Several years ago, my former College of Civil Engineering invited me back to speak to their students as part of the weekly engineering lecture series. The following 6 points make up the majority of what I wanted to convey in my speech of which I am sharing with you today. The title that I gave for my talk was “Professional Flexibility.” It wasn’t the standard technical subject that I personally remember listening to when I sat in their seats as a Civil Engineering student, but it was in my heart to share and the points are just as relevant to day as they were then.
1. Be persistent and work hard.
I’ve carried a version of the following quote Angus J. MacQueen in my personal dream book for years:
“When James Garfield (later President of the U.S.) was principal of Hiram College in Ohio, a father asked him if the course of study could be simplified so that his son might be able to go through by a shorter route. ”Certainly,” Garfield replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash he requires only two months.”
The one thing I think is missing in so many discourses on persistence and hard work is more discussion on the aspect of TIME. If I were to liken my own life to the story of the tortoise and the hare, then I am the tortoise. I’m not the fastest at getting everything done, and I’m not the smartest at the figuring out the answers to every problem that I encounter, but the one thing that have almost ensured my success at anything that I have ever put my heart and hand to is…time. I take the time. And just like the tortoise in that race with the hare, as long as the time is still ticking, I’m still moving, slowly but surely towards the goal, until I achieve my objective. Be the tortoise, my friend!
2. Expect the Unexpected
How many people do you know who are employed at something totally unrelated to what they studied in college? If I were to throw out a percentage from my own experience, I would say 70% of the people that I have asked are now doing something else. Here’s an interesting thought, did all of those people think while they were toiling away at whatever they were studying , that one day, maybe sooner than later, they would abandon, voluntarily or otherwise, all of the hard work and the tuition spent doing what they were doing at that time in their lives. There’s no easy answer to this one, I know because it’s already happened to me more than once thus far. I spent almost 7 years getting a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering, living on about $3,000 a year (excluding school tuition and books) if you can believe that for many of those years. All through those hard years I felt like I was sacrificing almost every aspect of my young manhood just to gut my way through that extremely technical major, that my wife reminds me I had no business studying (but that’s a story for another day). And by the time I stood before my Civil Engineering College I was working as the North American Sales Manager for an International Chinese herbal company. Expect the unexpected, time and money spent be damned.
3. Learn to love learning
One of my favorite hobbies is learning new languages. I consider myself conversational in both Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. The interesting thing was that I never considered these skills for the potential they presented for me to make money; I studied because I loved. Today, I am in the process of bridging China, and Central and South America for some exciting business opportunities. You never know where your passion will take you in life, so keep learning for the love of it!
4. Develop your interpersonal skills
Put two people in front of me. The two individuals are the extremes on two different sides of a spectrum. One of them is a book smart academic who has no social skills, and the other has no formal education but whom everybody likes. I’ll take the likeable guy 10 times out of 10 to fill a seat at a party, a place at my dinner table, and a position in my company. Because not only do I like the likeable guy, but educated, book smart, and accomplished individuals will also like and listen to him as well. And that type of person, who is liked and held in high regard by others, is what is otherwise referred to as a LEADER.
5. Identify Your True Dreams and Goals.
For a moment try to step away from the real reasons why you are presently doing what you are doing with your life: your parents expected a doctor in the family, you fell into the job after high school and just kept climbing the ladder from there. At one of my high school reunions, I was catching up with one of my classmates who had it all- looks, brains, popularity. She told me that she had become a corporate attorney for a big company and I asked her how she liked it. With empty look in her eyes, she shrugged her shoulders and said “it pays the bills.”
I’m realistic enough to understand the need to pay the bills, but our time on this earth is quickly passes us before our eyes, and even faster as we get older. Now is the time to identify what your true dreams and goals are and to take the small simple steps towards making them happen. Yes, go to work and pay the bills, but when you come home at night, keep the TV turned off and make a plan to do experience all of the happiness that is waiting for those who choose to live a life of passion and meaning.
6. Follow Your Gut.
Did you ever have an experience where you were standing at the fork in the road, literally or proverbially? At first glance you didn’t know which direction to take, but then something inside you told you which path you should take? You didn’t know why, but when presented with the choice, you just knew. Trusting my gut (otherwise known as the heart) hasn’t personally worked out for me 100% of the time, but it has 80% of the time. And the last time that I checked, an 80% is a passing score on most tests. So when the choice comes down to the wire, and all other factors have been thoughtfully considered, listen to your heart.
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