The Most Important Degree in Development

Over the years I’ve been asked, generally by younger staff at client organizations or by people attending my seminars who are contemplating a career in the field of development, “What’s the most valuable degree you can get?” It’s a great question, and one that used to trigger a range of provisional answers.

Because the field of development now comprises more than 50 distinct disciplines, it’s clear that the most worthwhile academic degree for some people could be in any of these disciplines. That said, however, my typical responses would include a Master’s in marketing, communications, or advertising. Or an MBA (continuing to believe, as I do, that there’s no business bigger than God’s business). And, because I’m persuaded that the core discipline of marketing (and thus development) is psychology, I’ve noted that a minor in psychology certainly wouldn’t hurt.

But recently I’ve changed my mind. I’ve now settled on the most valuable degree bar none. And the good news is that almost anyone can get this degree. Better yet, it requires no major financial outlays for tuition. No time on campus. No evening courses or intensive residential sessions. The answer I now give is “an M.A.” That’s a “Master’s of Appreciation.”

In her wonderful little book, The Simple Truths of Appreciation, Barbara Glanz shares one of her favorite quotes from Albert Schweitzer:

Sometimes our light goes out but it is blown into flame again by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.

She tells how in sharing this with audiences she then asks people to shut their eyes and think of someone who, at some point in their journey, has rekindled their inner light. She then asks them to write down the name of the person and to commit to their own act of appreciation by letting that person know in the next 72 hours that he or she was thought of.

One man shared his recollection of an eighth grade teacher who was everyone’s favorite and who had really made a difference in all of their lives. He planned to track her down and let Barbara know the outcome.

A couple of months later she received a call from him. He was so choked up he could barely make it through the story. After writing to his teacher, the following week he received this letter:

Dear John,

You will never know how much your letter meant to me. I am 83 years old, and am living alone in one room. My friends are all gone. My family’s gone. I taught for 50 years and yours is the first “thank you” letter I have ever received from a student. Sometimes I wonder what I did with my life. I will read and reread your letter until the day I die.

Although my sentiments and convictions regarding an “attitude of gratitude” and the role of appreciation in development (and leadership, and management, and…) had been maturing for four decades, reading this letter nailed it for me. It reminded me of the awesome power of appreciation to transform lives, and “sealed the deal” in my thinking about most valuable degrees. Not only in development, but in life.

So if you’re thinking about pursuing a degree, let me urge you to become a Master of Appreciation. The truth be told, I simply know of none better.