I took a trip down to Virginia last weekend to check out my alma mater and America’s best-kept secret, Washington and Lee University. As I hopped off I-81 and proceeded onto the streets of Lexington, I reflected on how I continue to reap the benefits of attending such a wonderful institution. This deep sense of gratitude fueled my return to campus. After receiving so much, I was prepared to give back to the University and its students through the Entrepreneurship Summit. Hundreds of alumni return and students gather for a couple days packed with speakers, workshops, and panels focused on building a strong community that fosters collaboration.
A few alumni and I had the privilege of speaking on a panel to attendees on how to leverage a liberal arts education in an entrepreneurial world. We all agreed that the unique advantage liberal arts graduates have is the wide range of skills you develop. I had honed my hustle and relentless curiosity during my 4 years at W&L. As a computer science major, I wasn’t cornered into only taking engineering classes, but rather encouraged to take classes in disciplines like Philosophy and Studio Art. Since kicking off my career, I learned that studying business is very different from starting and running a business. There are people who study business but aren’t built for the entrepreneurship grind. At fast-growing companies, problems are always evolving, contexts are rapidly switching, and the breadth of knowledge you get from a liberal arts education enables you to understand issues from multiple perspectives.
I was fortunate enough to have learned just as much, if not more, outside of the classroom as I did in the classroom. On our Generals basketball team, each and every player needed to be able and willing to handle conflict and deal with sensitive issues on a daily basis. I often find myself applying strategies I picked up from the basketball court to the workplace and seeing the success translate. I try my best to pass down what I’ve learned to W&L students currently coming up the ranks. One student-athlete in particular, let’s call him Joel, is serving as a NEU Guru on the W&L campus and is learning what it takes to sell and build a brand.
My advice to Joel and any college student would be: Don’t try to specialize so early. Be open and willing to take classes and learn skills outside of your primary discipline even if you don’t think you’re prepared for it. Focus on breadth until you realize what you’re passionate about and then dive in deeper to that field.
It matters less what you study and more how you hustle.