Every semester I hold a special class for my students. It’s special because it’s not about business, it’s about life. It’s about taking a moment to talk about something more important than management, accounting, marketing, logistics, and ethics, it’s a class about them. I teach in the college of business where I spend the majority of my classes teaching my kids the language of commerce and how to create a venture from nothing more than an idea. One day each semester I devote entirely to them. I metaphorically hold a mirror up to them and ask them to gaze into it deeply and study the person on the other side of the glass.
To make this work, I start out slowly by asking them some simple questions and having them write the answer down on a piece of paper that they know I will not collect. I remind them that in order for this activity to work, they need to be truthful in their answers and that the more honest they are in what they write, the more impactful the activity will be.
The first few questions are just icebreakers in order to get to them comfortable in sharing their responses. Simple questions like what is your favorite color, what kind of animal would you be, why did you come to this particular university…I answer each question personally and then open the floor to the students to share. When everyone has spoken, I move on to the next question.
It’s the last two questions that are the most impactful. I ask them to go back in time, back to their childhood, ages 6-9 and think about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Back before they understood the value of money, the concept of ego, or the need to be accepted by society. What was it that they truly wanted to be because it was fun, it was important to them, and it made them happy when they thought about it? Once they have completed that question, I ask them to think about where they are now in their lives, just 3 years until they graduate, and what is it that they want to be now. They write down their answers and then I tell them a story about my life.
I tell them how I was not a very good student and that my mantra was the relentless pursuit of mediocrity. I graduated and went to work for my dad because I felt it was my duty as the oldest of three boys and the job was there for me to fall in to. Over the course of 10 years I worked my way up from custodian to vice president and though I made a lot of money, I was never truly happy on this path I chose. I tell them how I struggled to reconcile the fact that I thought I needed to make my dad happy in taking over the business with my need to be what I wanted to be. In the end, the company closed down and I was set free to find my own path. I found my way to teaching, the last of three childhood dream careers that I could grab hold of, and though the financial benefits are not nearly the same, I finally feel that I am being true to myself. I then ask them what they wrote down and why they have changed paths. What drove them from the childhood excitement to pursue their dreams to a different path? I reinforce the lesson by reading them a poem by Dale Wimbrow, titled “The Guy in the Glass.” In the end, there are tears shed, minds changed, and new possibilities to pursue. If all goes well, I end up writing several letters of recommendations as students leave to pursue their dreams in new careers.
Life is short, don’t waste your life living someone else’s dream. Pursue with passion all that makes you complete. And as Dale wrote, “You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years and get pats on the back as you pass, but your final reward will be heartache and tears if you’ve cheated the guy in the glass.”
Adam Rubin is a lecturer at Bryant College. To learn more about how he approaches career paths or this personal class, contact him at email@example.com.