Ah the familiar feeling of being a new grad. That extra spring in your steps. The feeling that you can conquer the world with your new found wisdom and tool chest. That the world will come knocking on your doors, begging you to lead them given that expensive piece of paper that you just acquired by toughing it out for two years. That smug smile you have on your face – partially hidden if you’re polite – when you hear some technical term that you learnt in class, though you probably don’t recall much about it any more. Those nuggets of “wisdom” you drop upon unsuspecting friends now that you have a freshly minted degree to back you up.
If I recall correctly from the last time around, the feeling lasts for a few months and gets lost when reality crushes it out of your system. The world does not change because you acquired a new piece of paper – unless it is green and has a lot of zeros next to it :). Which is where the distinction between acquiring knowledge and feeling empowered comes in. We assume that the moment of graduation is the moment of empowerment, that there is a clean transition into a new world where things are not the same anymore and where we should feel empowered to use the tools of the new trade that we just picked up. However, in reality, graduation only represents the opening of opportunities to the graduates. Opportunities that need to be sought, chosen and conquered. Empowerment lies in the ability to act upon the knowledge distilled from school and life, not in the mechanical act of acquisition of the tools themselves.
In that context, knowledge for knowledge’s sake without the ability to act upon it can be disempowering. The boredom of using older tools while newer ones rot in your toolkit can both serve as a disempowering dose of reality, as well as a sure shot way to gradually lose those new skills too. The medical world solves this by requiring that physicians get re-certified every few years, to ensure that they keep pace with the latest findings, un-learn dated materials and re-learn new ones, sharpening their tools for another epoch of usage. Sadly, this is not the case for most other professions such as engineers or MBAs.
At some level, knowledge also represents an elevation of the mind from precision to accuracy. Precision, in most aspects of life, has a banal finality to it. A “fundamentalist” view of things quoted to N decimal places, or to excruciating detail. Accuracy on the other hand attempts to get things directionally right, so that on average experiences align your views in the correct direction, so that you make the right choices for the most part. Yes the edges might be frayed, it may not be presented rosily, there might be dirt around it, but it reflects reality more closely. And being accurate requires a deeper command on subject matter than being precise. It requires that you be okay with being wrong, as long as the experience itself was empowering in that it provided you new information to stow away and act upon in future.
So as we contemplate how we will transform the world through our newly acquired degrees, setting our expectations straight will help us prepare for the long run. From those to whom much is given, much is expected. So set your bar high for what you expect out of yourself. Be less certain of what you think and more open to what you see that contradicts your beliefs. As Taleb talks about in his new book Antifragile, being robust to uncertainty is not sufficient. Being antifragile helps you grow stronger with uncertainty and build better, brighter careers and lives.