Friday, January 21, 2011

A Talk to Teenagers: Become What You Want To Be

As I've mentioned here before, in addition to being a Software Tester, I'm also a Scoutmaster, and by extension, I'm also a young men's advisor in my church. By virtue of this, I get to interact with a number of kids between the ages of 12-18 every week, and I've had the pleasure of interacting with them and watching them grow and become adults now for more than seventeen years. recently, as part of an activity, I was asked to give a talk to the youth about career development and education. I'm not entirely sure if this is the talk they wanted to hear, but it's what I delivered anyway. as I was going through some papers, I discovered this talk and decided that it may well inspire some testers out there, or anyone for that matter that is interesting in seeking a change or wants to find more joy in what they do. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it :).

A Talk to Teenagers: Become What You Want To Be
We live in an amazing world today, one in which we are looking at a “sea change” in the way that things work. For the bulk of history until very recently, the options to get an education were limited both in what could be obtained and where it could be obtained. Today, with the power of the Internet and the resources available on it, what was once known only to a few now has the potential to be known by everyone. However, just because it’s out there, it won’t do you any good unless you seek it out and learn from it.

We should be very familiar with the phrases “Seek, and ye shall find. Knock, and the door shall be opened”. When it comes to taking control of your personal education, those words are more appropriate today than ever before. The old “contract” that we have been used to as a society, the idea of “go to school, get a job, work for 40 years, and we will take care of you” is over, at least for most people. The new “contract” is that we have a very fluid world, where work and ideas and creativity are available in more places than we could ever imagine, and more people can be utilized in these ways than ever before. The ones who will do the best in this new environment are those that take advantage of the fact that you must always learn, always grow, always adapt and learn more.

Right now, you have both an obligation and an expectation to be in school and do well while you are there. However, do not think or set yourself up to think that doing well in school will guarantee that you will do well in life. To be blunt, doing well in school proves that you are good at school, and that is all that it proves. Many skills in life are learned in other places, such as sports, Scouts, community, church, and even on the playground. The world is your classroom, and many of the lessons that are going to be most important to you are not going to be learned in a classroom. Always be open to learning.

When you finish school, are you done? Absolutely not. While a well rounded, classical liberal education will give you many tools that will help you throughout your entire life, many people who go to school to learn about their career will find that the skills they learned in school are out of date in five years. If all you do is focus on what you learned in school, you will be left behind. Also, don’t be surprised if what you ultimately do does not have any bearing on what you went to school to learn.

When it comes to the work that you do, I like to ask one simple question… if you had $10 million dollars at your disposal, or to make things simple, if you never had to work a day in your life to live and be comfortable, what would you do with your time? This is after you have gone on whatever dream vacations you may have in mind. Visualizing this will give you a huge insight on what you may actually want to pursue. Will this work all of the time? Perhaps not. I’ll be the first to say that there are many things that I love to do and would be really happy to spend my time doing that would be a less than optimal way to make a living, or would require me to make too many other trade-offs in my life to do them. Still, I use this example for one reason… it helps us discover our passions, the things we would do with all our heart, and we’d do it for free. If you can find that, you have a huge step up on others who just decide to trade their time for money. If that’s not realistic, the next best thing is to find an area of work that you think you might enjoy or be interested in, and learn to develop a passion for it.

It’s called Work for a reason (to borrow a play on words from Larry Winget), and that’s because there will be times where it will be hard, tiring, frustrating, and otherwise not what you would call a fun experience. Still, I believe the way to make a work environment more fun is to throw yourself wholeheartedly into it. From my own life as a software tester, when I just “did my job”, I had the lowest level of focus and overall interest. Yeah, I was competent, but barely. When I found times that I was doing more, or giving my all, my experiences were more fun, more engaging, and much more memorable. I once set up a lab for engineers where for a week I practically lived at the campus and a couple of the nights actually slept under my desk… that was one of my fondest and most memorable times at that job. Not because the job itself was especially fun; it was a lot of hard work pulling cable, climbing through cable ladders, bolting racks together, loading them with often really heavy equipment, etc. What made it memorable and fun was that I gave it everything I had. You all may find that you will feel and do the same if you give it your all as well.

I firmly believe that the ones that ultimately succeed are the one that get past the “TGIF/OGIM”, live for the weekend lives. Since you are young and probably haven’t experienced this yet, let me counsel you now… don’t get into it. If you find that you are living your life for the weekend to get here, and your job is so onerous that you can’t stand it, you are better off quitting and finding something where you will not feel that way. When you are young enough to absorb such a change is the best time to do this. For many adults with families, house payments and other obligations, the options to just quit and find something more enjoyable may not be as realistic, or easy, but they’d also be well suggested to start the process; either learn to find ways to make your work life more enjoyable, or develop the skills to make a move. Ultimately, the world is yours, and the choices you make are likewise yours. Good or bad situations are often much of our own making.

We don’t always get to choose who we work with, but we always get to choose how we will interact with them. My recommendation is to do so with respect and understanding of the other people you are working with. Always be professional, and always be generous with your time and talent. Friendship at work is great but it is totally optional. You have really no control over who will be your pals at work, but you have control over how you respond to situations and attitudes. Respond well, and it’s likely your co-workers will do the same. If ever in doubt, though, to borrow (and paraphrase) from Steven R. Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People… “it is far better to be respected than to be liked”. Do not make decisions that compromise your integrity for a short term gain or to gain points with people you hope will be your friends. Stand by your principles and understand when a situation is about looking at something differently and compromising your honesty and integrity. Always be willing to do the former, never be willing to do the latter.

The world is a different place than it was ten years ago, and ten years from now, it will be different again. Be prepared to learn, grow and interact with everyone around you, and do so with passion and vigor. I’ll dare say that, if you do, nothing will keep you from succeeding in your goals. Setbacks, crisis and issues beyond your control may derail you, but your attitudes and desire to succeed will determine just how much effort will be needed to get back on track. The key is to get back on, and keep going, with purpose, determination, and yes, faith that you have a purpose to fulfill and that you can really do almost anything you set your mind to. I say almost because, right now, the odds of any of you flying under your own power are pretty slim, but then again, mechanical flight was once seen as an impossible dream, too. Who knows, maybe one of you will figure out how to do it :).

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