Starting Over

This is graduation week at the University of Michigan and for many friends, students and colleagues, this is a new beginning. Graduations are wonderful. It feels like an award ceremony after a long race! The graduates are proud – they seem like they are about 2 inches taller. But, the best energy is coming from the families in the stands. Sometimes, they try to out-cheer each other to show support for Pat or Kelly, as they walk across the stage. Everybody knows that they achieved a very important critical milestone in their career!

And for all of them, this milestone is a new beginning. Pat may have a job in New York, Palo Alto or Ann Arbor. Kelly may launch into a PhD program. But, both are filled with pride, and a little bit of sadness and fear. Sadness comes from leaving friends and well-known places behind; fear comes from the uncertainty of
starting over. There is an entirely new career waiting, and we have no clue what it is going to bring.

This feeling of uncertainty and fear has been on the face of graduates for decades. But, there are two key differences for graduates today as compared to their graduating peers 30 years ago.

First, this piece of their career will last only 5-8 years, at which point another major career transition will occur, possibly into a different job, possibly into a different company, possibly a move abroad. Lifelong jobs are pretty much part of the past. But, this new career piece is a whole new education all over again, except that there is no diploma and graduation at the very end. The success of the next job transition will depend only on two aspects: the performance during these 5-8 years, and the ability to learn new things beyond the limits of the current job.

Second, the stage on which graduates work is much bigger and a lot shakier. It is extremely dangerous to assume that things will be ok and try to coast. Things are at a monumental and historic transition: major industries are failing; business sectors have to be re-defined and the entire concept of success is under debate. In no time since World War II is there a bigger need for leaders and change-agents. People who want to coast will fail – everybody wants leaders who want to go beyond the known and create new things. Everybody wants to hire entrepreneurs.

Pat may work on a new technology with the potential to revolutionize how cars are being built. He will work on the implementation of autonomy into vehicles to make car crashes history.  Or, he may work on the implementation of energy distribution and control systems into neighborhoods. He will do so in a massively changing environment, learning from people all around the globe. At the same time, Kelly will challenge herself to think about new ways to use genetic information for the detection and treatment of illnesses. Her career will be thrilling, but full of disappointments. Soon, she will learn that that’s just research – and, behind all these obstacles are the discoveries that make careers and that save lives!

But, both will get ready for another major transition in 5-8 years at which time cards will be dealt again: a new job, a promotion, a new challenge!

I want to congratulate all graduates of the University of Michigan. Many of you have become my friends, some of you my lifelong friends. I have admired who you have become and what a wonderful person you are. I have worried about you and I will not stop worrying, especially about how some of you still have a feeling of entitlement – they will have a tough next few years as they learn how wrong they are. But, I am confident that they will learn to recover from that blow and build confidence back based on what they achieve, not something that has little or no value.

I wish to all of you that you learned three things here at the University of Michigan:

1)    Learning has no end – keep at it!
2)    Friends are important – keep them!
3)    Yes you can – you can go out there and change the world! Why not?

And, yes, let us know about your victories and achievements! We are proud to forever have you be part of our University of Michigan community!

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