I have a friend who never does things the easy way. I think in a sick, twisted way he enjoys doing things the hard way. I don’t judge though. When I think about it, I’m really not that much different.
I was once an engineering major. I had 5 semesters of physics and math under my belt, and I chose to change my major to Philosophy and Religion. The inevitable argument with my mom ensued.
“What will you do instead, Chip?”
“Well, I really liked my philosophy course, and my religion professor is really great. I’d like to change to Philosophy and Religion.”
“What kind of job will you get? Don’t you realize engineers are paid really well?”
“Yeah, Mom. I know. My new adviser says that businesses need philosophy majors. Being an engineer won’t teach me how to think, only how to solve real world math problems.”
Variations of this argument took place over several years with my mom. She was of the opinion that a degree in engineering was a surer way to a well-paying career. I was of the opinion that no amount of money is worth doing a job I hate.
So I graduated with a degree in Philosophy and Religion.
And I sent out resumes.
And I applied for jobs.
And I made phone calls.
And I struggled to get a job.
It was hard for a new graduate with little experience and a degree in philosophy to land a job. Who knew? Well, alright, my mom knew. She knew the marketplace wasn’t looking for a philosopher; it was looking for an engineer. But she could only point out the short-term benefits to a degree in engineering. Where my experience was lacking, that one phrase “B.S. Engineering” would crack the door open for me. But since my resume read “B.A. Philosophy” the door stayed shut.
I did eventually land a job with the company I interned for during the summers. I had enough experience they wanted to hire me in spite of my degree change. But that early job hunting made an indelible mark on me. Any job I ever got would have to be in spite of my degree, not because of it. That’s been the theme of my career ever since.
Having to earn my way in life in spite of my degree has been a challenge. It has forced me to take on work that I wasn’t qualified for. It has forced me to make connections with people, to build a network rather than relying on my degree to get me in the door. Doing these things has stretched me to do more with less, to reach beyond my capabilities to accomplish each goal in front of me.
Let’s take a look at each of these lessons.
Lesson #1—Aim Too High
Whenever I speak with a young person about the kind of spouse they want it’s typical to hear the list:
The lists are great, but I don’t think they go far enough. The temptation, particularly if you’ve been single a while and still haven’t found a spouse, is to settle, to make the hurdle lower in order for the next young man or woman to be able to jump it without face-planting. But the issue isn’t with the height of the hurdle. The issue is with the people jumping it.
Beyond the search for a spouse, the same process applies to anything worth doing. If the hurdle is too low, how worthwhile is it? If you set the measure of success low enough not to fail, you might have succeeded in the short-term but at the cost of your long-term success.If you set the measure of success low enough not to fail, you might have succeeded in the short-term but at the cost of your long-term success. Click To Tweet
Let’s look at this another way. Let’s say you want to get stronger. Do you do that by lifting weights that are light? No! You grab weights that are heavy enough that you can just barely complete the set. If you’re not lifting heavy weights, you’re not getting stronger.
The same goes for success. When you aim higher or dream bigger than you think is possible, hitting your mark is so much more satisfying. Yes, you’ll fail along the way, but that’s not what’s most important. What is most important is stretching your own capabilities.
So if you’re looking for a spouse, aim out of your league.
If you’re looking for a manager role, apply to be a director.
If you want to start a small business, start one that can scale to be a publicly traded corporation.
Let’s get practical
To get used to aiming too high here are some things to do:
- Set a goal for yourself, but set it beyond what you think you can do
- Take a current goal and try to do it sooner, cheaper, and with fewer other resources to help
- Find a new job that you don’t think you qualify for but one you think you would enjoy
- Take some online courses through Coursera
- Subscribe to a Master Class
Remember, you never get stronger if you’re not lifting heavy.
Lesson #2—Make Connections
Full disclosure: I’m an introvert. I really hate mingling. If I’m at a gathering, unless it is in my honor and there is a natural reason for people to seek me out, I will gladly sit in the corner with the 1 or 2 people I know well and hang out. I hate large gatherings of strangers.
But when I look at how I’ve gotten jobs, how I’ve made my best friends, how I’ve learned some of life’s greatest lessons, it has always been because I met someone along the way who directed me. I got hired in my first job because my mom knew the people there. They liked her. They hired me. It was then up to me to prove my worth apart from her.
I marvel at redwoods. These trees are enormous. Looking at them makes me feel small and insignificant. But redwoods don’t stand on their own. Their roots systems intertwine with other redwoods in the forest. Their roots are shallow, so if they don’t intertwine with other redwoods, the harsh winds of the California coast will topple them.
We’re no different.To survive and thrive, we need to be in community. Click To Tweet
To survive and thrive, we need to be in community. Even if the roots are shallow, our success is tied to the success of others. That’s why I do my best to connect others with what they need. If you need a plumber, I’ve got a guy. If you need an electrician, I’ve got a guy. If you need some muscle, I know a guy that knows a guy. (Anyone else having visions of the Godfather?)
The point is that I want to connect with other people because providing meaningful connections between people is the way I stay standing. It’s how I got my start, and I intend to do the same for others.
Let’s get practical
If you’re like me, making connections does not come naturally. Try these things to build your network:
- Don’t eat alone
- Find a mentor
- Mentor someone
- Expand your social network on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook
- Interview for a new job annually
As you build your career, you need to stretch yourself to reach your full potential. Take some risks, do something new, and then look back in a few years at how far you’ve come.
How have you stretched yourself and grown your influence in spite of the odds? How have you aimed too high or built your network? Please comment below and please take time to subscribe for more inspiration.