If you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard Graduation address, I strongly suggest you take the time to do so. Needless to say, I was very impressed. He spoke to something I have been speaking about here in this blog and something I focus on with my students – finding that sense of purpose in life.
What I found so heartening was the fact that Mr. Zuckerberg presented his views in a humble and offhanded way until he got to his main points. My hope is that those in the graduating class and those who viewed it online take his information to heart. Given that some of those listening are focused on being Masters of the Universe, winning their hands at the financial enterprises which have hired them. Others are already making changes, some of them pointed out by Mr. Zuckerberg during his speech.
Millennials- this generation, at least in the U.S., are the most entrepreneurial and giving in terms of time and money to charity. This, to me, is very heartening because no other generation has faced what this generation will in the future. From the effects of pollution, overpopulation, issues related to water, and civil and religious conflict, this coming generation must focus on issues. They cannot be all about the money. Nor can service just be about donating. Actions need to be taken to ensure future generations can live in harmony.
Finding purpose, the main topic, may seem simple or hard. Many students seem to have a very complete idea what they want to become and others, not a clue. In addition, with the complexity of the world teenagers are facing, it can be overwhelming. One point that Mr. Zuckerberg makes in his address is that one can start small. The sense of purpose does not need to be earth-shattering. It does not need to rock the world. Many ideas start small.
But what Mr. Zuckerberg says goes even further than just finding a sense of purpose for oneself, he says “I’m here to tell you finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose.” Now that is big, and he lays out a way that from an individual level one can find a sense of purpose which will provide avenues for many to get involved. He mentions the janitor at NASA who felt he was part of putting a man on the moon. He focuses on small tasks for bigger endeavors, like being a janitor. How was it that that janitor felt he was part of something much bigger than emptying the trash and washing the floors? Leadership and inspiration!
Leadership involves taking risks, modeling behavior, having a vision that is clearly espoused. It is getting everyone involved to see and understand what the vision is and that everyone involved has a purpose. It takes a leader to understand valuing each individual and the role they play. I remember my father once told me some of the most important people in an organization are the cleaning staff. “They know everything. But more importantly, they are the support of a larger enterprise.” Janitors keep the place clean and in order, they are responsible for how the organization looks and feels which inspires workers in a clean environment. But it takes leaders to understand the value from top to bottom and ensure that everyone feels responsible. It is also for leaders and everyone to create a sense of purpose for each individual.
Ideas start small and then grow. Human trafficking inspired one of my students last year to take some action. I may have mentioned this previously, but as a reminder, she initially felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of human trafficking of small children used in factories. Her initial focus was to change the world, but we ended up narrowing it down to a local project at school to raise money to buy necessary items the children need. After much work at her school, she will most likely continue this project at university. Who knows where it will go from there? I hope far and wide.
Start small. I think many of us feel inadequate to tackle something too big. Keep it simple, keep it focused, provide purpose and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Mistakes and failure are not something to be ashamed of, but rather inspiration to keep going, differently. Inspire, lead, grow, develop, create a sense of purpose and value. Don’t be afraid to fail.