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Higher education and our short term thinking

Updated on May 19, 2016

Higher Education

The next generation (gen z?) is graduating from high school (12th grade) this time of the year and getting ready to embark on a journey of higher education. This is my attempt to help them make a wise choice per what I experienced in life so far.

I noticed that when it comes to education, two things are important :
1. You should find out your strengths and likings and then choose the field of study vs. What “others” think you should do per the “current tides”. Remember that these tides change with the wind. Plus, you have much better chance of succeeding in your career if you capitalize on your strengths and enjoy your work along the way.
2. One never stops learning as your acquired skills thru formal education will be obsolete tomorrow.

To elaborate, what makes you successful in your education or career is your talent. Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton authored a great book , ‘Now, discover your strengths’. I quote an excerpt out of Wikipedia about the book: “each adult individual possesses a certain number of fixed universal personal-character attributes, defined by the author as “talent themes,” which, together, result in an individual’s tendency to develop certain skills more easily and excel in certain fields in a sustainable way while failing or not being able to sustain success or high levels of effectiveness in other fields.” In simple words, you will enjoy being a doctor if your talent themes suggest so. Conversely, you could fail in real life being an engineer, for instance, if that’s not your core strength/talent/liking. By understanding your talent themes, you can identify what fields you should pursue and not just engineering or medicine because of peer pressure and society. I did engineering, because I did not know better at the time. I probably made a mistake, because I am in marketing now which is more in line with my likings. I could have identified this long before I spent thousands of dollars and hours of efforts to become a lousy engineer. My daughter is a chatter box and an extrovert. She wants to be a ‘live sports’ reporter. Hey, she can do mass communication that will promote her extrovert style and channel the energy in the right direction. Although, she is in first grade now, so it’s too early but I know that I am not going to force her to choose the path but will rather help her understand her strengths.

Now, regarding the second point, you never stop learning. The world is moving fast and growing fast. I used to have one hour of computer introduction class during my college days. Today, my 7 year old browses and navigates swiftly using touchscreens without any formal training. Everyday, there are new tools and practices coming forward to improve productivity. The old ‘DOS’ based system changing to ‘Cloud’ based system in business world. We saw office work moved from typewriter to tablet in the last 30 years. For your basic job security, you have to keep up with these new tools and practices by training i.e. acquiring new skills. And to stand out in the herd, you will have to master these, be the champion of those tools/practices. Your formal education and degree can only open the entry door in the corporate world. But throughout the career, you come a long ways away from that degree that you earned. No one will ask you your grades 10 years past your graduation. So take your time and create a strong base for yourself by getting the basics right so you are up for the challenge of ever changing business world. Don’t try to find the shortcuts. Don’t be shortsighted while choosing the right path.

Reminds me the dialogue from movie Lakshya, Indian Bollywood movie “Ghass kantnewala bano, magar accha ghass na kato, toh kya fayda.” (Be a lawn mower guy, but if you can not do it well then what’s the use?). Find out your liking and try to master it. Don’t get yourself carved out of the standard mould but create your own! Live life to its fullest !!

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