I Messed Up.
There's just something about student government types. As this week's guest will tell you, and MJ can attest, there's often one big misconception floating around out there about them. More often than not, we peg these student leaders as the folks who have it all planned out; they're typically credited with having their lives under complete and total control. This is false. While student leaders can usually put on a good front when it comes to playing up the poise, we're all in the same boat when it comes to navigating this grand journey that we call life. That means that we get caught up in all the same rip tides and under currents, too. Chief among these is the tendency to compare ourselves to others as they breeze past us on this journey. Biographies and polished Facebook profiles can leave us feeling like our own plans have capsized on top of us. As this week's guest, Brian Shea, reminds us, however, it's not even a race to begin with; the course is ultimately ours alone to chart.
Get ready for the day.
Go to school.
Go to practice.
Do more homework.
Go to bed.
Yikes, even just typing my daily high school schedule is making my skin crawl. Some people crave routine – it allows them to structure and balance their lives in a predictable way. I’m not one of those people. I like to keep myself on my toes, and that’s part of the reason why I found my college experience so liberating. If I wanted to be a night owl, I could schedule my work and classes for later times. If I wanted to wear sweatpants to class, I wasn’t going to get detention for violating a dress code. If I wanted to make grilled cheese for breakfast, there were no parents there to yell at me. The world was my oyster.
You may not know me by name, but if you’ve gone to college, you know me. I was that guy who would wake up and start working at an ungodly hour, get involved in a bunch of student organizations, say hello to everyone who passed by, find a pun for every situation, and fake a coughing fit when walking behind cigarette smokers. (I know, we’re a dime a dozen.) While my Outlook calendar was usually more colorful than my social life, I was doing things that I loved. Outside of the classroom, things like Relay For Life, service-learning, and student government took up most of my time. I had always aspired to do great things in the world, and now that college was giving me the opportunities, I wasn’t going to just turn them down in order to have more free time! That sounded like a silly idea to me. I had enough free time. I was in “achiever mode.” I liked it. No need to change.
You’re probably guessing that I’m going to regret that last sentence. Not yet. Actually, going into my senior year, my “achiever mode” was still a source of happiness for me. As a marketing major, I knew that I probably wouldn’t secure a full-time job offer until the spring (at the earliest). I was fine with that. In September, however, I was informed that an insurance company was taking applications for two marketing-related positions that would start the next July.
Cool. Awesome. Why not apply, right? If I get an offer, I can always turn it down. I’d be stupid to not at least throw my hat in the ring. Definitely. Great.
I applied for both positions, interviewed for both positions, and received full-time offers for both positions. It truly seemed like the company wanted me. They offered me a great starting salary, there was ample room for growth, and it was located right where I wanted to live. After a few days of deliberation, I accepted one of the job offers.
I shouldn’t have.
As I mentioned before, I always wanted to do great things, and I wanted to do them really well. I wanted to be successful. Unfortunately for me, a few years of “achiever mode” had caused me to lose sight of my definition of “success.” I was comparing myself to others instead of comparing myself to the person I was yesterday. When considering the job offers, I was placing stock in things that truly didn’t line up with my values and goals.
Have you ever heard that song, “Successful,” by Drake and Trey Songz? The lyrics say, “I want the money, money and the cars, cars and the clothes.” While that may be their vision of success, anybody who knows me realizes that I never spend money (even gift cards – I still have some Blockbuster ones!), I drive old and economical cars, and I am the least fashion-forward person on this side of the Mississippi. My definition of “success” probably isn’t the same as Mr. Songz’ or Drizzy’s, but at some point while I was in “achiever mode,” I had evidently lost sight of it. I had strayed from my progression toward my ideal self, and I spent the rest of my senior year trying to figure out what my career goals actually were.
Eventually, in the spring, I settled on one: I want to make the largest possible positive impact through my work.
Awesome. I found myself. This is the happy ending, right? Well…not exactly. While I realized I probably wasn’t going to fulfill my career goal through my entry-level marketing job at an insurance agency, I didn’t have any other options. Even though I had plenty of confidence and a great deal of conviction, throwing away a high-paying job without any semblance of a backup plan wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. Nonetheless, that’s what I did – four days before I was supposed to start.
Now, objectively speaking, how much does that SUCK for the company? This college kid makes a commitment to you in the fall, you’ve done all your onboarding work, you’ve prepared to train him as soon as he walks through the door, and four days before the big day, he bails on you! That’s horrible. If I had told them, “thanks, but no thanks,” from the get-go, they could have invested their time and resources in somebody else. They told me that in an e-mail, and they were absolutely right. I deserved that blame. With that being said, I don’t regret my decision for a second. In fact, it’s been the best decision of my professional career.
Later that month, I found a job at a non-profit organization that could help me to achieve my goals. Perhaps more importantly, I was well-suited to help the organization further its mission. In my final interview, the hiring manager asked where I saw myself in five years. My response? “I don’t know what position I’ll hold or how much money I’ll be making, but in five years, I want to be making the largest possible positive impact through my work.”
Two and a half years later, I’m still at that company, still in the same job, and still trying to be better than the person I was yesterday. I’m far closer to my ideal self than I was three years ago. (Don’t think I have myself fooled – I’m absolutely not perfect, and I certainly never will be, but I won’t let that stop me from striving to get better.) In my view, I’ve switched from “achiever mode” to “achieve mode.” I’m now focusing on the verb. I’m chiefly concerned about the impact of my work. I’m defining “success” in my own terms. I’m not comparing myself to others. I’m laser-focused on what I want to accomplish, and I’m pursuing it with passion, enthusiasm, and a heck of a lot of caffeine.
On my desk at work, there is a note that says “DGB.” It stands for “Do Good Better,” and every day when I sit down and fire up my computer, that is exactly what I’m trying to do. That (and a side of Pepsi) is what keeps me going every day. That is my goal. What is yours?
This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original work of the author.