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  • Forbes Coaches Council

14 Lessons From Your School Days That Apply To Your Professional Life

Originally Published on Forbes

Written By: Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council

Many don’t realize how much they learned throughout their years of education. You retain more information than you might think from your high school and college years, and you often carry it well into your career. Valuable insight you’ve gained as a student can help propel your professional life forward in ways you never anticipated.

That’s why we asked a panel of Forbes Coaches Council members what lessons they learned throughout their years as students and how they’ve helped them become better professionals. Here’s what they had to say.

Forbes Coaches Council members share what they learned as students that helped mold them into the leaders of today.

1. Always Strive To Be A Life-Long Learner

College was a period of self-discovery and taught me both how to learn (study skills, critical thinking, competency-building, etc.) and the value of continual life-long learning. I also learned that whatever I think I know about something is vastly inadequate if I limit my perspective to my own experiences and understanding. Connections and networks matter! - Jonathan H. Westover, Ph.D, Utah Valley University & Human Capital Innovations, LLC

2. Think Outside The Box And Ask Questions

At university, we had a professor who'd begin discussions that were off subject and then get into debates, usually related to ethics. As a student, I remember being frustrated with this because I was worried we were straying and wouldn't complete the syllabus. Looking back, I realize these lessons were the most valuable and thought-provoking ones. I wish I'd appreciated them more at the time. - Daphna Horowitz, Daphna Horowitz Leadership

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3. We All Need Thoughtful Mentors

The guidance counselor and your teachers competed more with your parents as mentors in high school than in college. In college, I sought out and built relationships with fellow classmates from various backgrounds and cultures and learned how important it was, and is, to create mentors of people you respect along the way. I still value my new and old mentors as essential and critical now at any age. - John M. O'Connor, Career Pro Inc.

4. It's OK To Change Your Mind

College years are experimental years and can be a time of extraordinary growth. Sometimes that means we outgrow our beliefs and mindsets. It's critical to surround yourself with other worldviews and data sources. I admire people who can learn, grow, remain curious and change their minds when they explore diverse viewpoints. I look for, coach, hire and mentor people with these skill sets. - Wendy Fraser, Fraser Consulting, LLC

5. Teamwork And Hard Work Will Help You Learn And Grow

Completing my MBA stretched me like no other program I have done. I gained confidence that through working with a team (my study group) and through hard work I can learn things I am not naturally good at. And I learned accounting, finance and economics. All have been immensely helpful in running my own business and in working with senior clients who expect you to understand their businesses. - Sandra Oliver, Impact-Coaches Inc.

6. Use Your Available Resources

I attended a Big Ten university, with endless options for choosing majors, courses, extracurricular activities and friends. It was a vast environment with very little direction. Rather than get lost in the crowd, I learned to use available resources to achieve my aspirations and build a community of support. This has helped me navigate my life and career as an entrepreneur in a big city. - Christine Andrukonis, Notion Consulting 

7. Always Seek To Create More Opportunities

Many people pick high salary jobs or high profile jobs. Fame and money are fleeting. Stars fade and people find themselves not ready for their second or third act. Look for opportunities that make you sharper, drive learning and create more opportunities. Remember, most careers now last 50 years. Longevity and staying relevant will create income for you until you are ready to retire. - Brad Federman, PerformancePoint LLC

8. Stay Hungry

I learned to be hungry as a student—to take initiative and step outside my comfort zone, seize opportunities and avoid complacency. This has been key in career transitions that had me step into unknown territory where age, stage, experience and rank no longer mattered. Remaining hungry ensures that we remain open to creating and capitalizing opportunities, including being a life-long learner. - Palena Neale, Ph.D, unabridged

9. Balance Focus And Fun

In my freshman year, I was so excited to be in college and running my own schedule. I quickly learned the need to balance fun and focus. I learned to listen well regardless if I liked the teacher's style or not, take good notes, ask good questions and review the coursework again. This discipline of focus allowed me to excel academically while enjoying a good social life. - Bobbie Goheen, Synthesis Management Group

10. Accountability Matters

If there's one big lesson I gained as a student, it's accountability. As a student, you're accountable to show up, complete assignments and participate. In fact, if anyone applies themselves to school fully, you'll be better prepared for responsibilities in your career. Accountability builds trust, and trust is necessary in your career for success. - Dr. Teresa Ray, PCC, Dr. Teresa Ray

11. Mind Your Money

While my answer may not be as philosophical as others, it was a lesson I still carry with me. In college, I wasn't as astute with money as I should have been. As a result, I would frequently overspend and my bank account would dip into the red. The gut-wrenching embarrassment and insecurity I experienced has always made me avoid being in that position again. Now, secure finances mean peace of mind. - Karan Rhodes, Shockingly Different Leadership

12. Don't Let Your Ego Stand In The Way Of Success

After my first A in his class, a college professor once told me, "Everything below an A is not an injustice,"—referring to previous feedback that I had resisted and taken as a personal criticism. My ego had stood in the way of my success. The lesson of positively receiving feedback has been the greatest asset of my career. I now ask how I can improve and I apply the wisdom that was offered. - Ashley Good, Ashley Good Coaching & Consulting

13. Take Calculated Risks That Broaden Your Mind And Goals

I'll never regret switching majors—making a big leap from journalism to IT, which required immersion in a new world of business and technology. If you feel there's another path for you, pay attention to opportunity, even if it demands a shift in your thinking. Discuss your goals with others and continue to believe in yourself. This experience greatly helps me review career goals with my clients. - Laura Smith-Proulx, CCMC, CPRW, CIC, COPNS, CTTCC, An Expert Resume

14. Know Yourself

I learned the importance of knowing myself. Like life, college offers opportunities to move you in many directions, and it’s easy to get off track. Get clarity on who you are and what you want to achieve so that even if you take some adventurous detours along the way, you will always be able to find your center—or adjust it—and keep moving toward your goals. - Tonya Echols, Vigere

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