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Recognition, Perspective, and Life-long Learning

May 25, 2012

by Brom Hoban, TSSA Director of Communications

Occasionally, one has the privilege of hearing an inspiring keynote speaker. When that happens, it reminds us of just how important certain things in life are. I had that experience recently while attending the 2012 commencement at Rice University to watch my son graduate.

The speaker was Salman Kahn, a young entrepreneur who created the Kahn Academy, a free online education platform with more than 2,500 video tutorials explaining a wide variety of math and science concepts.

Khan, who holds degrees from MIT in mathematics, electrical engineering, and computer science, as well as an MBA from Harvard Business School, proved to be quite an engaging and at times, moving speaker.

Points he made can apply to anyone in any industry, including self storage.

Addressing the sea of fresh faces about to emerge into the world of business, engineering, medicine and finance, there were three main themes Kahn touched on: recognition, life-long learning, and perspective.

In 2009, Kahn decided to quit a  successful career as a hedge fund manager to devote himself full-time to develop the Kahn Academy, with the mission to “accelerate learning for students of all ages.” A year later, he  found himself at a low point, and with funds nearly exhausted, he wondered whether he had made the right choice to leave  his job in the financial sector. That’s when he received a call from a wealthy Rice graduate who was a big player in the business world, asking him to meet. Over lunch, she told him that she was amazed at what the Kahn Academy had offered so far, and went on to say that she was immensely impressed with what he was now calling “civilization-scale” education.

Kahn said that the recognition she gave him changed his entire outlook, and validated his decision to start the Academy. She later sent him a check for $100,000 to continue his work.

The point, Kahn says, is that we should take the time to recognize those people who we feel are doing a great job, whether they are bosses or employees. It could change their day their week, or even their lives.

Though Kahn’s road to success seems smooth, he explained how it was not always so. In fact he recalled a time not long after graduation, when a superior gave him a harsh lecture, basically telling him he was worthless. Not long after that, he left that position to accept his job as a hedge fund manager. 

“There will be may ups and downs along the way,” Kahn told the graduates. “But remember that when you are feeling your lowest, it is only temporary. There are still highs to come. Always keep perspective, and always look at the big picture.”

Life-long Learning
Though Kahn often receives calls and e-mails from appreciative folks, one in particular stands out in his mind. A woman called him, and explained that she had terminal cancer, and had only two months to live. But she wanted to let him know that it had been a life-long goal of hers to learn calculus, and using his online videos, she intended to do just that in her remaining time. That call, said Kahn, changed his whole outlook on life. He realized that if that woman, in her situation, could commit herself to learning, no one should have any excuse not to embrace life-long learning.


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