Almost three decades have passed since I graduated from high school and then from college. I was as lost as a goose in a blizzard. I had no concrete plans, very little guidance, and didn’t do any significant travel outside of my hometown, Buffalo, N.Y. I was so happy to escape to Atlanta, Georgia, but little did I know that in my cluelessness it would cost me time, money, and energy.
Eventually, I discovered, in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “success is not a linear path, but a series of detours, full of twists and turns.”
I wish someone would have pulled me by the ear and told me the raw truth. Maybe they did or didn’t. Nevertheless, it didn’t sink in. I don’t want this generation to repeat my mistakes, so here are 13 things I want them to know as they receive their diplomas.
1. Embrace seasoning. When I worked at Disney, there were some promotions that bypassed me, and I often wondered why. It took me a few years to realise there were a few missing ingredients in my flavour profile. Seasoning is embracing the character-building moments when you don’t know what you don’t know, but you are going to figure it out. Seasoning is acquiring the mental agility and emotional bandwidth to attain and retain whatever life brings you.
It would take the seasoning of a relationship, a mentor, and a failure to help me attain the right flavour. Roger Hammer said it best: “I send a lot of horses out to the fairs for seasoning, to educate them. Some of them come around, and some don’t.”
2. Do the unthinkable. I was recently talking with a guy name Robert at a conference. He shared with me that he had significant retail experience and heard that Microsoft was opening a retail store similar to Apple. He heard through the grapevine that they were mainly hiring people who had worked at the Apple Store.
Well, he didn’t have the inside track on landing the job or any hopes of getting in through traditional means of getting the job at Microsoft so he did something unreasonable. He sent an email directly to Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft. He scoured the internet to find his email address. Two weeks later he received an email response from Steve’s assistant who passed his name onto the appropriate person within Microsoft. No risks. No rewards.
Robert succeeded because he did something the average person would never do. Contact the CEO directly. This bold move put him a cut above the rest. While everyone was sitting by the phone waiting for the recruiter to call them or listening to crickets, he took the bull by the horns and made it happen. What are you going to do?
3. Forgive and move on. Stop crying over spilled milk. It happened. Let it go and move on. You are wasting precious energy worrying or trying to fix or change someone or something. It is what it is. The future moves toward you when you let go of whatever has been holding onto you. Dr. Christen Mirescu from Princeton says, “When the brain is worried it slows down and doesn’t produce neurogenesis, which is the process of growing neurons that help the brain grow.”
4. Habits are more important than goals. You hear all of the motivation and personal development experts advising you “set a goal.” I have discovered that there are some goals I set and didn’t reach. Why? Was it because I was dumb, slow, or excluded from the lucky sperm bank? No. When you do something over and over again and don’t need to think about it, then it becomes ingrained in your subconscious as a permanent behaviour. Do you really have to think about driving or riding home? No, you just do it.
When you have a desire or a goal that is deeply important to you but never change your habits, the goal will never become a reality. A habit forms a belief and belief creates behaviour and behaviour produces an outcome. Change your habits. Change your life.
5. Every day is an interview. People are sizing you up in three seconds. Look your best at all times. Smile. Be nice. Say hello to the person who can do nothing for you. Greet the receptionist of the business with a warm hello and handshake if appropriate. Introduce yourself. Listen more, and talk less. Speak clearly and thoughtfully. Have a point of view, and don’t wait for someone to read your mind.
6. Relationships are the currency of the future. When my parents dropped me off in Atlanta they made sure I was surrounded with an extended support group that would look out for me. Well, I didn’t know how to engage them by calling to check in, ask if there was anything I could do for them, or be available to volunteer or help any way I could. Because the well was empty and in the words of Harvey Mackay, I didn’t dig it before I was thirsty, there was nothing for me to draw from in the time of need.
I wish someone would’ve told me to cultivate relationships. They will become critical to your future.
7. Don’t get a job. Instead, go to work. We are living in a world where the companies and businesses that will thrive in 21st century are cultivating four skill clusters: digital-age literacy, such as grasping economic concepts; inventive thinking, such as self-direction and the ability to work independently; effective communication, such as interpersonal skills; and high productivity, which is prioritizing, planning, and managing for results.
I wish someone had told me to find a place of employment that would help me develop these four skills clusters — instead of chasing after a paycheck. I made decent money but lacked the critical-thinking skills I needed back then.
8. Find your lane and work it. You may not have the ability, talent, or gift of Shakespeare, Einstein, Usain Bolt, or Lady GaGa. Don’t sweat it. Your gift is one that needs to be uncovered and mastered. What do you do well? What do people compliment you on? When you are operating at the optimal level what are you doing? That’s your lane. Learn all you can. In high school, I thought I wanted to be an accountant, but a teacher reminded me that I have a communication gift. WOW … thank you Mrs. Rita Lankes.
9. Beware of micro memes. A micro meme is a piece of cultural information, like a custom or an idea, that’s passed on from person to person. It behaves like a flu and sometimes travels faster than speech.
It comes from the Greek word “mimema,” meaning something imitated. It travels from mind to mind. Every day you are bombarded with memes and micro-messages but you have to choose what you think and believe. Embedded in movies, commercials, books — in every form of media there is a message behind the message. Beware of what you hear and see, and ask yourself whether you really believe what is being shared.
10. Say “yes.” By the time you are 17 years of age, you’ve heard “no” over 150,000 times and “yes” only 5,000 times. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain and nervous system to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment. When you say “yes” to your future, you are releasing neurotransmitters as neurons to infuse the synaptic nerve with hope and belief in yourself. You exist in the 21st century because the world needs you NOW.
11. Focus on producing results. Gone are the days when people could skate by on producing dismal results, lackluster performance, and anemic strategies with no accountability. Everything in business is under microscopic investigation. Produce or be invited to find your happiness elsewhere.
Recently, I was leading a session for 40 executives of a major Fortune 500 company that was already No. 1 in its region. However, the president made it very clear that while celebrating its past successes, each person needed to have the hair on the back of their neck standing up and their hair on fire as they contemplated how they would drive results for the new fiscal year.
12. Create a paradigm shift. In the scientific field, a pattern, example, or sample is considered to be a paradigm. A paradigm shift occurs when a new thought, idea, product, or service is introduced that challenges the previous way of experiencing or doing something.
For instance, in 1978 Masaru Ibuka introduced the Sony Walkman, which at the time was all the rage and was flying off the shelves of retail stores. On Oct. 23, 2001 — 30-plus days after 9/11 — we were introduced to the grandchild of the Sony Walkman: Apple’s iPod. This invention disrupted the entire music-industry paradigm and forever shifted the way music is consumed. Assess where you are, and decide to be a paradigm buster.
13. Be desperate and change. In his latest book “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell shares an amazing story about University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino: “In 1978, when he was 25 years old, Pitino used the full-court press to take the school to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 24 years. Pitino says he has many coaches come to Louisville every year to learn the press. They turn around and email him and tell him that they can’t do it. He tells them, ‘We practice every day for two hours. The players are moving almost 98% of the practice. We spend very little time talking.'”
The coaches who came to learn from Rick Pitino were not desperate enough to change. Gladwell makes the point that to beat the Goliath in your life, you have to be desperate enough to do the unconventional.
Simon T. Bailey is the author of “Shift Your Brilliance” and a weekly columnist for American City Business Journal.
NOW WATCH: Ideas videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.