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From Chapter 1: Write Your Own Success StoryPlanning Ahead
I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it. -- Thomas Jefferson
We have an extraordinary leverage and influence -- individually, professionally, and institutionally -- if we can only get a clear sense, a clear conception, a clear vision of the road ahead. -- John Naisbitt, in MEGATRENDS
Who am I to talk to high school graduates and college freshmen about planning? As a high school student in Tucson, Arizona, I never planned. I just coasted along letting things happen to me. Sure, I was spontaneous. I spent weeknights talking on the phone and studied only when I felt like it -- i.e., seldom. On weekends my friends and I roamed shopping malls and partied in the mountains. The typical irresponsible high school student.
And then, boom, the ax fell. The ax was not some accident, scandal, or divine intervention. It was simply a conversation with my older brother Craig during the first week of my senior year in high school. Our talk changed the course of my life.
At seventeen I was intimidated by my four older brothers. I saw them as bright, motivated, and respected achievers -- the opposite of me. Whenever one of them asked me about what I was doing or thinking, I'd answer with a one-liner and hope he'd soon leave me alone.
This conversation with Craig was different. He didn't give up after five minutes, despite my curt, vague responses.
"Carol, what are you interested in?"
"What do you think about all day."
"I dunno. "
"What do you want to do with your life?"
"I'll just let things happen."
Craig persisted. His voice grew indignant. He criticized me for talking on the phone, for spending too much time at pep rallies and rock concerts, for not studying, for not challenging myself. He pointed out that I hadn't read an unassigned book in three years. He asked if I intended to approach college the way I'd approached high school -- as one continuous party. If so, he warned, I'd better start thinking of a career flipping burgers at the local hamburger stand, because no respectable employer would ever take me seriously. He asked me if that was what I wanted to do with my life. He cautioned me that out of laziness and lack of planning, I would limit my options so narrowly that I would never be able to get a real job. I had wasted three years of high school, he said. College was a new start, since employers and graduate schools seldom check as far back as high school for records. So he advised me to quit making excuses, decide what I wanted, and plan how to achieve it. My only limitations would be self-imposed.
Craig then left my room, sermon completed. I didn't speak to him before he flew back to New York that afternoon to finish his senior year at Columbia. I hated him for interfering with my life. He made me dissatisfied with myself. I was scared he was right. For the first time, I realized that "typical" was not necessarily what I wanted to be.
The next day, still outraged but determined to do something, I went to the library and checked out six classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen; The Great Gatsby T by F. Scott Fitzgerald; A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce; and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. Then I wrote down in a notebook a few goals that I wanted to accomplish. They all seemed boldly unattainable: Earn straight A's (previously I had made B's and C's); study every week, including one weekend night; keep reading classics on my own. If I couldn't make it in my senior year of high school, why should I waste time and money on college? I'd beat fate to the door and begin my career at the hamburger stand immediately.
Three weeks later, I got a letter from Craig. He knew how angry I was with him. He told me that our conversation hadn't been easy for him either, but that if he hadn't cared, he wouldn't have bothered to say anything. He was right. I'd needed that sermon. If I didn't come to terms with my problems, I would never be able to move from making excuses to making things happen.
I worked hard and got results. The second semester of my senior year, I made all A's (except for a B in physics). I finished the six classics, and others as well. I started reading newspapers and magazines. I had to move the Vogue on my nightstand to make room for Time, Harper's, and Fortune. I found that I could set goals and attain them, and I started to realize that I wasn't so different from my brothers after all.
To my utter astonishment, I discovered that for the first time, I enjoyed learning. My world seemed to open up just because I knew more about different kinds of people, ways of thinking, and ways of interpreting what I had previously assumed to be black-and-white. (If you are a shy person, joining a club and getting to know -- and actually like -- a few people whom you had originally perceived as unfriendly or uninteresting may astonish you as much as my newfound appreciation for learning astonished me.)
The summer before college, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, but couldn't decide on a direction. I had no notion of what I wanted to major in. What to do...what to do?
I turned to Craig, a phone call away in New York City. He told me not to spend my first year of college worrying about what I wanted to do. The main priority was to learn as much as I could. College, he told me, was my golden opportunity to investigate all kinds of things -- biology, psychology, accounting, philosophy. He told me I'd become good at writing and critical-thinking techniques -- skills that would help me learn any job after graduation. And though I could continue to expand my educational horizons throughout life, college was the best opportunity to expose myself to the greatest minds and movements of our civilization.
Craig also warned me that being a scholar, though important, wouldn't be enough. (He had just graduated from Columbia as a Phi Beta Kappa, but since he hadn't gained any real-world experience in college, it took him several months to find his first job.) To maximize my options upon graduation, I would have to do three things:
- 1. Learn as much as possible from classes, books, professors, and other people
- 2. Participate in extracurricular activities
- 3. Get real-world experience by working part-time and landing summer internships
If I did these three things reasonably well, Craig assured me, I could choose from a number of career opportunities at the end of my senior year. And even if I only did two of the three full-force and one half-speed, I'd still be in good shape. Making an effort in each area and having a modest outcome were attainable goals. That way I could balance my college experience and open options for the future.
