In hindsight, I wished I had taken a psychology course in college. It wasn’t in my required course catalog so I never pursued it. From my experience, those who advise students about their course of study would be doing their students a favor by steering them to focus on the psychology of working with people. I have learned a lot of psychology by being on the job working and dealing with people, and also through my practice of martial arts and yoga. I’ll share more about the connection between psychology and practice in Part 2.
If I could offer a piece of advice to college students today preparing for the professional world, it would be to get a job in retail for at least a year. The employee/student learns about serving people, how people want to be treated and how they expect to be treated. It’s about learning how people act and react in all sorts of situations. Working in a service type of environment introduces one to dealing with confrontation and conflict management in usually a very public way, with people watching and judging the people in the situation. You learn a lot about yourself, and how you react under certain pressures. I worked at a retail clothing store while in school for the cash and discount on the clothes. I worked in the stockroom, which I enjoyed being left to do heavy lifting and organizing by myself or with another person. During holiday periods, it was all hands on deck and that meant being “public,” part of the team on the floor with customers. The experience was eye opening. People want your opinion about how something makes them look, how things fit, why the items are priced as they are, etc. There are honest and not-so-honest situations; some people tell you exactly how they feel and some like to hide things (such as literally hiding clothes without paying for them). It’s a test of one’s character in how he reacts, learns and alters his behavior when it happens again. Some people learn that they would rather go hide in a hole, and maybe working on the front line in serving customers is not the best fit for them. This is so important as it helps to define the type of career that is going to make the student most successful! The employee/student can learn some things about people that they may never have had to encounter before that can be transferred to other real-life experiences along his or her career path. And he learns how much he wants to be in a career working with people, in individual or team oriented environments.
I just returned from my largest professional event of the year. My career is in association (nonprofit) management, and I am responsible for helping my organization achieve its vision and mission by nurturing and maturing our brand through local chapters in nearly 80 countries, and serving 400,000 individual members. Members of the organization choose to volunteer in their “spare” time to lead the local chapters. People don’t have a lot of spare time these days. Time is a most precious commodity for many people, so if they are going to volunteer their spare time, they have to be passionate about what they are doing. A successful professional career is a balanced blend of talent, opportunity and passion. Whatever one commits himself to, those three ingredients will create a better chance of success, happiness and self-fulfillment. In this event I just attended, nearly 1000 professional volunteers passionate about their profession came together to better their communities and themselves as leaders. Our Chairman and CEO acknowledged their commitment and described it as “passion with a purpose.”
The phrase invoked a lot of positive and enthusiastic commentary in the Twitter-sphere, and it got me thinking about the connection between passion, purpose and people. If your passion has something to do with people, you need to know what makes people tick. You probably heard of the “golden rule”: treat others as you would like to be treated. However, a colleague of mine said this differently. She said, “Treat others as they would like to be treated.” Hmmm, how would you know how they want to be treated? You have to learn about them, what motivates them, what turns them inward, what shuts them down and what opens them up. Study their behavior: Psychology.
Hopefully we all have something positive to be passionate about, and when it comes with a purpose, it can be that more fulfilling. And it may not always have to do with people, but chances are, people just might benefit from it. Look at the musicians who perform to raise money for disaster relief. Their passion is making music and performing, and in a most recent example, they came together for the purpose of helping Hurricane Sandy victims.
P.S. I noticed that there is a movement this month around “30 days of thankfulness.” What a great idea to stop and reflect on what those things that make us grateful. I would go a step further and add “30 days of kindness.” What could you do – how could you use your passion – for others others who need your help to be grateful themselves?
“One of the deep secrets of life is all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.” – Lewis Carrol