The #1 Lesson I Learned When Going Back to School

While many of you may know that I am currently a doctoral candidate in the Global Executive EdD program at the Rossier School of Education at USC, many of you may not know why I decided to go back to school. 

For years now I’ve been speaking from the lens of an educator about education reform and what we should be doing to help prepare students for a rapidly changing world. We often speak about the future of work as if it is something that is going to come, yet the reality is it is already here.I’m fascinated, yet increasingly scared by a quote from author William Gibbons:

“The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Over the years I’ve become increasingly curious about what it is like to be a student in today’s world and this curiosity was the driving force behind motivating me to take the leap and go back to school. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the past few years in working with schools and universities to redesign teaching and learning environments is that:

“cultures of innovation begin with a culture of empathy”

What are the needs of today’s learners? What do they have access to? What challenges are they facing? What opportunities lie ahead of them? What scares then? What excites them? The last time I was a student in a formal environment was 2006 when I was working on my Masters at UC Irvine. A lot has changed since then and one of my favorite graphics is this one below that highlights the technologies that did not exist ten years ago.

Technologies that did not exist.png

All of these emerging  technologies have created a landscape where I can learn anything, anytime, anywhere and with anyone. As someone who is incredibly active across multiple social media platforms, this has completely changed the dynamic of what I can do as a learner in a traditional learning environment.   

Last week marked the halfway point in my doctoral program (I know! I can hardly believe it, one year down, one more to go) and I thought I would do a one year reflection series, sharing the lessons I’ve learned being on the other side of the classroom, this time I’m sharing what I’ve learned from a student perspective. I’m a huge advocate of sharing your journey, the process and not just the end result and quite honestly I have not done the best job of sharing the incredible experience that I have had this past year at USC. I’ve learned so much, had an opportunity to take so many ideas and readings and connect the dots in a more meaningful way and above all I’ve had the opportunity to converse with an international cohort of students who have incredible stories that all highlight one core idea - around the world, from universities in Columbia to schools in Shanghai, everyone is trying to answer the same question, “how do we design experiences that prepare people for The Fourth Industrial Revolution?”

As society continues to debate this question, here is one lesson I’ve learned, perhaps the most significant lesson, that as a student you can start acting on now.

Lesson #1: Cultivate a Linchpin Mindset

For years I’ve talked about the impact reading “Linchpin,” by Seth Godin had on me as a professional who graduated during the recession. I talked about how I quickly learned that I had to find what qualities made me a linchpin, what value did I provide and what gaps did I see that could become opportunities for design. 

Seth Godin defines a linchpin as:

“somebody in an organization who is indispensable - who simply cannot be replaced because their role is just far too unique and valuable.”

Embracing a linchpin mentality forever changed the trajectory of my career and my ability to turn day to day work into masterpieces of art. It allowed me to go from daily searches to see what jobs were available online, to purposefully networking and working with people who shared the same values and mission I did.

However today as I get ready to defend my dissertation proposal, I’ve realized this work begins before we enter the world of work. Depending on how early you are in your academic journey you have anywhere from 12-16 years to reflect on what makes you unique, what value you bring and what you are excited to wake up every morning and do.  

Today’s social landscapes have created an opportunity to share work, ideas, opinions and connect with individuals across the world. No longer do you have to wait until a few weeks before graduation to begin applying to jobs on a job board. Rather you can begin with the end in mind.  Identify people and organizations or a pursuit of your own and work towards building the network, producing the content and sharing your story to help you get there. 

“The only way to get what you are worth is to stand out, to exert indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about.”

You don’t have to wait until you graduate to start this work. It starts now. 

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