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Elizabeth Wilson

Master of Science, Supply Chain Management

I think we have had enough of textbook advice for a while, so I will do my best to impart some life advice instead:

One day, a teacher wrote on the board the following:

9x1=7
9x2=18
9x3=27
9x4=36

... and so on until 9x10, which equals 90. As you may have noticed, his first equation was wrong. So did those students, and they laughed at him. Then the teacher said the following:

“I wrote that first one wrong on purpose, because I wanted you to learn something important. This was for you to know how the world out there will treat you. You can see that I was right nine times, but none of you congratulated me for it. But you all laughed and criticized me because of one thing I did wrong. Traditionally, this story is followed by this lesson: You can do good and right a million times, but the world will never appreciate it. But do one thing wrong and it will be criticized.”

However, I do not agree that this is the actual message of the story. We have all been there, at a job, with a professor or on an internship where we have felt undervalued and unappreciated for all that we did right, while having our noses rubbed in the few things that were wrong or lacking. We all know what this feels like. And we all make mistakes. I propose this is not a simple matter of tallying what was done right against what was done wrong, preparing to be underappreciated or trying to be perfect, but instead a lesson of the power of a simple thank-you.

You all are at the start of your own unique and individual journey into the next phase of your life. It’s easy to worry about what’s next, but the jobs and opportunities, they will come. What is more worth worrying about is what kind of person you want to be. As a friend, employee, boss, manager, husband or wife, who will you be? You can make a choice to focus on what’s wrong, or you can choose to focus on what’s right.

It’s a fact that mistakes are made and also need to be corrected. This is not going to stop. But we all have the opportunity in those unnoticed instances of rightness to say thank you, or praise someone for their help. Knowing how we all feel when our good work is taken for granted or ignored, you would think we would use this as an opportunity to remember how this feels and change our behavior when it is our turn to judge. Yet this is rarely the case, most likely because it’s the issues that are more salient or seen as critical to a project, not the hundreds of other small factors that were done right along the way.

“You all are at the start of your own unique and individual journey into the next phase of your life. It’s easy to worry about what’s next, but the jobs and opportunities, they will come. What is more worth worrying about is what kind of person you want to be.”

So, I encourage you to never forget to praise or appreciate the little things. Never take something someone else does to help you for granted, even if that is what they are paid to do. A thank-you or good job costs nothing, but allows you to reap the interest of goodwill, not to mention more receptivity when it comes time to ask a favor, or talk about what needs corrective action. This may seem unnecessary, and I am by no means saying mistakes should be downplayed, but the ultimate goal of feedback is to catalyze improvement. And who is a more receptive individual, one who is laughed at or constantly criticized, or one who feels generally appreciated?

This will be tough to do, as it will be hard to remember this advice, as so many others in your future will be quick to laugh or criticize. But imagine if all the people in this room stay strong and remember to levy the good with the bad and praise along with critique. Think about all the thank-yous that you, a single person, could potentially say. Now multiply that by everyone in this room today. It’s possible that the world might just change for the better, be kinder and more productive. You can start right now. So take a moment before you leave today to say thank you to someone here who made your time at UTD worth remembering.

In the oft-quoted line from Dr. Seuss:

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So, get on your way!”

But don’t forget to say thank you.

Elizabeth Wilson graduated with a master’s degree in supply chain management. An active member in the Dallas chapter of the Institute for Supply Management, she helped revive the UT Dallas student chapter and was awarded the 2017 OWLIE for Student Organization Leader of the Year. She was also a teacher’s assistant and served on the Graduate Dean’s Council. She has been extended a job offer to work in the World Wide Procurement and Logistics Department at Texas Instruments.

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