A Lesson for Graduates: Great Beginnings Can Come From Disruption

Listen up, Class of 2016! This old guy is about to drop some knowledge.

I remember the feeling – sad to leave the college years behind, but excited to make some money. My first real job was with Arthur Andersen. You may be saying, Arthur who? At the time, Arthur Andersen was one of “The Big 5” public accounting firms, along with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG, which provided auditing, tax, and consulting services to large corporations.Banks-Blog-Quote_04_18_16

In its day, Arthur Andersen was an elite place to work and I learned a lot during my time there. Given the “up or out” mentality of the organization, it also got me focused on my career. Early on, I thought I wanted to be a partner, which is typically the end goal of the journey taken by those who choose to stay and grow their careers in a consulting organization. As it turns out, I would not get an opportunity to be a partner at Arthur Andersen. The firm suffered irrevocable damage, due to a widely publicized accounting fraud scandal, the result of which displaced 80,000 professionals from their careers and relegated the accounting giant to little more than a Wiki search.

So my journey changed – and since then, my career has taken many different paths. I have learned a lot about myself and the world around me along the way. Regardless of what happened to Andersen in the end, nothing can take away from the pride I still feel having had the opportunity to begin my career there. The experiences I gained and the wonderful professionals I encountered continue to positively impact me personally and professionally today. I will always be grateful that Arthur Andersen is where my journey began.  And I should note: Professional service organizations do a fantastic job building a strong commitment to personal excellence, a strong foundation of business acumen and great executive presence.

Starting out strong

With graduation upon so many, I can’t help but do some reflecting of my own this time of year. The expression “hindsight is 20/20” is more true than you realize. Therefore, my graduation gift to the Class of 2016 is some unsolicited advice and a little food for thought as you grads begin your career, or as I like to call it, your “journey of professional experiences.”

There are 8 areas of focus to positively kick start your professional experiences journey:

  1. Attitude: In the beginning, it is more attitude than aptitude – have a great attitude, it will carry you far
  2. Pride: Take pride in your work, no matter how small the task
  3. Listening: Keep your ears open always and you will learn something every day
  4. Curiosity: Be curious, look at what others in the organization do, not just what you do
  5. Balance: Be balanced – keep your interests outside of work; they are just as important as your professional experiences
  6. Mentoring: Stay involved with your university. Go back to meet and mentor others. Not only will you pay it forward to someone who has yet to start his/her journey, but you will increase your own personal relevance
  7. Global travel: Visit other countries, at least for vacation, but hopefully for work
  8. Disruption: Be willing to “disrupt yourself,” early and often

Have the courage to embrace change in your career. Nothing stays the same forever – I learned that in my first job. No one could have ever predicted what would happen at Arthur Andersen. No matter who you fault in that situation, it is hard to believe it was powerful enough to remove Arthur Andersen from the world of employment. Watching that unfold made me realize that nothing is permanent. You have to stay relevant and you need to be willing to disrupt yourself.

Bookmark this Harvard Business Review article: Disrupt Yourself. It leverages the ideas that Clayton Christensen (the father of disruptive innovation) applied to business and industry and takes it to a personal level. I refer to it often and it still shapes how I approach my continuous journey of experiences today.

Be excited by change

Change is exciting. It makes me focus on staying relevant and investing in my most important career asset – me. I am not a career hopper. I never run away from things when I can I run toward them, but most importantly, I am not afraid to run – even if I might trip and fail. I am unwaveringly willing to try new things in my career, with a focus on chasing experiences that help me develop interesting areas that have future meaning.

Class of 2016, I leave you with this: You do not know what tomorrow will bring, but you need to be prepared for tomorrow before it arrives. The best way to do that at work is to focus on staying marketable. That happens when you do your current job very well, you build a good network and you are willing to change and grow. Be comfortable with disruption.

Let your professional experience journey begin!