What CEOs and Interns Have Most In Common

Mostly they fall from cliffs or ledges having strayed from the public trails, according to the shuttle bus driver. Well, dozens fall each year but only a handful lose their lives. I thought about what a terrible shame that would be as I watched a group of day hikers descending into the canyon below. It didn’t look as though they carried much water with them. Dummies. The bus driver also had stressed how easily one can become dehydrated, deceived by the cold air. But I set aside my worry for those hikers and returned to my reverie.

Sitting alone on a narrow cliff outcropping, I happily dangled my feet over the edge. Oh, awesome! That would be great to take a shot of my feet with nothing but rock and treetops a hundred meters below…. I carefully took out my Canon Sure Shot and snapped a photo. And now having captured the moment, all I needed was that flash of wisdom I’d come seeking. So I sat, dangling my feet and gazing at the vast, timeless formations. Surely the Universe could pause for a quick second to provide me with an answer to my Big Juicy Question: “What’s my next career move?” Nothing better for the Universe to be doing, right?

I was 23 years old and visiting college friends who’d moved to Phoenix from back east. One day I’d decided to drive myself north to the Grand Canyon with a goal of experiencing a miraculous awakening. You know, like how in the movies someone travels into the west and stumbles upon an unexpected circumstance when clarity suddenly reveals itself. Cue buttes and cacti! Cue token Native American gas station attendant-cum holy man! Cue orchestra!

But the Universe didn’t stop to reveal my Answers. I made it all the way back to Phoenix late that evening never having met my knowing Native American gas station attendant. So, I returned to DC with nothing but some red sand in my boots and a couple dozen photos.


Whether we are 23 or 53, grappling with our career or struggling with a complex leadership dilemma, prone to introspective reflection or methodical analysis, sitting in the corner office or working at our first internship, we are students. We are all always learning, but the sad truth is that we don’t always embrace that fact of life. Our culture, upbringing, and ego drive us relentlessly to be successful, strong and confident. Even those of us who value the idea of being a lifelong student feel more comfortable doing so by escaping to a lonely cliff in a national park, an exclusive self-improvement retreat, or a quiet hotel bar with a perfect stranger. There it’s safe to embrace our humility, openness and vulnerability.

We’re OK with a romanticized moment for letting our guard down to be a humble student on a rare occasion (cue orchestra), but practicing this every single day? Can we find the strength and courage to invite our Humble Student self into the workplace Monday through Friday? Can’t we see this as a necessary step to so many of the experiences we claim to crave in our work? Like creativity and vision? Like relationships built on trust and empathy? Like a connection to our sense of calling?

Being a Humble Student is an act of faith in our self as well as an act of leadership in the eyes of others. We all have it available, but we may need to be more intentional about activating this part of us. We need to remind ourself each day of these basic principles:

  1. We’ll never, ever stop learning
  2. Un-learning is equally as important
  3. Humor is one of our most effective tutors
  4. Lessons happen at unexpected times and places
  5. We find most answers inside of us and from those closest to us
  6. A disciplined practice of self-observation is the best “lesson plan”

One of the best ways to get acquainted with our Humble Student is the time-honored art of journaling. It seems so quaint this day in age, to purchase a writing tablet and actually sit weekly—even daily—to jot down a few thoughts about our day and how we went about it. We don’t need to fly across the country, climb out on the edge of a cliff, and stare at the open sky waiting for the Universe to deliver some amazing insights. We just simply look inside. Now. With curiosity, humor, vulnerability, generosity.

Maybe we haven’t spent very much time recently with our Humble Student self. Go get re-acquainted.

Written by Daniel Doucette

1 Comment

  1. Gut Check - Be a Teacher | BraveShift on September 28, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    […] Being a student is one way to discover joy in our work.  Being a student enables us to cultivate a sense of humility. Being a student helps us sharpen our skill of asking great questions. When you think about it, all […]