Last weekend, I had the pleasure, privilege, and honor of speaking to and into the lives of mostly 18-22 year olds from Penn State Western Region campuses. Most of whom were bright-eyed and genuinely excited to be at Penn State's Leader Launch. It was a long and intense three days for them. A fiery and inspirational keynote message from Morris Morrison. Followed by breakout sessions about Financial Literacy, Ethics in the Workplace, Pursuing Your Purpose, and more. These sessions were followed by even more events. Even an etiquette lunch. Long days. Long nights. And well worth it.
And as I was reflecting on my time there, I thought back to the dark ages (dot matrix printers, word processors, and typewriters) of my own undergraduate experience. I remembered my own excitement and a lil' bit of dread when it came time to participate in such events. It took me back. They took me back. I saw myself in their nervous smiles. I saw myself in their uneasy courageousness. I saw myself in their budding confidence. They took me back. And I liked it.
I loved being able to help them. Whether it was an encouraging talk or a shared experience. I loved talking with them. Most of all, I loved listening to them talk. So much promise and hope! So much energy and passion! They are ready to set the world on fire! And I'm going to let you in on a secret. They're gonna do it! They may not head into the world on the back of a mechanical lion, but we will hear them roar!
And we should. These young folk are engaging. Entertaining. Fun. Genuine. Kind and warm. They want what I wanted back in the dark ages of my time at THE Ohio State University: a lil' bit of help. A lil' bit of advice. Someone to listen to them. To guide them. They want wisdom. They want someone to take in interest in them and what they're doing. Genuine interest. Because they can smell a fraud a mile away. Think on it. Even if you were super confident when you attended similar events when you were in college, when you came face to face with potential employers and/or "real" adults, it could be a bit intimidating.
You remember trying to be perfect for those situations, don't you? You were wearing your best and maybe your only suit. You had your 1-minute me speech down pat. Fresh copies of your résumé. Ok, timeout. Let's go back a bit. If you happen to have a copy of your first résumé, I want you to go back and look at it. And I want you to be honest about it. Man, that thing was terrible! Looking at what we did to our resumes then and what they look like now, it's laughable. No? Not yours? Oh, that was just me? See. Now, didn't I just ask you to be honest? Ok, that's more like it. Now, back to the point.
Just like my young charges from Penn State Fayette, Penn State Beaver, Penn Shenango, Penn State New Kensington, Penn State Greater Allegheny, and Penn State Dubois, I put my best foot forward. So did you. And you needed all the guidance and direction that you didn't know you needed. And if we're keeping it real--and we are--you needed all of the guidance and direction that you didn't want. Aren't you glad you matured?
Now ask yourself. What if someone would have taken the time to speak life into your existence? What if they'd have taken the time to really listen to your heart? Would you still have been an English major or would you have been a Marketing major? Would you have taken more philosophy courses or more art courses? Make no mistake, this isn't just for those who attended college. I'm talking to any and everyone who had or wishes they had someone sowing and pouring into your life.
Maybe you were one of the fortunate ones. Maybe you were mature beyond your years. And maybe you had someone pouring into your life. If so, I hope you listened. I hope their words are still stamped on your heart to this day. In fact, when you're done reading this, I want you to go and call them. Don't text them. Don't email them. Call them. On the phone. Skype them. Get in a Google Hangouts session with them. And thank them. If they're no longer with us, take a minute and thank God for them. Remember them and honor their legacy by taking some time to invest in the lives of that younger version of you.
I saw the younger version of Eric J. Watts in my Penn Staters (Oh, how it pains me to say that!) this past weekend. I heard him too. During the Q&A portion of my session on negotiation. I heard him in the questions from young women and men. I saw him as they stood toe to toe with me and looked me in the eye as we shook hands. I saw him as they were thanking me for taking the time to invest in them. To offer them an encouraging word.
I saw him as they asked for tips and guidance on how to achieve their goals and dreams. I saw him as they intently listened to what I had to say to them. And as I am typing this, I see it in their follow up emails as the alerts are popping up on my screen. Matthew and Maura, thank you. I'll be responding to you soon. Courtney, Ibrahim, and Wati, I've got you covered too.
These young folk are getting more ready by the day. So, to all of them I say, keep getting ready. Continue to "get good." Continue to seek guidance, wisdom, and direction from those of us who went to college when there was no Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Continue to seek it from those of us who did not attend or finish college, because we've got something to offer you as well. Some of us are truly willing to help you. And if we can't, we may have the connections and contacts who can. To us dot matrix printer college goers and users from days gone by, I say one thing: Help. Them. Make that two things: Woe unto those of us who do not help them.
Penn Staters (Man, that still hurts!), I can only hope someone saw as much light in me back then as I do in you. Remember what we talked about:
- Just glance in the rear view mirror of your life
- Write out your goals and dreams and post them where you can see them and recite them daily
- Play to your strengths
- Get comfortable with you
In your hands, our future is secure. Thank you for your time and effort this weekend. Thank you for being you. Thank you for wanting to be a better leader. Thank you for leading from where you are right now.
You put me in a time warp this weekend and I loved it.