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Six Skills Students Should Master Before Graduation (Part 1)

I spoke to a faculty member recently about last year’s graduating class. We focused on two students in particular because they represented such a contrast. While both graduated with honors, only one was ready for the career that awaited her. The other…not so much. Although he carried a 3.7 GPA, he was ill-prepared for life after school. In fact, he is living at home, still looking for work.


When kids learn to play basketball, their coach always tells them to learn the fundamentals first: pass, dribble and shoot. Students need someone to help them in the same way, as they play the game of life. What are the fundamental skills we should master to be effective? I began asking myself this question years ago as I raised my own children. Over time, I began to focus on six.

1. Know Yourself.

Identity is a fluid issue, but I believe students can and should have a strong sense of who they are by the time they graduate. In contrast, there is nothing more pitiful than a sixty-year old man or woman still trying to figure out who they are. Do I wear pucca shells around my neck?  Do I dress cool?  What should I do with my career? Where are my strengths?  What are my weaknesses?  Where do I make the greatest contribution? When we are still fuzzy on this issue, we can slip into survival mode, rather than live on mission. Dr. Joyce Someone once said,You cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” In fact, I believe the phrase, “Our worst sins arise out of our innate fear that we are nobody” is more accurate than we may realize.

Ingredients in Discovering Who You Are…

What are your major life themes?

1. Burdens
What are you compelled to do?
6. Weaknesses
What should you avoid?
2. Strengths
What are your primary abilities?
7. Results
What are your most fruitful tasks?
3. Personality
What is your temperament?
8. Fulfillment
What is most satisfying to you?
4. Hallmarks
What are your past milestones?
9. Themes
What are your major life themes?
5. Affirmation
What do others affirm in you?
10. Dreams
What’s your vision for the future?

2. Develop Your Gift

Each of us has a primary “motivational gift.” It is the “hub” gift around which all of our other gifts revolve. It is the ability that we do better than most people. If we get to use it on a given day, it often wakes us up in the morning. Do you know yours?

Most people spend the majority of their time working on their weaknesses and little time sharpening their strengths. Inherently, it seems logical, but the problem is that you’ll never get a weakness beyond average. And people don’t pay for “average.” Marcus Buckingham defines a “strength” as consistent, near-perfect performance in an activity. So, here’s my question: What are your strengths, motivational gifts, natural talents, and acquired skills? If you are someone who is still looking to define these things, it’s good to know that in your gift area, you are usually at your most:

  • Intuitive
  • Productive
  • Comfortable
  • Satisfied
  • Influential

3. Find Your Passion

By this, I mean we must identify the issue that fires us up on the inside, the one that motivates us more than anything else. I believe everyone is hard-wired with at least one passion; some have more than one. Most develop and change over time. Sadly, many people never discover any passions. Their life proceeds without zest or zeal, and they live a life of maintenance rather than adventure. I have found:

  • Passion is that little extra that divides ordinary people from extraordinary ones.
  • Passion becomes a motivator and accountability partner for your highest goals.
  • Passion prevents you from getting comfortable and settling for average results.
  • Passion will make up for what you lack in resources.
  • Passion Often Emerges in this sequence of steps…
    • An interest in your life as a hobby
    • A major theme in your conversations
    • A preoccupation in your thoughts and plans
    • A major consumer of your time, talent and money
    • An issue for which you become known and  make sacrifices for

“If you don’t get what you want in life, it is either a sign you didn’t want it bad enough, or that you tried to bargain over a price.”  (Rudyard Kipling)

Tomorrow, I will share the other three skills I believe students should master before they graduate. Talk to you then.

Join the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes!



  1. Niki on January 15, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Dr Joyce?
    I do love the article…just makes me sad that even at age 50, and a successful career, but not a passion; I can’t answer most if these questions.

    • Tim Elmore on January 15, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Thank you for commenting, Niki. I hope you aren’t discouraged. There is always opportunity to grow :).

      I believe anyone can start their leadership journey at any point in their life. Maybe this year you start searching for all the answers to these questions and find a passion you can start pursuing.
      This year could be a year of adventure for you.

      • Deepa on January 20, 2014 at 12:08 am

        Same here Niki.
        I had this clarity may be at 22, but then life took its own turns and now at 40 I am at point where I have to restart my leadership journey. And between family and career, one of them gets ignored, voluntarily or not.
        Thanks for the Article Tim. Love reading them

  2. Ken on January 15, 2014 at 12:32 pm

    I talk to and help mentor the young people that work for me, and what I marvel at the most is that most of them have decided on a career and have NEVER talked to anyone in that field. This includes young people that are already half way or more through college!! Tim, you are right on point, my wife and I always tell them that they need to find their passion, gift, and strengths. Keep up the great work, our favorite gift giving item is Artificial Maturity.

    • Tim Elmore on January 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks Ken! I see that often as well. On the flip side I see a need for mentors that will communicate to young people that they are available and willing to talk with students about careers.

  3. tom on January 16, 2014 at 5:33 am
    • Tim Elmore on January 17, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks Tom! Unfortunately, I don’t have a subscription to the online WSJ. It looks like an interesting article.

  4. Rick on January 19, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    It is amazing how many talented students aren’t able to articulate who they are. It’s more important now than ever to be able to answer the questions in the chart before you leave school. In doing so, you will know yourself better and have more confidence in life.

    • Tim Elmore on January 22, 2014 at 3:19 pm

      I completely agree. Thank you for commenting, Rick!

    • Liudmyla Kolesnyk on December 7, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      I agree with you on behalf of the “answer the questions before you leave school”. Unfortunately, in the country I was born, Ukraine, schools don’t have programs, helping young people to find life direction. Our schools are more about points-getting and grades-earning. My family wasn’t an environment, where I could here about passion and start analyze myself. Though, really great impact on my life had my church pastor, leadership and ministry. Church was the first institution giving me ability to try myself in various fields, learn to be responsible, here praise and be pushed by good young people’s example.
      So, I mean, sometimes family and school are not still the places pushing us torward purpose-driven life. Mentors are really in need

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Six Skills Students Should Master Before Graduation (Part 1)