Core Themes

Emily’s Graduation

This is an article directed at those young, bright, well-educated, cultured, idealistic students soon-to-be-launched into the real world. Who are these impressive people? They are the sons and daughters of happy and proud parents who chose to continue their education and are now dreaming (and fretting) about what comes next. They are America’s future and will shape our world in the years ahead.

As these talented and idea-minded students enter their junior or senior year the realization that they have to begin thinking about what they are going to do with their newfound academic knowledge looms like a large neon sign on Broadway. For many of these young adults, the thought of leaving Academia is daunting to say the least. For the majority, this is all they have known, with the exception of summer jobs or travel. What they know best is being a student. This is and has been their primary “job” since pre-school.

Now, they are facing a very different set of challenges that cannot be totally realized by virtue of their education alone. 

As I write this I am reminded of my daughter’s graduation day in 1995 from Mt. Holyoke College. The keynote address was given by the late Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, a proud Democrat and outspoken woman of her time.

Governor Richards was a powerful and articulate speaker and in front of 500 young women graduates and their families, she delivered one of the most emotionally moving oratories I have heard from any politician. 

On this day, she was speaking from the heart to a group of young women who spent the last four years in a culture of ideas, thoughtful discourse and academic rigor.  As I listened to Ms. Richards and observed the expressions and reactions of the graduates, they seemed full of wonder and excited anticipation about the next chapter in their life. 

Ms. Richards had clearly captured their undivided attention as she spoke about the exciting possibilities open to them. She noted that some would go out in the world to be great teachers of children, others would go on to be doctors, lawyers, businesswomen and leaders in their chosen profession. And some would choose to go on to graduate school or become mothers devoting their talents to raising their children.

But as she spoke, Ms. Richards with deep emotion and sincerity told her own story of having spent the better part of her life chasing the American Dream-success, fortune and recognition. Only to discover in her later years that all of her success and material possessions were unimportant if you didn’t have a life of meaning and surrounded by people you loved and who loved you.

Her message was a powerful one and she delivered it beautifully. You could hear a pin drop as the audience was totally absorbed in her words and the wisdom of what she was passing on to these eager and impressionable women.

Now, back to the subject at hand-the challenges facing juniors and seniors in college as they consider their future. I believe one of the most important questions these men and women have to address is “how are they going to shape their life and career after they leave the hallowed halls of academia?”

Success & Happiness in Life and Career

It has been my experience these past 25 years as a consultant to business and having counseled thousands of professionals from every walk of life that each of us wants to achieve success and happiness in our life and career. I believe that the young men and women in our colleges and universities want the very same things.

I might add that each person’s definition of success and happiness is unique to them. For some, being the best 3rd-grade teacher is a measure of success and happiness. Seeing the struggling child in September blossom and grow in learning by June.

Another person’s idea of success and happiness is going to Wall Street and seeking financial fortune.

And yet another’s notion of success and happiness is spending two years in the Peace Corps or doing missionary work for their church.

In every case, success and happiness is achieved when one is doing what one loves and discovering one’s true purpose and meaning in one’s life and work.

If one is to discover and live a life of purpose and meaning, it is imperative that we are guided by a set of Core Themes – those essential values, needs and interests that define our life and work.

And one must be guided by these three principles:

  • Love what you do or at the very least like the things you do every day.
  • Respect and get along with your co-workers.
  • Have a healthy respect for the company you work for, its mission, values and the products and services it produces.

If any one of these principles is out of sync with your Core Themes you will not achieve true success and happiness.

Core Themes are unique to each individual, as are success and happiness. As an example, let’s say that one of your Core Themes is defined as having a desire to be intellectually stimulated at a high level and that there is objective evidence from testing and past experience that supports this Core Theme. Knowing this about yourself it is essential that you deliberately seek out work activities that draw upon your strong intellectual properties. If this Core Theme isn’t substantially satisfied on a daily basis, the consequence you face is boredom. 

Think about your early years in school and the times when you quickly grasped the subject matter. And you had to wait for the other students to “catch up”. And what did you do with your time—daydream, think about after school activities, etc.?

In your career, the same problems can manifest themselves. And the consequences may be more serious than just being bored. Your productivity may suffer or you may make costly mistakes or you may come across to others as condescending- and the list goes on.

Now, just to clarify this a bit for those of us who may not consider ourselves highly intellectual. Each of us falls somewhere on the “bell shaped curve”. So, my need for intellectual stimulation may not meet the criteria to be considered a Core Theme. That doesn’t mean that I don’t require intellectual stimulation, it just means that it is not an essential factor for me to be happy and successful. Perhaps for me, my Core Theme is more about helping people in an intimate and personal way. Of course, one can have both of these Core Themes.

Generally, each of us has from 5-8 Core Themes that guide our decisions in our life and work.

Identify Your Core Themes

As a student who will be entering the workforce in the next few years, it is to your advantage to identify your unique Core Themes and let your Core Themes guide your every life and career decision. In doing so, you will consistently find purpose and meaning in your life and work even as your career changes over time.

Core Themes are for life. They don’t generally change. What changes is the manifestation of your Core Themes. In other words, how you live them.

Think about your best friends, people you’ve known since childhood or the best friend you made when you entered as a freshman. Short of a traumatic experience, my bet is that these friends haven’t changed substantially over time. Of course, they have changed in the sense that they are better educated, cultured, have more knowledge about certain topics, or dress better or differently. 

But research and my own clinical experience suggest that our basic personality structure remains the same throughout our life. Once you have identified and come to understand your Core Themes, you will now possess the foundation for making all of your life and career decisions. Need help identifying your Core Themes? Contact us today!