Seven Foundational Values for Being a Successful Online Student

I will be graduating in May of this year, so I have been reflecting a lot on recent accomplishments while excitedly anticipating future opportunities. While I am still uncertain what I will be doing there is no question in how I will approach whatever it is I do.

Here are some of the central values that I have come across in my experience at school and in the workplace that I believe will separate our future leaders from the crowd.

1. Empathy

With the increasing interconnection in the world, one would think that consideration would be at an all-time high, yet my wife and I often find ourselves making observations of inconsideration—little things like people not holding doors because they are too busy on their cell phones or shoppers parking their carts in the middle of the aisle without considering that others will need to get by.

I strongly believe that if you want to develop as an individual, you should practice putting yourself in others’ shoes. Many management and leadership authors suggest that this is the cornerstone of successful business; I will take it one step further and say that empathy is the key to a rewarding life.

2. Ambition

Anyone who has seen The Pursuit of Happyness can likely recall Will Smith’s famous line, “People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you that you can’t do it.  You want something?  Go get it.”

A fundamental Confucian belief is that if we love what we do, we will essentially never work. With that in mind, what is the sense in struggling to wake up every morning only to slave away in a cubicle for a job in which we see very little purpose?

There is something greater out there for all of us; it is all about our willingness to pursue what truly brings us happiness, so go after it!

3. Fearlessness

Some of the greatest stories of personal success, from Michael Jordan to Bill Gates, have at least a chapter or two on failure, yet fear of failure is often cited as a primary reason for not trying.

What we should be afraid of is living with the regret in knowing that we never tried—the feeling of an unfulfilled purpose when we look back years down the road. And, always remember Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s famous quote: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

4. Accountability

Throughout Penn State’s business curriculum, the subject of accountability comes up in a variety of forms, but none more important than a strong internal locus of control. Simply put, those who accept the fact that they control their own destiny have a greater chance at achieving greatness than those who put their future in the hands of fate.

I would rather go down with a fight than accept that something “just was not meant to be.” Wouldn’t you?

5. Tenacity

Tenacity has many definitions, but here, I mean persistence or steadfastness in our beliefs. This is essential because there will always be others—co-workers, family members and so on—that are intimidated by the confidence exhibited by those determined to be successful and, as a result, accuse us of being “cocky” or “arrogant.”

Remain resolute, however, in knowing that they are prisoners of their own insecurity, and the only way to inspire ourselves and, ultimately, the naysayers is through overcoming adversity and achieving our goals—no matter how ambitious.

6. Integrity

Lack of ethics among executives of companies like Tyco and Enron highlighted the turn of the century, which catalyzed the need for transparent accounting and business practices. Similarly, technology and, specifically, social media has created an environment in which everything we do is available for all to see.

It has therefore never been more pivotal that we practice integrity, which some might loosely define as “doing the right thing regardless of whether anyone is watching.” Along with this comes the great responsibility of being cognizant of our social imprint. For instance, if you’re wondering why you are unemployed and nobody wants to give you a chance, you may want to start by deleting inappropriate pictures off of Facebook that potential employers come across throughout the screening process.

Of course, integrity has much more to do with projecting the right image; it comes down to placing our own personal values above anything else. As Dov Siedman puts in his leadership book How, “just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”

7. Luck

There will always be onlookers that attribute others’ success to luck, but those fortunate enough to attain true personal success realize that there is a basic formula: as Oprah Winfrey puts it, “Luck is preparation meeting opportunity.”

Many have likely heard this expression; I live by it. If you take one thing away from this blog, it would be this principle. Through cultivating ourselves in mind, body and spirit, we can ensure that we are prepared when opportunity presents itself. We can also create opportunities by networking and simply sticking out in the crowd by outworking, outperforming or “outbehaving” those around us.

One day, when we finally get to the proverbial top of the mountain, people will say how lucky we were, and we can take heed in knowing that… well, they’re right!

So, there you have it… some core principles that I feel differentiate the extraordinary from the ordinary. Obviously, these ideals are simply my opinion, and I would be interested in reading about other values that I perhaps missed. What do you think should be on this list?