As the former chairman of the board of Drexel University’s College of Medicine and as the vice chairman of the board of Drexel University, I have the honor each year of addressing the graduates of the Drexel College of Medicine. I always try to share some advice that may help the university’s graduates as they navigate their careers.
My message is similar each year and it continues to be meaningful to me, because I speak about the values that I hold dear. I always try to deliver a message that is short and to the point, in hopes it will resonate with the graduates.
At this year’s commencement of Drexel’s College of Medicine on May 20, I shared the following remarks:
Graduates, the best advice I can share with you as you pursue your careers as physicians, researchers or in other endeavors is to be open to new opportunities that come your way and embrace change. I encourage you to be proactive and create your own opportunities. You never know where these might take you.
I am a 1969 chemical engineering graduate from your University, who just happens to be the vice chairman of its board. Now, how does that happen? How does an engineer become the vice chairman of the board of his alma mater?
Shortly after becoming CEO of my company, I was honored to be asked to join the Drexel board. The following year I was named chairman of the board’s finance committee. A number of years later I became chairman of Drexel’s College of Medicine, followed by being named vice chair of the Drexel board.
I can look back to the first day after my commencement and recall steps along my career pathway. I took advantage of opportunities and accepted assignments outside of my comfort zone to learn and to broaden my knowledge and experience. I took risks. Sometimes I failed, but I never let that stop me from moving forward.
Tomorrow is the first day after your commencement. Take risks, and step out of your comfort zone. To quote Stephen S. Tang, President and CEO of the University City Science Center, “Failure is a valuable experience. It is a natural consequence of [taking] risks.”
Always take advantage of opportunities to do something new and different. And some day, you may have the honor of addressing graduates at their commencement ceremony, as I am doing today.
The story of Icarus, a character in Greek mythology, is a great metaphor for how one should manage their career. According to legend, Icarus flew too high, too close to the sun, his wings melted off and he crashed into the sea.
Should Icarus have played it safe, and flown lower?
Seth Godin, the author of “The Icarus Deception,” writes, “It is far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, even though it might feel safer to fly low. You settle for low expectations and small dreams, and guarantee yourself less than what you are capable of. By flying too low, you also shortchange not only yourself, but also those who depend on you, or might benefit from your work.”
During your career, be sure you don’t fly too low. Take risks and fly high, and if you crash, you will pick yourself up and fly again.
The following achievements and personal attributes will help you advance in your career:
- Your education, your experience and the expertise you develop in your chosen field.
- The track record of success and the results you achieve as you gain that experience.
- Your commitment to yourself and others to always strive for excellence.
- How you differentiate yourself by doing new things, and proactively implement positive change in everything you do.
- Your interpersonal skills and how you lead others.
- Your good critical judgment and common sense.
- Your contacts and personal network.
- Your integrity and your professional and personal reputation among your colleagues, your patients and the public.
During your career, be sure to protect your integrity and reputation. Once damaged, you never earn them back.
As I reflect on this message to the graduates of Drexel’s College of Medicine, I think this advice is universal. This is a message I encourage all to share, not just with new graduates, but with anyone navigating their career.
Stan Silverman is the founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a writer, speaker and advisor to C-suite executives on business issues and on cultivating a leadership culture within their organizations. Stan is Vice Chairman of the Board of Drexel University and a director of Friends Select School and Faith in the Future. He is the former President and CEO of PQ Corporation. Follow: @StanSilverman. Connect: [email protected]. Website: www.SilvermanLeadership.com
This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal.