Your college education is worth much more than the math and English you learned. If you’re not taking advantage of (and giving back to) your alma mater, you’re missing out on some great opportunities.
My college experience was… well… less than fun. The United States Military Academy prides itself on giving you the most spartan of college experiences. We never cracked the top 500 of “Best Party Schools in America” while I was there. That said, the education I received there was stellar and set me up to be successful in almost any field I chose to enter.
Many of you have similar experiences. You went to a university or vocational school and learned a lot of things that can be applied to your chosen career. But classroom learning is only a small part of the gifts that were imparted to you. You learned how to socialize, live independently, manage your budget, deal with debt, prioritize, manage your time, and have a good time with great friends.
You also built a network of people who have shared experiences and beliefs. A group of people who are willing to help out just because you both have a class ring from the same school. These assets can do more to advance your career than any physics or philosophy class ever could. But that only happens if you nurture and use those assets judiciously.
Using Your Skills
Think back to all the non-classroom stuff you learned in school. Look at what you can apply to your current job. Are there skills you’re not taking advantage of? Are there things you did well back in your school days but you don’t focus on now? It could be things like scheduling and planning your week or making sure you find time to socialize so you stay in balance.
Spend some time cataloging the things you learned outside the classroom. They’re most likely soft skills although some will be more concrete like budgeting and scheduling. Once you have that list, ask yourself “which of these skills am I not using to my fullest abilities and how can I apply them to be happier and do better at work and in life?”
Pick a few areas where you can benefit from applying these skills and focus on applying them for a few weeks. You’ll find you slip into old (good) habits relatively easily. The application of these skills will hopefully make you more efficient, effective, and happier with your work.
Using Your Network
The biggest asset you built during your college days was your network. It’s amazing how willing folks are to help out a fellow alum of the same institution. I know for a fact I can call or write any West Point graduate and 99% of the time I’ll have a positive and immediate response to my request for assistance. The some holds true in reverse – I always answer requests from other grads and do my best to assist them. I’ve even been known to assist the occasional Naval Academy grad (shh! Don’t tell anyone!) because they’ve shared an experience similar to mine.
With tools like LinkedIn and great alumni websites, there’s no excuse to not stay in touch with your alumni network. There are also amazing alumni directors out there who are bright, helpful, and intelligent. The folks at the West Point Association of Graduates impress me every time I interact with them and ask for help on something. I’m betting other alumni directors are cut from the same cloth. They’re more than willing to field your requests to help you strengthen your network. Reach out to them. Let them know how they can be helpful. They’ll often blow you away with how well-connected and helpful they are.
Get connected to your alumni network on LinkedIn. Join the conversation. Sign up for alumni newsletters. You’ll be amazed at the business and career opportunities that pop up within your own network. These folks are “friendlies” who will take your call, help you make connections, and send business or candidates your way. Just remember it’s a two way street and you need to help other alums in a similar manner.
Your university, college, or trade school gave you a lot. Probably a lot more than you give it credit for. You benefit from the school’s reputation. I’m sure many of you proudly mention it in your bio and on your resume. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Don’t forget to pay some of those benefits back.
Many schools rely heavily on financial assistance from graduates. You don’t have to give at a level where they name stadiums or buildings after you in order to be helpful. Small donations mean just as much. When your school approaches you for money, rather than throwing the mailer away or deleting the email, pause for a moment and reflect upon how your alma mater has helped you in recent history. Ask what the value of that help was. Perhaps the name got you a job interview. Or it brought a client or candidate your way. Maybe it helped you land a book deal. Or you were able to apply skills you learned there to help you out of a jam today. Then ask what that assistance was worth. Pay the school back a small portion of it.
Personally I’ve been blessed many times over to be associated with West Point. This morning I had a chance to give back. At first I was going to contribute at a level that assuaged my guilt if I didn’t contribute. Then I reflected on how much of what I have is because of where I went. I opened the check book a lot wider upon that reflection. I encourage you to do the same.
And don’t just give back financially. Give back by helping those who follow in your footsteps. Remember – people look at your alma mater’s current reputation and transfer that reputation to you. If your school was awesome back in the day but it sucks now, people will think your education sucks. Conversely, if it was an okay school when you attended but it’s built a great reputation since then, you’re benefiting from the improvements the school has made. Help the students and recent graduates whenever you can. It’s good for everyone involved.
Bonus Idea: Look for New Connections
You can build new relationships every day by attending alumni events or attending new training programs where you get to meet new people who now have a shared experience with you. Build your network by attending these events then building and curating your network afterward. I humbly suggest making Executive Insight 16 one of those opportunities. We’re going to have some amazing attendees for you to meet and network with. We hope to count you among those great attendees.
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