It is the month of graduations. Colleges, high schools and even kindergartens across the country are ceremoniously rewarding and recognizing these milestones. Merriam Webster defines graduate as “to pass from one stage of experience to another”. The Websters 1828, that you all know by now is my favorite, says “to improve” or “to advance”. Do we stop improving just because we aren’t earning degrees? Why is graduation so important and why do we celebrate it ceremoniously?
Graduation ceremonies date back to the first universities in Europe in the twelfth century. At that time Latin was the language of scholars. A universitas was a guild of masters and meant they were qualified to teach. "Degree" and "graduate" come from "gradus", meaning "step".
Traditionally graduations have changed over the past few hundred years. Some of the traditions remain or have been altered slightly. Originally the black robes were worn for warmth. Robes now are symbolic and carry the colors of the school or the type of degree earned. Throwing the cap didn’t start until the turn of the century when graduates of West Point started the tradition. Whatever the tradition’s history, the ceremony was meant to signify accomplishing a step in the journey of learning and life.
As professionals, we go to trainings, retreats and get certifications for our industry or specialization at times as our careers progress. They do not demand the same time, dedication or investment as an academic degree though, yet they still represent achievement. We receive promotions at work but rarely do we don robes and celebrate with ceremony. Does that make them feel less significant? Do we need to celebrate more of our “steps” or milestones?
How do you commemorate the significant “steps” of your professional and personal journey? I just recently attended a graduation ceremony and a retirement party. It seems as a culture, we celebrate in bookends. We honor births and gather to memorialize the passing of a loved one. But what about all the events in between? We bring to mind the big birthdays or anniversaries, turning 40, 50 and so on. How can we translate this decade celebration or milestone celebration to our professional journey?
It begins with visioning for your life. Creating an Aspiration, Ambition, Action (the triple A) chart for your life – that comes from Alan Mullally who turned the Ford Motor Company around. It’s a strategic life plan. Think vision board but broken down into three parts that become actionable. The Aspiration is your mantra, your life purpose. The ambitions are goals that can be 1 year, 3 year, 5 year or more that all drive toward that aspiration. The action steps are the boots on the ground things that build toward each ambition.
My suggestion is to celebrate ceremoniously the significant gains to your AAA. Each is a step in improving or growing or advancing your life toward your life purpose. How you celebrate is entirely up to you. Dinner with a friend, a party, a “me” day or a special purchase. Reward yourself. Mark it with ceremony. Our psyche needs to be rewarded and congratulated for the diligence, discipline and work it takes to keep moving and advancing. Sometimes we need the encouragement of others to “atta girl” but we can certainly do it ourselves when necessary.
Building and evaluating our AAA also challenges us to remain in motion. Building character, growing, moving and taking steps toward improvement. Maybe you have no need for ambitious career activity, then translate that ambition into your family, self improvement or health. The point is that without celebrating the steps in life’s journey, we can get demotivated for improvement or lose the discipline to adapt and change. Stagnation thrives when we are bored, rigid and unmoving. We lose the vibrancy for living when we are not pursuing challenge or passion. Celebrating our steps does not mean we stop. Observances like these should motivate us for the next step. Honoring the significant milestones fuels us
for the next part of the journey, toward the next goal. Celebrate and keep moving!!