My Final Lecture: How To Thrive In Your Career

Annual lecture to students graduating from the School of Public Health,
University of Minnesota

Robert L. Veninga, Ph.D.

"We have had a lot of fun this semester and I hope you learned much. Now comes my last lecture and a little heartfelt advice. To be honest, it's pretty much the same lecture I have given every spring to students graduating from this wonderful University. I hope it is helpful. Oh yes: You don't have to take any notes! Just sit back, relax and let the words sink in.

The working population can be divided into three categories: 26% of workers are engaged in their work and are loyal and productive. 56% of workers are disengaged and are putting in their time to collect a paycheck. 19% are actively disengaged and are unhappy and spreading their discontent to other employees. Now the questions are these: What can you do to make certain that you are engaged? What can you do to ensure that every day of work is a source of joy and not discontent? And what can you do so that when you retire many years from now you can look back on your life and say: "That was a great run!"

First, establish your priorities. I know that sounds boring. But it is the key to staying intellectually alive in your work.

In a twenty year analysis of graduates of Yale University, researchers asked graduates whether they had committed themselves in writing to what they wanted to accomplish in life. Only 3% had taken the time to write down their goals. Twenty years later, the class was again surveyed. The 3% who had established their goals were more satisfied with their lives than those who had not - and 97% of the wealth of the class was in the hands of the same 3%.

To stay renewed in your job, establish your priorities and dream about your future. But mere dreaming is not enough as evidenced in a lighthearted story: Marvin was a dreamer and his favorite fantasy was to win the lottery. Every time there was a drawing, he would pray loud and long that he would win. One day, as Marvin was beseeching the Almighty, the clouds parted and a loud voice boomed forth: "Marvin, Marvin" said the Voice. "Is that you?" gasped Marvin. "It is I", intoned the Voice. "Are you answering my prayers? Will I win the lottery?" Replied the Voice: "You will. But you must meet me halfway. Marvin, please buy the ticket."

Buy the ticket. Set your goals. Write them down. And review them often.

Second, If you want to stay renewed in your career, strengthen your relationships with colleagues and friends. Paul Tournier, A Swiss psychiatrist, once noted that we spend years with people at work that we really do not know, whose private battles we never take the time to discover. Yet one of the most important benefits of work is the possibility of developing meaningful friendships at work.

How best to build those friendships? If you are asked to work on a team project, do it with enthusiasm. Why? Author Robert Weiss notes: "For most.the greatest thrill in work is to be part of a winning team, to knock yourself out for two or three weeks on a project, be successful, and look at each other and say: We did it.''

Third, if you want to stay renewed in your job, take pride in what you do. To put it another way: Treat every job as if it were the most important job in the world - because when you do, your life and career will be a success.

I remember a comment a Chief Operating Officer of a large Children's hospital told me when I asked her how she stays upbeat: "Every day I walk through the hospital and visit with patients and their families. Those conversations remind me of the importance of my work." Take pride in all that you do. Why? Your work matters. It matters to your customers and clients. It matters to your colleagues. And ultimately, it matters to you.

Now we come to a fourth suggestion: build leisure into your journey. Some of you have seen a sign in my office that reads: "When God created earth, He made it two-thirds water and only one-third land. It only seems natural that two-thirds of one's time be spent fishing." Whenever I see the sign it brings a smile to my face and helps me remember the importance of the simple pleasures in life. Listen to these words from writer Jean M. Bloomquist: "Build leisure into your journey. Carry plenty of water and drink when you don't think you are thirsty, because, if neglected, the springs of life within us can dry up without our even knowing it."

Don't let the springs of vitality in your life dry up. Keep focused on what you enjoy. Experience the joy of working in teams. Take pride in what you do. And build leisure into your journey. If you do these things, you will succeed mightily. Thank-you for a great semester of teaching and learning.

This essay may be reproduced without permission from the author. However as a courtesy kindly notify Dr. Veninga as to the group/organization which will be receiving it. You can reach him at Contact Dr Veninga

"Bob Veninga is a master at motivating individuals to top performance in complex organizations. His message is delivered with humor and thoughtfulness."

Richard Culbertson, Ph.D.
Health System Management
Tulane University

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