Before we go any further, I need you to know that I have a great respect for learning. However, that respect was built up over time. There were moments of doubt and countless hours spent flummoxed by some of the subjects that I was forced to endure in grade school and, especially, in college. All of my wonderings came down to one simple question: Why do I need to learn this?!
With many lessons in humility, balance and perspective to come, it was only through experience and maturity that I finally “got it.” The described happenings below led to my breakthrough moment. I finally appreciated why learning anything and everything at my disposal was essential to my personal and professional life. Enlightenment was mine!
I walked in to my first job interview fresh out of college ready to take on the world ... in shoes that I "borrowed" from my mom’s closet and a pantsuit with well-defined shoulder pads that even Hillary Clinton could have resisted. Obviously, I was awesome and everyone in the room would see it immediately.
I walked out of the interview feeling confident. I was sure I had the "right" answers to whatever they had asked me. I could now kick my feet up and congratulate myself on being Amy: High-Powered Career Woman, BA.
Two weeks later, I jumped with excitement as my specialized “Believe" ring tone by Cher (Like I said, I was awesome) flooded everyone’s airspace. This had to be about the job. But alas, no, it was just my mom asking me about missing shoes and shoulder pads or something. Didn't she know my new employer would be calling me any moment to say my pantsuits and I were needed at their organization immediately?!
That's not my name.
However, a month later I received an email – "Dear Candidate"… that wasn't even my name. The rest couldn't be promising. I had finally fallen back down to earth and right out of my mom’s size ten boats. What did I do wrong?
After several similar rejections over the years, I began to search for the lowest common denominator. I started asking the right questions. What are my strengths? How can I show potential employers that I am THE candidate?
I geared up for my next interview. I felt like I had the experience and qualifications, I had the degree and the ill-fitting pantsuits. What else could an employer want?
I sat at one end of the interview room nervously with three managers in front of me. As I looked around, I noticed several framed photographs. I knew who the master was behind the construction of those buildings. I cleared the cobwebs in my head and dug through memories of College Calculus and Jazz in American Society. Stored in the back of my brain were lectures from AR201 Modern Architecture from my freshman year. Sheepishly, I uttered, "Looks like we have some Frank Lloyd Wright fans in the house." Astoundingly the whole room came alive. I wasn't just interview number 97 of the week. I became a candidate of intrigue, depth and diversity. Suddenly, they wanted to know more about ME, not just "my strengths and weaknesses as an employee." I fed off of their energy and went out on a limb. I weaved in stories about my college athlete days, what I learned in my Cultural Anthropology class and how a Psychology course on imaginary friends changed my entire understanding of my childhood. (I had four. No, five. A huge sorry to Jojo the Giraffe!)
I had to show these people that I was more than their job description. I could be counted on to provide innovative, strong ideas. I could lead, or work as a team player. The diversity of my schooling and experiences gave me limitless potential to grow within their organization. I had a lot to offer. My depth and breadth of knowledge was unmatched. I finally knew how to leverage my assets. The collection of lectures and lessons that I had compiled was more valuable than I could have imagined. I wasn't simply showing them that I studied hard for this interview. I was proving that I studied hard and continued to learn over the course of my entire life.
Why do I need to learn this?
The truth is, you never know what piece of information or knowledge will be most valuable. We can create the most detailed and precise game plan to see it become irrelevant five minutes later. Diversifying the learning experience and classes that one takes only makes you more prepared for the unknown. And, let’s face it, there is more unknown than is decided in our lifetime.
The moral of the story is that all learning matters if you internalize it and make it part of your working knowledge base. Relating to a variety of different individuals requires you to be well versed in a number of different subjects. It just so happens that finding that common ground is the key that unlocks the door to life, both personally and professionally. Do not miss an opportunity to meaningfully connect with the people with whom you are familiar, and with those whom you have yet to meet.
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