The week of November 16-21, we’re shipping Frank off to Penn State to spend time with students celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week. This global initiative was launched in 2008 and has since grown to 125 countries – with 24,008 partner organizations planning 33,846 activities that directly engage millions of participants every year.
Along with speaking at a number of classes, Frank will also be part of a ‘4 under 30’ Panel on Monday evening In preparation for Penn State’s festivities, he was asked to write a blog for students on a career as an entrepreneur.
Connecting the Dots
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – Steve Jobs
This single quote (along with the rest of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement speech) sums up the entrepreneurial experience. It’s not about the perfect plan. It’s not about the clearest vision. It’s about embracing your past experiences, intellectual curiosity and risk tolerance to move forward.
Even if I was qualified to share one (I’m not), there is no blue print to success. What I can do is share some of the dots that have connected to create my“entrepreneurial” path.
Here are my five favorite tidbits of advice when chatting with undergrads (especially Penn Staters), condensed from a lengthy list that I am vastly under-qualified to give. Hopefully they help you find your dots as you confidently move into the future:
1. The things you learn in class are important. Seriously.
True confession: I have no idea how to calculate a confidence interval, and I’m always looking up how to avoid a survey bias in market research.
I promise that you’ll forget 80% of the tactical skills you don’t use regularly; however, these skills provide a valuable foundation moving forward. For the 20% of the skills you will use in your day-to-day, you’ll have a head start. The rest? You’ll know their importance, how to strategically analyze them and intelligently talk to folks that specialize in these areas.
Just because you don’t see yourself as a high-powered investor, doesn’t mean Finance class isn’t worth your full attention.
2. Don’t undervalue extra-curriculars.
With that said, your activity outside of the classroom contributes a ton to your transferable (and marketable) skills. Group projects are designed to improve your ability to communicate, work in a team and delegate.
These are hard skills to develop once you leave Happy Valley. Use the experiences you have working in groups and clubs to develop these skills. Just because you’re doing something you love doesn’t mean you can’t use this time to your advantage.
3. Make stuff.
Knowing stuff is cool. Making stuff is cooler.
Build a website. Start a small business. Invent something.
Use your time in a low-risk environment to create and fail. These are the experiences that employers and business partners want to hear about. Plus, the lessons you learn through failure will help avoid bigger mistakes in the future.
Pick something you want to create, surround yourself with the smartest people you can, and get to work. If it sucks, laugh about it and grab a beer.
4. Take HIST 412: Intellectual History of the Middle Ages
Or any other class that is difficult and well beyond the scope of your professional goals. You walk (or Blue Loop) past world-class experts in literature, history, science, and art every day.
Bite the bullet and challenge yourself with something hard. History was my favorite – there is a lot to learn from our past – but find something you’re truly interested in and give it a shot.
Your GPA might take a hit, but you’ll come away with a fresh perspective and a new lens from which to view problems. At the most, you’ll discover a life long passion. At the very least, you’ll have some badass stories and facts for cocktail hour.
5. Be brave.
Your twenties are a war of attrition. Every spare emotional and intellectual moment will be spent dreaming and doubting: What if I don’t get this job/promotion? Is this city where I want to spend the rest of my life? Should I get a dog?
Most of all, you’ll be afraid to fail. Don’t be.
Contrary to what you believe today, you have time to correct a poor decision or two. Human history is filled with people that gave the fear of rejection and failure the one-finger salute and tried failed, tried, failed, tried, and succeeded (re: HIST 412).
Set out to tell your hypothetical grandkids cool stories and you’ll be okay.
6. Honorable Mention:
Start building your brand
Tailgate your heart out
Travel early and often
One word: Plastics
Penn State is one of the best places in the world to learn new skills, experience new things, and meet new people – make the most of it. I hope these are helpful and I can’t wait to meet some of you during Global Entrepreneurship Week in November.
In the meantime, Go State! Beat [The Terps, Hoosiers, and Owls]!
Blog post was originally published on the Penn State Global Entrepreneurship Week Website, 10/27/14