“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of the biggest failings of our education system, some might say, is that it underpins an ‘absorption of knowledge’ approach rather than a reflective one. To some extent this is true, surprisingly, even at university level even though we were told otherwise before we got here. After two grueling weeks of absorbing notes and churning out exam answers like a conveyor belt, I’ve finally had a fairly uninterrupted span in which I could reflect. I’ve reflected on the past semester and what it has meant to me and of particular interest for this article, to the beginning of the semester when I started my blog and wrote that first article. I concluded that most of the objectives I had set for my blog back then, I am yet to achieve.
It is for this reason I’ve chosen such a daunting topic as my next article even though I’ve debated for a long time whether am qualified to write on it. It certainly doesn’t take much arithmetic to conclude that a more seasoned mind would be able to tackle such a topic with more finesse and authority, but I have decided to put my money where my mouth is and write something meaningful as I have always believed I can. Something that will hopefully benefit my fellow youth.
An accomplished American businessman was once quoted saying, “If you do not have competitive advantage, don’t compete.” Curt and brutal. It almost sounds like a warning or a bold declaration that the world is for the big sharks to rule. The meek rest should just throw in the towel or find a sharper set of teeth. Shift your perspective a bit and it’s more of a summon than a warning, a call to everyone who wants to be successful to improve themselves but the fact remains that we live in an extremely competitive world with accomplished aces in every career field you turn to.
It can therefore be very easy to fall into the same traps that others before us fell into by cutting corners and compromising our beliefs and such to ‘get to the top’. The better, perhaps slower and less likeable, alternative involves digging deep and asking ourselves what separates us from the rest and working on that.
Don’t Sell Your Morals For Peanuts
In other words, you have a license to be stubborn. Not the kind of stubborn where you stick by your opinion even when you know you’re wrong but more the kind where you stick by what you believe whatever that may be.
Steve Jobs was a serially stubborn guy, and that even got him fired at some point from the company he built. However, his persistence in creating ‘closed system’ computers, against the advice of computer engineers, played a big part in the emergence of the personal computers that we use today.
Tap Into Your Strengths
We all differ in the sense we have different strengths and weaknesses. However, against popular contemporary advice, you should focus more on your strengths than your weaknesses because your strengths are what separate you from everybody else. Working on your weakness, on the other hand, gives you a glimpse into somebody else’s strength and forces you to try and ‘copy’ that. It’s not necessarily bad, it just shouldn’t be first priority.
If your strength is charisma, you can pretty much have a lot going your way if you use it well. If it’s creativity, then let your imagination run wild. If it’s an unparalled work ethic then buckle down on anything you work on, just don’t run yourself into the ground.
Experiment and Refine
“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Once you find a personal style with which you can approach anything, seek ways to improve it. This is when you can start working on your weaknesses, but not necessarily focus there absolutely. This is when you take a word or two about how you ‘do things’ from people you trust but sieve what is helpful from what is not. More importantly, what people propose to you should not clash with what you envision for yourself, remember the first rule still applies here!
Have a Mentor (or Role Model)
Mentors push you to improve yourself, and better, they teach you to take risks where you were anxious to do so before. They push you out of your comfort zone.
I remember in high school, one of my English teachers asked us to write a poem as part of homework.I wrote mine but it came out more of a prose than the surreal rhyming works of Edgar Allan Poe and William Blake that had already sullied poetry lovers with immense expectation. I didn’t like it. My teacher loved it. So much so, she begged me to let her submit it to an ongoing poetry competition. I agreed to her wish simply because I could never say no to her, not because I shared her enthusiasm. Imagine my surprise and delight when I ended up runner-up in the competition. Later she approached me and told me:
“You didn’t think this was possible. Imagine what else you are capable of that you don’t think is possible right now?”
Mentors, however are hard to come by. In such a case, a role model would have to do. Find someone who is a big shot in your field of interest and learn how they got where they are. Learn how they schemed and identified opportunities, how they took risks where everyone else was too afraid. What you shouldn’t do is keeping up with what they wear or drive or the what their big mansions cost. Remember, you are supposed to learn from them, not worship them. Almost any celebrity out there has a thing or two to teach you, if you know what to look for, even Donald Trump, according to this article by my uncle.
A couple of months ago, we had one of those little moments with one of our lecturers where we throw academics aside for a moment and just ‘talk life’. One of the most interesting things we discussed was the fact that around the country at least ten thousand other students were majoring in the same course as we.
The real kicker, he went on to explain, is that regardless of how many of us finish university with high honors, the tech companies existing in the country only hire a handful of people each year, and even less fresh graduates. You have to be among the top top to have a prayer of ever being employed. The alternative is for each one of us to start our own companies from scratch by taking on increasingly complex projects and building a team around us.
Either way, we have no choice but to completely embrace what separates us from the rest of the bunch, and forge our own paths.
If you enjoyed or benefited in any way from the article, please do let me have your comments and opinions below.