Be More Than Alphabet Soup


We were sitting around last night with dear friends talking about life, jobs and the future. It’s a frequent discussion these days, as it seems so many people we know are at a crossroads in their careers and the current job market makes “the hunt” particularly challenging for many.

The topic of degrees, business associations, volunteerism and professional affiliations came up. For many of us, our educational background, certifications and industry memberships are the foundational blocks and the stepping-stones to what we have become. College degrees and roles we’ve taken on – in our professional or personal lives – have enabled us to gain experience and hone critical skills that have opened the doors to opportunity. Alone, those degrees and affiliations are just alphabet soup; it is what we’ve done with them that matter.

There’s a young woman I know who is desperate to make her mark on the world. In her youth and exuberance, she wants to be the leader of everything and the boilerplate on her emails is her own mini-resume. A jumble of “look at me” degrees, affiliations and memberships, you can trip over her self-proclaimed importance. Yet in her efforts to lead and engage, she has yet to come close to her own billing. Sadly, her view of leading is to recruit people she believes she can control, quickly dismissing them when they disagree with her, and disappearing when the real work comes. I’m sorry, but there’s no meat in that alphabet soup.

Contrast that to the assistant on my team who received her Law Degree as a young student in Vietnam. Her parents immigrated to America when she was in her early twenties, bringing her and her siblings with them. Adrift at sea for weeks as boat people, she was the lone person in a boat of hundreds who could speak English. At the height of their horrible experience, she scaled a gas tanker in the middle of the ocean to tell their story and, eventually, helped bring the entire party to safety. A brilliant and detail-oriented woman, she has never been able to practice law in America. Despite her advanced degree, amazing story of survival, she is a quiet, humble and dedicated employee. She completes any task given to her, arriving early and working late to ensure everything is done with precision. She has the respect of all around her, both at home and at the office. Her soup, if you will, is chock full of letters; she does not ever feel the need to use them.

My goal in life is to be more than alphabet soup. Being a great doctor is more than a medical degree. Being an amazing teacher doesn’t require a Master’s or a Doctorate in Education. In fact, some of the finest teachers I know have not completed high school. Being great at what we do and the impact we make on others starts from within. It is in how we take the life lessons; the opportunities to teach, listen, learn, contribute and give back to society. It is in the selfless way in which we use the time and talents God has given us to impact the world around us.

Emerson said it best:

“To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

One thought on “Be More Than Alphabet Soup

  1. This quote by Emerson is one of my favourites and it speaks volumes. It doesn’t say anything about being successful by making money or having power. This is why many people don’t find success in life because they are chasing all the wrong things.

    The young woman you talk about probably hasn’t had enough tough life experiences to realize the importance of working with people and not trying to control every situation. Life still needs to teach her some valuable lessons. On the other hand, your assistant has experienced difficult situations that have given her a deeper insight into what life is all about it. In my circle of friends and acquaintances, I’ve found that the ones who have struggled more are the ones who are more understanding, more caring, more sensitive and have actually found success.

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