Learning to Think and Business Training are Not the Same Thing

The building was shaped as a circle, which positions most of the classrooms at the perimeter. Sitting at a two person desk is the escape of outside to your left and to your right was a bulletin board wall with doors flanking each end. It was English class – the classics. Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and Araby by James Joyce are memorable. But those tales aren’t what changed my perspective.

Michael Dockery had white hair and a mustache. You can imagine him wearing a Crocodile Dundee type of Australian hat though. He had a muscular build and an average height. He didn’t have an inviting smile or a welcoming charm. He was purposeful and kept to himself.

Professor Dockery was reading aloud and finishing up a short story we were assigned. Reading passages in class was normal. He read:

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair:and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech,from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face fora moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes:that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman,but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their way ward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

And then something happened that awakened my soul. Professor Dockery’s eyes welled up with tears. Here is a man in his fifties, reading aloud to a class of drifting 21 year olds and he is crying. This story, this stringing together of words, stirred emotions in him to the point of having to stop to collect himself. James Joyce’s “The Dead” provokes the reader to put himself in Gabriel’s shoes. How would you feel? Life changes during the most ordinary of times.

I graduated with a Business degree with a focus on Human Resources. It was 10 years ago. I remember my senior business class thesis about Viacom. It was the shortest in the class – 39 pages and a B+. I learned the fundamentals of business and I’m plenty capable to make it because of this preparation.

Sadly though, I see stories in the NY Times titled Making College ‘Relevant’ by Kate Zernike which talks about the change occurring at higher education institutions through out the US. Certain majors are being dropped due to low demand. The Liberal Arts oriented majors are mainly the casualty of a world that is too focused on making a buck. As the story details, many students just want a training period prior to going into a business field.

Several years ago I was considering my career. I thought about the work I was doing and I thought about how the service industry was growing (as compared to the manufacturing industry). But something clicked in me. I made a conscience decision to create something. Being philosophical, I told myself “the best thing you can do for your career is to create something that didn’t exist before. Perhaps there would be a market for it. At least something lasting would come of it. Then repeat this cycle.”

The dirty little secret though, is how do you monetize your offerings – your creations, your skills, your knowledge? A novel business plan that meets a market need is how. That is not easy to do. I encourage entrepreneurship and trial and error. However, the most important factor is the ability to think differently; to see something that currently isn’t imagined and make it happen. And this is where Professor Dockery comes in. Closing classes like this English literature class won’t hurt Herman Melville’s feelings, but it pilfers opportunities for introspection. Without these experiences, you’re just like everyone else. Being like everyone else is not good business. Think about it.


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