Trust the Process – at School, Work and Life

May 21, 2019

Are we focused solely on results, or the process by which we get there?

If you’re from Philly, you hear “trust the process” and you think of our beloved Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers made “trust the process” a team mantra that permeated pop culture for years. And although it still stings a little to have succumbed to Toronto in the playoffs, this post is not about the Sixers. It’s about how trusting a process can be applied throughout your life and career – a disciplined methodology, the rewards along the way, and the courage to see something through to reach your goals.

We can learn a lot by examining a process. Today, I want to talk about the process of education.

Who remembers grades?

I have the good fortune to sit on several private school boards and I teach at Villanova. I am around schools and education all the time. Education has made a tremendous difference in my life and for that, I am forever grateful. As a result, I like to give back to the institutions that have given so much to me.

About a month ago, I was recognized by my undergraduate institution, Temple University, and awarded the Accounting Achievement Award in the “Corporate” category. Surrounded by family and friends, it was a wonderful event and a great evening that I will never forget. In preparing for the night, I had the opportunity to reflect on my own educational process.PB-US-Blog-Inline-Al-Chiaradonna-2019-Accounting-Award

Each award recipient gave a short speech about their own personal journey. We recognized the university for providing a quality education. We spoke about mentor relationships, both in and out of school, who helped us throughout the educational process. We focused on inflection points and risk taking. And most importantly, we thanked our families and loved ones for supporting us every step of the way.

You know what no one talked about? Grades.

Crazy, right? When you think about what so many of us worry about with respect to our children’s education, it is grades. We tell young kids to get into good colleges, you need good grades. To get good jobs coming out of college, you need a strong GPA and you only get that by achieving good grades. We can’t deny there is an element of truth to that — the system of college admittance and workplace recruiting is focused on grades (or at least it’s a major gating factor). But when you sit back and reflect on the journey, as the award recipients did that evening, it was not the grade that enriched the experience. It was the process.

Out of the mouths of sophomores

I am trying to raise my kids to focus on the process now, rather than reflecting on it after it’s passed. Some days I think I’m talking to the wind more than them, but every now and then, a moment surprises you and you realize not everything you say goes in one ear and right out the other.

Last week, my son came home from college. He just completed his second year at Tufts University. We spent some time talking about school and what he learned. His viewpoint stopped me right in my tracks: “Dad, people have it all wrong. Education is about the process, not the result.” Let me paraphrase his observations about the educational process:

  • Challenge yourself and be ok with failure
  • Find your voice
  • Learn to see both sides of the argument, but do the work and find the evidence to debate your side
  • Understand that reading, discussing and doing is the best way to learn something deeply
  • Build relationships and learn how to manage their ups and downs
  • Find out what you like and don’t like
  • Realize you just don’t know who you are yet and what you want to be (and that’s ok)

I was proud of my kid in that moment. Now if I’m being honest, I can be obsessed with grades (I am still learning to live by what I say). My wife and I have worked hard to create an environment that encourages our kids to mind the process along their educational journey. Learning experiences are everywhere – if you are open to them.

A process of discovery

We say “fail fast” at work, but if you fail in an educational course, it plagues your GPA. It is ironic that a learning environment does not promote failure. As a student, that impacted the courses I took and what I studied.

My wife and I encourage our kids to explore courses to find something they like – don’t just do what you think you can master or will result in a good grade. To us, education is a process of discovery.

It’s no different in every other aspect of life. Consider work: As leaders, what type of environment are we setting up for our employees? Are we focused solely on results, or the process by which we get there? In the end, is growth just a by-product of something else? And if so, shouldn’t we be focused on that?

Don’t get me wrong, I still check in on the results at work (the grades, if you will). But I have a better understanding and appreciation that success is measured by much more than results and grades. And I have found that focusing on and trusting the process along the way is one of the best ways to motivate a group of dedicated, hard-working students and professionals.

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Al Chiaradonna