Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on May 23, 2017
As the former chairman of the board of Drexel University’s College of Medicine and as the current vice chairman of the board of Drexel, I have the honor each year of addressing the University’s College of Medicine graduates. I always try to share some advice that may help them navigate their careers.
At this year’s commencement, I shared the following message:
Graduates, you have just completed an enormous undertaking. As you seek solutions to work or life’s challenges, I urge you to remember what you learned here about the power of teamwork, and the importance of interpersonal skills in accomplishing your goals.
Many of you will dedicate your lives to the practice of medicine, healing the sick. Others will become researchers, or work in other areas of the health care profession. You will be making a difference in the lives of others, working towards the betterment of the human condition.
The best advice I can share with you as you pursue your careers is to be open to new opportunities that come your way and embrace change — the only constant in life. In addition to taking advantage of opportunities that come your way, I encourage you to be proactive and create your own opportunities. You never know where these might take you.
I am a chemical engineering graduate from your University, who just happens to be the vice chairman of its board. Now, how does that happen? How does an engineer become the vice chairman of the board of his alma mater?
Shortly after becoming CEO of my company, I was honored to be asked to join the Drexel board of trustees. The following year I was named chairman of the board’s finance committee. A number of years later I became chairman of Drexel’s College of Medicine, followed by being named vice chair of the University’s board of trustees.
I can look back to the first day after my commencement and recall the steps along my career pathway. I took advantage of opportunities and accepted assignments outside of my comfort zone to learn and broaden my knowledge and experience. I took risks. Sometimes I failed, but I never let that stop me from moving forward.
Tomorrow is the first day after your commencement. Take risks, and step out of your comfort zone. To quote Stephen S. Tang, President and CEO of the University City Science Center, “Failure is a valuable experience. It is a natural consequence of [taking] risks.”
Always take advantage of opportunities to do something new and different. And some day, you may have the honor of addressing graduates at their commencement ceremony, as I am doing today.
The story of Icarus, a character in Greek mythology, is a great metaphor for how one should manage their career. According to legend, Icarus flew too high, too close to the sun. The wax holding the wings to his back melted and he crashed into the sea.
Should Icarus have played it safe, and flown lower?
Seth Godin, the author of “The Icarus Deception,” writes, “It is far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, even though it might feel safer to fly low. You settle for low expectations and small dreams, and guarantee yourself less than what you are capable of. By flying too low, you also shortchange not only yourself, but also those who depend on you, or might benefit from your work.”
During your career, be sure you don’t fly too low. Take risks and fly high, and if you crash, you will pick yourself up and fly again.
The following achievements and personal attributes will help you advance in your career:
- your commitment to yourself and others to always strive for excellence
- how you differentiate yourself by doing new things, and proactively implement positive change in everything you do
- your interpersonal skills and how you lead others
- your good critical judgment and common sense
- your contacts and personal network, and
- your ethics, integrity and your professional and personal reputation among your colleagues, your patients and the public.
During your career, be sure to protect your integrity and reputation. Once damaged, you never earn them back.
There is a passage in the West Point Cadet Prayer that reads, “Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” Remember this, especially when you run into situations that require difficult ethical decisions.
Good luck, and may the wind always be at your back.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.