Last Updated: Jan 7, 2014
In my last post, I discussed how making deeper connections and learning from the people around you can help you turn your goals and dreams into realities. Today I'll continue exploring the ways in which you can act on your intentions to accomplish the things you want to in life.
Gain practical experience
This one is important. It might seem as if you have all the time in the world to find internships, participate in research, etc., but believe me when I tell you that your four years as an undergraduate will go by more quickly than you imagine. Employers value on-the-job, firsthand experience. You can gain this while you’re in school but, like everything else I've mentioned, you need to do the work to find the best experiences for you. Depending on your major and your future career goals, these experiences will look different: for some, maybe it’s finding a research assistant position to gain time in the lab; for others, this may be a full-time position learning the ins and outs at a publishing company during the summer; and for others still, this may be spending a summer in a foreign country, studying the foundations of architecture. Talk to career counselors, do your own research, ask your teachers, find mentors who can help you to get in touch with someone who works for a company you want to intern with—don’t sell yourself short and don’t be afraid to ask for an experience even if it doesn’t appear on a website or as a job listing.
As Steve Jobs said, “Most people don’t get those experiences because they don’t ask for them.” Jobs called Bill Hewlett when he was 12 years old, asking for spare parts to build a frequency counter. He says not only did Hewlett delightedly give him what he asked for, he later offered him a job.
“Most people never pick up the phone and call, most people never ask, and that’s what separates sometimes the people that do things from the people that just dream about them. You gotta act,” Jobs said.
Truly follow through
This may very well be the most important part of execution: you have to follow through on what you say you are going to do. This is as important for you as it is for those you work with or for those who are helping you along your path. Too often, you make grand plans, work hard to get closer to achieving them, just to allow a roadblock or something (or someone) along the way to prevent you from reaching them. If you make a promise, uphold it. If you say you are going to do something, by all means, do it.
This is perhaps even more vital once you are in the working world. Anyone can say they are going to do something for the good of a direct report’s development or for the good of the company as a whole, but if you don’t follow through on your word, you lose credibility and you lose the trust of those to whom you gave your word.
Accountability is crucial. Keep track of your progress, help others along the way, change course if you’re no longer headed down a path you see yourself walking. I’ve been reading about strategy versus execution in business, the ongoing debate over which is more important and the underlying differences between effective brands and visions and those forgotten before they have even gotten off the ground. But the reality is that well-thought out, deliberate strategies are necessary for effective execution and vice versa. It might go without saying, but if you don't follow through on the strategy, your vision will never come to fruition.
As students, your strategy should be your plan—what are your goals? Short-term, long-term, what do you want to do? Make lists. Write ideas down—cross them out and write down better ideas as you grow. Be realistic with your timelines but set the bar high—if you don’t set it high for yourself, who will? You know more than you think you do.
But remember, thinking is only the first step—you’ve got to do it.