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College & Real World Knowledge

College is a great time to learn, but it’s not the only time to learn in your life. You only stop learning when you’re dead.

What I learned in college and how it’s enriched me in my professional experience

While I learned the basics of education in high school — some science, some writing, some speaking, some computer skills, etc. — where I really took off was in college. Particularly with regard to writing, speaking and history, those oft, and oft-neglected liberals arts areas that are so vital to success in today’s world. I thought I knew it all coming out of college. I was so wrong. I thought that all writing had to follow Strunk’s The Elements of Style. I thought speaking always would be done from a podium using mostly prepared note cards and prepared manuscripts. I thought history was something you learned mostly from a text book and professor.

What I learned in college versus what I learned in my professional experience

In spite of all I learned in college, things are different in the worker-bee trenches of government.

Writing rarely follows The Elements of Style. In stead, it follows your supervisor’s style and your own style. Speaking is usually not performed from a podium using note cards or a prepared manuscript, but from a conference table or on a phone using an impromptu style where you rely on knowledge you already know and quick analysis. (Of course, more formal events like negotiations require more thorough analysis and preparation, but these events don’t happen as much.) Most history in an organization isn’t something you learn from a text book and professor, but from word-of-mouth, gossip, and your supervisor and coworkers’ opinions. If you’re lucky, there is an informal history recorded in a Word or PDF document. In some cases where culture is being built or rebuilt, history will be taught in a formal classroom, sometimes by old employees of the organization.

How what you learn in college differs from what you learn in your professional experience and how the combination of the two develops your intellect as a professional

Certainly there are differences, but the approaches have actually combined and made me a better professional. One approach just wouldn’t cut it, but are necessary. Writing for a supervisor while also understanding formal writing improved my writing style by exposing me to different situations and audiences. You also can’t become a world-class public speaker (which I’m always striving to be) by only practicing in the classroom. Real-world exposure gets you in front of different opinions and forces you to defend and attack different positions. However, without college, I wouldn’t have discovered how much I enjoy speaking. Without real-world experience, I wouldn’t have improved as fast as I have. Because I had both experiences, I now know I enjoy public speaking and I do it as much as I can. An old professor told me, “If you don’t know where you were, you don’t know where you’re going.” I have trouble disagreeing with him. Without that tidbit, it’d be easier for me to get lost in the details of everyday life as you attempt to progress. Appreciation for history and trying to make your own history can let you see the big picture when you otherwise wouldn’t.

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