Wrapping up, moving on

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising


Column by Robert Valentine, senior lecturer of advertising

There’s an old story about a young reporter who goes to visit a successful and famous banker. After a quick review of the highlights of an illustrious career, the young journalist gets down to the meat of the meeting, and asks, “How is it, sir, that you have been able to encounter so much success in your business dealings?”

The old man leans in and says, with a knowing smile, “Two words for you, young man: good decisions.”

The lad is hot on the trail of the secret to success! He follows up with another question, to wit: “Ah! Of course! And how is it, sir, that you have been able to make such good decisions?”

The old boy leans back in his chair and instantly produces the answer: “One word for you, my boy: experience!”

The reporter can sense a scoop and diligently follows up with: “And from whence did you acquire all this invaluable experience, sir?”

The ancient sage leans in and, in a conspiratorial whisper, confides: “Two words for you, m’lad: bad decisions.”

And so it is with us, is it not? Here we are at the end of another semester. For some of us, it was the first such term; for others it was eighth or ninth, and for still others who now stand on the other side of the lectern, it may be the 40th or even 80th.

Yet, for all us, the challenge is the same: make sense of what just happened since that August day when we all walked into the classroom with a clean slate, high hopes and the knowledge that Friday was only a few days away. Make sense of all that talking, reading, writing, testing — all of it.

Add into the mix making sense of all those pleasant evenings spent with friends, of new skills learned and new limitations encountered. Make sense of romantic breakups, unanticipated friendships, chilling realizations and presidential elections. Go ahead: make sense of it all.

Put it in a cardboard box and bind it up with a pink bow; write it in a journal and file it with your most treasured mementos. Figure out what will stay with you and what you have to leave behind. After all, you just spent a third of a year gathering data, experiencing life and going boldly where you never thought you might go. You don’t want to forget that experience.

And, for some of us, the experience we had was the result of a bad decision or two. Or three. It happens.

For some of us, the experience is something we would like to forget. Whether it was a science course, a broken heart or a lost championship on the field, we’d like to erase it from memory and expunge it from the record books. Burn the photos, shred the papers and make it as if it never was: an empty space in memory where once there was pain and failure.

Well, you can’t and you shouldn’t. Just as we take joy in new friendships and worthy achievements, so we must take heart from things that went awry. Just as we take confidence from success, we can take knowledge and self-awareness from loss and defeat. Don’t forget: remember.

Remember, analyze, decide and resolve. If failure in class came from too much time at play, realize and reform. If success and joy came from trying new things once feared, try some more. You are the proud possessor of some hard-won experience, no matter what kind of experience it is. It’s yours, now.

What can come of it beside remorse and regret?

Two words for you, my friend: good decisions.