Craig advised me to look ahead and develop a plan of action for each of my four years of college. He told me that foresight -- the ability to consider the bigger picture beyond short-term challenges and intermediary goals -- is invaluable in most jobs; it distinguishes outstanding people from the rest of the pack.
This book is designed to be for you what Craig was for me -- my adviser during college. The following chapters will provide you with guidelines for success by asking you to examine yourself, set goals, and believe in your ability to achieve them. It will give you specific examples of how to get things done. It will also introduce you to all kinds of people, all of whom followed their own varying, yet similar, paths toward their goals. Most important, you'll learn that everyone -- including you -- has his or her own set of skills, abilities, passions, and talents to tap. Finding the career and lifestyle that allows you to cultivate and nurture them is one of the most important secrets of success.
So Take Action!
A good way to start is to assess your shortcomings and strengths. As I've already told you, one of my shortcomings in high school was not learning all I could from my classes and teachers. Your shortcoming may have been that you focused entirely on your studies without developing many outside interests. Someone else may feel that he concentrated so much on an outside activity -- such as training for a particular sport -- that he had no time for studies or friends. What was your major shortcoming in high school?
Now think about three things:
- 1. What pleased you in high school?
- 2. What could you have done better?
- 3. What do you want to improve upon in the future?
Identifying these areas will help you strike a good balance during college.
Once you get in the habit of analyzing past experiences, you will have a clearer notion of what you do and don't want in the future. That's important.
As a high school senior, a college freshman, or a college senior, the next thing you must do is decide to take action. Don't worry if you don't know what you want to do. Just commit yourself to the process. If you do, you'll eventually find out which careers might be best for you and how you could best prepare for them.
To recap, here are the priorities:
- 1. Gain knowledge
- 2. Participate in activities
- 3. Get real-world experience
Making It Happen
"Luck is the residue of design," said Branch Rickey, known as the Mahatma for his strategic methods as a team owner and general manager in baseball. He developed the farm system in which the minor leagues are organized. His plans of action took a handful of disjointed teams in faraway cities and banded them into an organization that has left its mark on American culture.
Nothing happens magically. If you want to be a success, you are going to have to take personal responsibility for your life. Why do some graduates get twenty job offers while others receive none?
Although successful people may appear lucky, in fact they illustrate the maxim "Luck favors the prepared mind."
Joe Cirulli agrees. He is the owner of the successful Gainesville Health and Fitness Center in Florida. Early on in his life, exercise was a priority, an essential part of his day. So he followed his interests and put his talents to work by starting his own health club. While many other clubs have folded around him, he has experienced enormous success -- his membership continues to grow, and he is able to keep his club filled with the best equipment and the most knowledgeable professionals.
When Joe was twenty, he worked as an assistant manager and sales representative for a health club. One of his responsibilities was to train new sales representatives for the club. He worked hard to prepare them for their jobs only to have to compete with them once they were trained.
He remembers talking with the vice president of the company about his frustration. The vice president, a person Joe respected, advised him to keep on putting his best efforts into his work. "Right now you may not see the benefit of your hard work, but one day you will."
Joe followed his advice. Less than five years later, his skill at training people in the health club industry paid off -- he was able to put his expertise to work in his own health club. "Knowing how to motivate employees to do their best, to care about the quality of their work and to care about our customers, has had an enormous impact on the success of my own company."
Joe believes the secret to his success is giving 100 percent of himself in everything he does. "Success is the culmination of all your efforts. There are thousands of opportunities for people who give their all."
How do you arrange to have the most options when you leave college? Plan, develop foresight, and take charge of your life and you will become one of the lucky ones. Most important, decide that you want to succeed -- and believe it.
Charles Garfield, a clinical psychologist who has spent his career studying what motivates people to superior effort, says that the drive to excel comes primarily from within. Can "peak performances" be learned? Yes, says Garfield. High achievers are not extraordinarily gifted superhumans. What they have in common is the ability to cultivate what the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe termed "the genius, power, and magic" that exists in all of us. These achievers increase the odds in their favor through simple techniques that anyone can cultivate:
- * Envision a mission
- * Be result-oriented * Tap your internal resources
- * Enlist team spirit
- * Treat setbacks as stepping-stones
These are skills that this book is going to teach you.
First Things First
The first thing to keep in mind when planning: Accept the world the way it is. Your plans should be based on a realistic assessment of how things are, not on some starry-eyed vision of how they should be. You can dream, but there's a happy medium between cold reality and pie in the sky. That's why you must be open to opportunity. Indeed, you must create it. Although you can't change the hand you were dealt, you can play it as wisely as possible. That's what this book is about.
So start today. Start now.
The more questions you ask now, the better prepared you'll be in four years. You don't want to be stuck in a boring job or wondering why you can't find work.
Are you going to make mistakes? I hope so, unless you're not of the human species. Making mistakes is the process by which we learn. And whenever we're disappointed by the outcome, we have to maintain a positive attitude, log the information -- and keep going. The key is to learn from mistakes without letting them slow us down.
Copyright c 1990, 1995, 1999 Carol Carter. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. All rights reserved.