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Volume 23 No. 13
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Be like Magellan

Having an explorer’s mindset will serve the Class of 2020 well as they embark on the journey of a lifetime.
Fearlessness and adaptability can serve graduates as well as they did Magellan on his voyage.
Photo: getty images
Fearlessness and adaptability can serve graduates as well as they did Magellan on his voyage.
Photo: getty images
Fearlessness and adaptability can serve graduates as well as they did Magellan on his voyage.
Photo: getty images

Like most of America, I have been starved for sports content and have been drawn into the Michael Jordan documentary “The Last Dance.” Part of the documentary featured the Gatorade campaign with the  “Be Like Mike” tag line.

As I wrote this column with advice to the class of 2020, I struggled at times because the world that existed when these bright young men and women entered school has undergone rapid, dramatic change. So, I’m looking backward to provide the best advice to help them go forward.

This past January, my wife, Sharon, and I embarked on a cruise from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile, to celebrate our retirements. At the southernmost part of that trip, we saw a replica of the ship that the explorer Ferdinand Magellan used as he was searching for a new route to India by sailing around the tip of South America. I was amazed that the ship was much smaller than I would have anticipated. Having sailed through those same waters on our cruise ship, I was astonished that his ship was able to stay upright in those very turbulent waters.

It also brought forth the thought: Rather than being like Mike, maybe they should try to be like Magellan. 

Be prepared for a long voyage

The employment process is going to be much slower than even the time following the market collapse in 2008, because the economy is tied this time to public health and safety. Use the time to define your narrative, study the organizations that are leading the recovery and attend some webinars to enhance your skills. Like Magellan’s crew, have a plan and a project list for at least a portion of every day.

Possess a variety of skills that enable you to meet the challenges that lie ahead

Like a crew member on Magellan’s ship, it is important to be able to do more than one thing in addition to your primary responsibility. If a crew member became ill and had a critical responsibility, it was important to have others who could assume that essential task. It may be a reasonable expectation, at least in the short-term, that organizations will consist of fewer people from a combination of furloughs and layoffs due to the stagnant economy and fears connected to a crowded workplace. Individuals able to work independently upon a variety of projects might be viewed as more desirable going forward. Content creators, business intelligence personnel, IT and other technological navigators, and deal-makers, bridge-builders and sellers will be more prized than ever before.

Be fearless

Magellan and his crew had no idea of what to expect. Would there be a storm that could capsize the ship? What would they eat if they ran out of provisions? These are fearful times because we have no idea how long the pandemic will last, no idea of how it could affect our health in the long term, and so forth. Deal with what you can control; don’t become agoraphobic. Embrace the extra time you have to find some little pleasure each day. Don’t let the news broadcasts and updates control your day and influence your attitude.

Accept, adapt and embrace uncertainty

Bad news for those of you who are planners, because you have much less control over your life and your future than you have ever imagined possible. We keep hearing about the “new normal,” but what does that mean for you and your future? Most of you are technologically fluent; it is your second language. That skill is going to shape our post-2020 world even more than it is now.

As we have seen with Zoom, human beings adapt to their surroundings and the conditions affecting those surroundings. We no longer go to gyms, but have we stopped working out? We don’t sit in classrooms, but have we quit learning? There are still opportunities. What is the next great opportunity? No one knows for sure, but use this period of uncertainty to become a “why not” person. Don’t waste time questioning the status quo; spend your time wondering about why couldn’t we do this or that.

Have an explorer’s heart and mindset

While it is easy to sit and contemplate all of the things I mentioned, it is not as easy to plunge oneself into the unknown and be excited about not knowing what tomorrow will bring. While most of the areas on earth have been explored, there are many possibilities that can be discovered, investigated and implemented. Be that person who is excited about not knowing and who is willing to do whatever it might take to know and understand.

The work world is not as prepared to welcome you with open arms as you would have anticipated even six months ago. But the world always has room for explorers, those wanting to test the limits and push into the great beyond. So, if you want to be like Mike, take that competitive fire and marry it to the explorer mentality of Magellan. And please accept a Gatorade toast and my sincerest well wishes to all of you.

Bill Sutton ( is director emeritus of the Vinik Graduate Sport Business Program at USF, dean of Elevate Academy and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.