By Beth Williams, Executive Director for Human Resources, UMW
I have a quote on my phone’s lock screen that reads “Strive not to be a success but rather to be of value”, and it’s attributed to Albert Einstein. I’ve seen this quote before, but recently read it from the perspective of a mother who had been thinking about words of wisdom for her son as he graduated from high school. At that age and time of life, the future is wide open, which is so exciting, but the pressure to perform and achieve throughout high school is intense, and that pressure can create not only stress but a skewed perspective of what young people are expected to “do with their lives”. The pressure to get a job to earn a good living or get into a great college and plow head-first into a major that will yield a solid career; during this time it’s so important to help them take a step back and ask not only “What am I achieving?” but also “How am I contributing?”
An important element of contributing or being of value is engaging with life in ways that we enjoy and are fulfilling. My son has chosen to go to college and yes, I want him to achieve academically, but just as importantly, I want him to really learn, think critically and grow from the experience. Rather than just being focused on getting a good grade on the test or paper, he can be of value to his classes by engaging in discussion, collaborating with classmates or forming a study group. He can add value to the community by volunteering, joining a club or even playing an intramural sport. Engaging in these ways not only adds value but provides an enriching and memorable experience.
As I thought through all this I realized my zeal for my son to gain this perspective and take this concept to heart comes, in part, from my own experience of living it, occasionally losing sight of it, then having to remind myself of it again. Throughout our careers it can be easy for our view to become myopic and focused on finishing the deliverable, achieving the honor or getting the next promotion while losing sight of what really matters: the value we are bringing as we are doing these things – value to our jobs, our families, our communities, and yes, to ourselves. In my experience, when we are focused on being of value, the success will surely come, and it will feel a whole lot sweeter.