“Potential,” I said, “doesn’t mean a thing. You’ve got to do it.” — Charles Bukowski
In The Noticer, Andy Andrews’ main character, Jones, constantly serves to provide needed perspective for the people he meets throughout the book’s journey. During one such encounter, he asks a man, “Five seagulls are sitting on a dock. One of them decides to fly away. How many seagulls are left?” The other character naturally answers that there are four, to which Jones replies, “No . . . there are still five. Deciding to fly away and actually flying away are two very different things.”
Jones goes on to explain how intention, in the absence of action, means nothing, despite the fact that many people believe otherwise, especially when they are thinking about themselves. This is true in school, in business, and in your personal life.
You may know what you want to do career-wise after you graduate. But where do you begin as a student, when real progress seems so daunting and far away?
Make deeper connections
During your time in college, many of you will find yourselves swimming in golden opportunities to make the most of today while preparing deliberately for tomorrow. But opportunities, much like intention, mean nothing unless you grasp hold of them and do something. People are always the most important part of these opportunities, regardless of what anyone tells you. If you are one on a campus of thousands, it can be natural to blend in, to go through the motions, to work your hardest, but not necessarily to make it a point to be noticed or to build meaningful professional relationships with professors, teaching assistants, employers, and advisors. When you are one in a sea of that many, you may think it’s best to work hard with your head down and do what you think you should do.
But in that, you would be doing yourself a disservice. A college campus can be a watering hole for some of the most brilliant, innovative, inspirational minds, minds of people who have been where you are and who understand what it takes to build a career and build a life. Make it a point to get to know at least two of your professors well. Ensure you are doing so for the right reasons—because you are genuinely curious and you genuinely want to learn from them. Trust me when I say that the best teachers want to help you and that you will thank yourself both during your time in school and after, when you will need advice, references, letters of recommendation, and support.
Learn from everyone around you
In getting to know these people, you will want to actively learn from them—seek educated advice, ask questions, find shadowing experiences with people who are doing the job you want to do five or 10 years from now. Challenge your inner dialogue when you find yourself judging someone or something prior to really understanding. When I was in college, one professor constantly reminded us to “unlearn”—to recognize that some of the things you thought were true are not as accurate as you once believed when you meet different kinds of people who hold different kinds of truths. Be open to the possibility of learning from them and, perhaps, even to the possibility of changing your mind.
Ideas and inspiration are everywhere. People could never be your sole source of knowledge. If I asked you who came up with the line, “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” I would venture to say someone might respond it was Steve Jobs, the innovative cofounder of Apple, Inc., who made those lines famous in his inspirational commencement speech at Stanford. But what you might not know is that Jobs, as he mentions in his speech, actually read those lines on the back cover of the last issue of a catalog he liked titled Whole Earth. The words sat underneath a picture of a long, deserted country road, an appropriate illustration for a blank canvas just waiting to be painted. The words, and the meaning behind them in relation to the college graduates to whom he was speaking, became a mantra for individuals in various fields at various levels. He may be the perfect example of the importance of paying attention to the seemingly minute details we observe and then, in turn, carrying them over into our work. Pay attention. You never know what you will find when you are looking.
Coming up in Part II: The benefits of gaining practical experience, and why your actions should speak louder than your words.