The One Thing I Learned on the Last Day of Class
Today is the last day of regular classes for Penn State's Fall 2017 semester. It is quite an honor to spend 15 weeks with these great students. I always learn a lot from them and today was no exception.
In the courses I teach on Entrepreneurship, Sustainability Strategy and in my work with MBA students, I get to interact with an incredible group of individuals who want to make a difference not just a make a dollar. Over the course of a semester, I get to hear about their aspirations, fears, values, goals, strengths and weaknesses.
Penn State Paterno Libray Autumn is a photograph by Chris Opal
I remember one poignant moment this semester while grading student reflection papers for my Entrepreneurial Mindset class. I read this line: "I am really afraid of wasting my life." When I am grading papers, I am fighting two competing desires: to deeply drink in their writings and provide thoughtful feedback and analysis-and to FINISH GRADING. And when I read something so profoundly honest like "I am really afraid of wasting my life" I have to just stop. It's not about grading at that point. It's not about feedback or finishing a task. It is one of those great human moments like hearing a great piece of music, witnessing great art or seeing a supreme act of generosity or sacrifice. You just have to stop.
Aren't we all afraid of wasting our lives? It was so moving that this student had written this with such courageous abandon. It lent a timeless nature to the whole experience. What teacher and student throughout human history have not faced this question?
And ironically, we are equally afraid of realizing the highest potential of our lives. Students navigate between falling short and rising high, between insignificance and achievement. And so the great drama of life unfolds and we as faculty get to be a part of it for 15 weeks at a time. On one hand, the fear of regret, of wasting life. On the other hand, the fear of success, of failing one's way to success.
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.”
I hope in some small way I have provided an opportunity where they can pick up some skills, some tools, a few bits of knowledge and most of all an abiding belief in their worth, their abilities and their power to serve others and create something extraordinary out of this short, precious life.
If you fear wasting your life, that makes it much more likely that you won't.
Thank you to my excellent students of Fall 2017! As I said today, you have office hours for life. Don't be a stranger.