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I'm EY's Global Chairman and CEO. Here Are the 3 Most Important Lessons I've Learned Through My Career. "You need to challenge the status quo."

By Carmine Di Sibio

Key Takeaways

  • Carmine Di Sibio is EY's global chairman and CEO.
  • He shares lessons anyone can put into practice no matter how far along they are in their careers.
  • Di Sibio says to be flexible, learn to collaborate more than compete, and commit to lifelong learning.
Carmine Di Sibio via Business Insider
EY global chairman and CEO Carmine Di Sibio.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

This time of year is always full of promise and new beginnings for me. It's university graduation time and bright minds are putting their hard-earned degrees and learnings into practice.

It's also when business graduates think about the positive impact they would like to make on the working world.

If my days at NYU Stern and my 38-year career at EY taught me anything, it's that you should never stop being a student and learn from everything – good and bad – that life throws at you.

Here are three lessons that are never too late for anyone to put into practice no matter where you are in your career.

1. Don't be afraid to change paths

In the classroom, you take the course. In life, you need to veer off course many times.

Curriculum is just another word for plan. Graduates not only demonstrate an ability to stick to the plan but excel at it. They turn in every assignment, study for every exam and fulfill every requirement.

While that's an impressive achievement, in my experience, knowing when to adapt the plan, or move in another direction entirely, is just as important.

A lot of people are surprised to learn that I didn't major in accounting or business. I majored in chemistry. When I was an undergraduate, I was convinced I wanted to be a doctor.

I studied synthetic sequences in the library, and I ran titrations in the lab. By junior year, I was ready to put my new skills to the test: I scored an internship at a real hospital.

Every day by 6 a.m., I was trailing attending physicians through their morning rounds. By lunchtime, I was scrubbed in to observe surgery. It was incredible. I learned a lot: First and foremost, that I'm not squeamish. I watched open heart surgeries, organ transplants and hip replacements — which, by the way, were done with a bone saw and mallet. Not for the faint of heart.

But the most important thing I learned was that I didn't want to be a doctor. It took seeing medicine up close to realize it wasn't the life I wanted. After years of planning, I had to change course.

Not everyone will have to alter their path completely, but I'm fairly confident that most will have to expand it. Technology is rapidly remaking the workplace. Some dream jobs may not exist today or may look completely different tomorrow.

My advice is to be flexible, learn new skills and keep an open mind about the future. Which brings me to my second lesson.

2. Success will be as much — and maybe even more — about collaboration than it is about competition

Business schools often breed a competitive environment. But I've found that those who know how to collaborate, learn from others and contribute will better handle whatever challenge or opportunity comes next. Of course, you'll have to compete, but learning to successfully collaborate will help you succeed.

Once I figured out that medicine wasn't right for me, I decided to pursue a career in business. There was only one problem: I had never taken a business, finance or accounting class.

This led me to NYU and at the time, there was a program for liberal arts grads like me. By day, I worked at Arthur Young — one of predecessor member firms of the EY organization. By night, I took classes. Kind of like Batman, but with more spreadsheets.

I learned a lot — both on the job and in the books. But really, I learned the most from my classmates. While most of us were all working for competing organizations during the day, in the evening we studied and produced projects together. We shared perspectives and helped each other out. This made each of us stronger and smarter. This has remained true throughout my career.

Today, some of the most exciting work that we're doing at EY involves working with other organizations. We are collaborating with over 100 organizations in the EY alliance ecosystem to bring custom solutions and solve problems for clients and society.

For example, we've teamed up with Microsoft to help remove barriers to employment for young people in underserved communities. We've even worked with the competition. We collaborated with the other Big Four organizations to develop environmental, social and governance metrics for the World Economic Forum to help organizations consistently measure their non-financial performance.

The bottom line is you won't always have all the answers. Neither will your organization.

3. Don't ever stop asking bold questions and challenging the status quo

Re-entering the working world with a business degree not only sets candidates apart but sets them up to see the world differently and create a better future.

In business school you learn to ask tough questions of professors, business, society, fellow students and, of course, yourself. But to create a better future, you need to continue to ask bold questions throughout your career. You need to challenge the status quo.

This of course comes with challenges and setbacks. But the lesson often is that real change doesn't always come when you want it or even how you foresaw it in your plan. I know this from experience.

For the past year, EY had been working on a massive initiative: Project Everest. The idea was to split the EY organization into two separate organizations: to better serve EY clients in the long-term by providing more choice and removing conflicts and giving EY people new and more rewarding growth opportunities.

This was a bold move that would challenge the status quo and redefine the industry — something the competition has publicly said they would never do.

Recently the EY organization decided not to move forward with Project Everest.

Let me tell you, this was disappointing to me.

But what we can't lose sight of is that we have uncovered unexpected learnings. We have unlocked a huge amount of innovation, identified people strengths, and opened new and better conversations with EY clients and regulators.

No great change has ever taken place by defending the status quo. And to succeed, you must be prepared to fail and learn. I still believe we will transform to better serve EY clients, people and society — just at a different time, and in a different way.

Eventually, you'll attempt your own Everest. It won't be easy. The clue is in the name. Remember, be patient. Persevere. Learn. Even setbacks move the needle.

A commitment to lifelong learning will set you up for success at work and in life. Remember to stay curious about new possibilities, collaborate with competitors and persevere when faced with challenges. Even when your plan doesn't go as expected, the best thing about being a student is that you never stop learning.

Carmine Di Sibio is the global chairman and CEO of EY.

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