Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on June 19, 2023.
Last week, I had the honor of addressing the graduates of Drexel University’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship. What does one say to graduates on their special day? I try to impart some wisdom that will help them be successful in their careers. This is what I said to the graduates of the Close School:
Graduates of the Class of 2023, you have just completed an enormous undertaking. Congratulations!!
Whether you become the founder of your own business, work for a startup, or work for an established company, what you have learned at the Close School will be invaluable in navigating your career.
You have “served in the trenches,” acquiring the skills of all successful businesspeople through real-time experiences that have monetary consequences—much different than only learning from case studies sitting in a classroom. Most undergraduates don’t have these experiences until they are well into their careers.
You have chosen partners and hired employees to help grow your entrepreneurial business. You have learned how to pitch your ideas to attract investment funds and manage a P&L statement.
You have learned to ask yourself the fundamental question, “Why would people want to buy my product or service?”
You learned to evaluate the market and competitors for your product, and to present your product’s benefits versus the alternatives. You also learned why it is critical that your product’s benefits must outweigh its cost, and that there are non-financial considerations in the purchasing decision made by a potential customer.
You have demonstrated perseverance and resilience and learned how to overcome obstacles on the journey to achieve success. You have learned how to sell to others, both verbally and through graphical presentation, something you will be doing your entire career.
You learned how to de-risk your decisions. You learned to pivot to a new approach after exhausting all possibilities. You learned how to handle inevitable failure, and how to recover and try again.
You’ve built relationships and developed networking skills due to the numerous interactions you have had with a variety of people. These skills are critical to career success. Future jobs are most likely to come from your network, and your ability to effectively expand that network will help you land your next position.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, tells of a time when as a high school student, he cold-called Bill Hewlett, co-founder of tech company Hewlett-Packard, to ask if he had any spare parts that he could give Jobs to build a frequency counter. Hewlett gave Jobs the parts.
Jobs wrote, “I’ve never found anyone who has said no or hung up the phone when I called. I just asked. Most people never pick up the phone and never ask. And that’s what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act. And you gotta be willing to fail.”
Jobs just described the mindset of entrepreneurs—your mindset. Jobs also taught a valuable lesson—you are also in the people business.
Your entrepreneurial skills, mindset and people skills will help differentiate you within your current company when going for a promotion, or when applying for your next job at a new company.
As you pursue your career, the best advice I can share with you is to step out of your comfort zone. Be open to new opportunities that come your way and create your own opportunities. You never know where these opportunities might take you. Embrace change, the only constant in life.
The story of Icarus, a character in Greek mythology, is a great metaphor for how one should pilot their career. According to legend, Icarus flew too high and too close to the sun. The wax holding the wings to his back melted and he crashed into the sea.
So, the question is, should Icarus have played it safe, and flown lower, avoiding the risk posed by the sun? During your career, should you play it safe, avoid getting out of your comfort zone, by flying too low?
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. By flying too low, you settle for low expectations and small dreams, and guarantee yourself less than what you are capable of achieving. 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. Get out of your comfort zone and fly high, and if you crash, you will pick yourself up and fly again.
A good friend, Robert A. McDonald, former United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs and former chairman and CEO of the Proctor and Gamble Company, once shared with me a passage from 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, and you definitely will run into these situations.
Your credibility, honesty, ethics and integrity determine your reputation, your most cherished personal and professional possession. Once you damage your reputation, it is very difficult to repair.
Congratulations graduates, and my very best wishes to you.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.