and more important than ever.
I once learned a valuable career lesson. I was right out of college and working at a non-profit but seeking a career job. A friend suggested I meet with a bank president who was a friend of the family, just to see if there might be a job available. Banking wasn’t in my career plan — so I ignored the opportunity. Thankfully, the friend persisted, and the third time it came up I reluctantly agreed to set up the meeting. I dressed for the informational interview in my blue suit jacket and headed out with my resume in hand. The bank president was telling me about jobs in HR and Training that might be a fit with my background when the HR Manager happened to walk by his open door. He called her in to meet me, and she invited me to come down to her office to talk with her. They happened to have a Training Supervisor position open, which I was interested in and applied for, and was hired for. That started me off in Corporate Training and led me to high level leadership development, which (you guessed it) turned out to be my ideal career.
Stay anchored in your ethical values and notice opportunities that pop up that are disguised as something you think you don’t want to do. Be open minded to considering alternative paths (that may actually end up leading you to your ideal career). Use what you’ve learned during the pandemic to strengthen your resume. Go out there and be willing to take an unlikely path to the future of your dreams.
You’ve got this.
Unleash the Positive Power of Ethical Leadership
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