Our distinguished alumni speaker, David Weinstein offered sound advice to PO graduates at our May 19 convocation:
“Thank you, Graham, for that kind introduction. My mother would be proud – and my father would be amazed. Most of all, congratulations to each graduate in this extraordinary class of 2013. And congratulations to your proud parents and families and the dedicated faculty and staff of the Boston
University Political Science Department. This is your day to celebrate as well!
I have fond memories of my senior spring at BU in 1972. Living in a Coolidge Corner apartment, waking up around 10:00 AM, enjoying a breakfast of granola, raisins, and milk, and leisurely walking down Pleasant Street to my first class, which never began before 11:00. So, to the graduates, I start with this piece of advice: “Enjoy it while you can.” Because pretty soon you may be downing coffee and a power bar at 6:00 in the morning to catch the train to work.
I read that, technically, to qualify to graduate, the BU Registrar requires each student to find 128 credit hours of classes and earn passing grades. But, cutting through the formalities, there are really only three things you need to find in college. And today, I want to talk about these three key things.
First, find what you love to do. Second, find what you do well. And third, find someone who will pay you for doing it – not including your parents. And don’t worry, if you have not yet found that “someone to pay you,” the Academy has invented a temporary antidote: it’s called graduate school. Finding these three keys is like the mathematical process of solving a simultaneous equation. There’s urgency to figure out the answer, because it leads to success and happiness in the next stage of your life.
So, how do you find the three keys to success? Let’s start by looking at each one. First, how do you find what you love to do? Some of you may already know the answer. It’s a simple matter of observation. What fuels your passion? What type of work pushes you to stay up late at night? What type of work never seems like a chore? Are there particular subjects or environments that attract you? Make a list. Do you love art, music, politics, or sports? Do you love to travel? In cities or countrysides? Do you like working in teams, or on your own?
Think way back. What did you love to do as a child? As an example, consider the career path of Albert Einstein. As a child, Albert loved solving puzzles and playing with his father’s pocket compass. He was always curious why the needle pointed north. In university, Albert excelled in math and science, but did poorly in the Classics. In fact, his Greek grammar teacher famously told him, “Nothing will ever become of you.”
After graduating college in 1901, Albert failed to land a job in the field he loved: teaching. His father wrote, “My son Albert is 22 years old…. He feels profoundly unhappy with his present lack of position, and his idea that he has gone off the tracks with his career…. He is oppressed by the thought that he is a burden on us, people of modest means….” Albert took an uninspiring job as a junior patent clerk. But he never lost sight of his love of physics and math. He developed theories in his spare time, after work. Just four years later, in 1905, Einstein published a 30-page paper outlining early thoughts on his theory of relativity. The paper concluded with the world’s most famous equation: E=mc2. Well, the Swiss patent office lost the services of a clerk, but the world gained a new theory of the universe – and a gifted teacher. So, find your passions and stick with them, because the world stands to benefit from the expression of your individuality.
The second key is finding what you do well. I joked about my mother and father before. They had very different takes on life. My mother, a college teacher, always brought a glass is half full attitude. When I came home with a report card that had 3 A s and one C, she celebrated each A. She asked what I loved about each A class, the books I read, and what I learned from them. My father, a lawyer, only focused on that darn C. He would ask, “Why didn’t you work harder?” And admonished, “You need to spend more time on what you’re weakest at.”
Dad, I love you. But Mom was right in this. I will never excel in subjects like statistics and chemistry. But I will always do well in philosophy and politics.
That’s who I am. And, of equal importance, that’s who I am not. Let me emphasize: It’s important to separate yourself from what you are not. Separate
the weak stuff and cut it loose. Then, spend time on what you’re strongest at. I encourage you to play to your strengths. You can manage around the weaknesses, especially if you honestly recognize them. Look for the A s in your personal portfolio. The aspects of life where you truly stand out, seemingly without much effort. Find your natural sweet spot.
The third, and most stressful thing to find, is someone who will pay you for doing what you love. My generation had a dream to own homes of our own. Today, our new dream is to get our kids out of the homes we own. So, graduates, find someone who will pay you. Establish your own independent lifestyle.
Seriously, I know the current job market is tough. And the transition from school to productive careers is one of life’s most unpredictable adventures. While it’s hard to plot the course, you can use your passions and strengths – what you love and do well – as guideposts to match your personal characteristics with market opportunities.
When I was in college and law school, I loved research and writing. I never thought of a career as Chief of Administration at a big financial services firm like Fidelity Investments. Instead, I aspired to become a partner in a law firm, like my father. But, early in my legal career, I learned more about myself. I discovered my keen interests in business, management, and politics. In doing deals and driving for results. Nine years into my legal career, I was ready to make a change.
I was lucky to find a company with a culture that played to my strengths. Fidelity was a leader in the rapidly growing mutual fund business when I joined in the early 1980s. I interviewed over three months for the job. The process seemed interminable; so many people to meet and try to fit in with. Over the months, I also tried to understand what the job would entail. You see, there was no detailed job description. Finally, I met the company’s CEO, Ned Johnson, and asked him, “What do you want me to do?” He simply said, “Get to know the company and the industry. Then, go figure out what needs to be done – and just do it!” That freedom clicked. I knew I found the right place. And, to make the equation work, Ned was even willing to pay me.
So, my closing advice is to “confront” the workplace – don’t merely “enter” it. Don’t accept a boss’ narrowly defined role for you. Don’t assume that bosses know exactly what work needs to get done – or who is best to do it. Look for a culture that values timeless personal qualities such as: dependability, curiosity, intelligence, collegiality, the ability to take risks and learn from mistakes, and the important ethical values of honesty and integrity.
This year, over 1.7 million students will graduate from American colleges with Bachelor’s degrees. Many will compromise their passions and skills and work to carry out someone else’s job description. Precious few will have the courage to truly align their passions and skills through their work.
I encourage you: Solve your personal simultaneous equation.
Find what you love, what you do well, and find someone to pay you for doing it. The world is waiting for your contributions. And today, each one of
you is well provisioned for success. Good luck!”