Last week I was called upon to deliver a graduation speech to the business students of RMIT University.
Having been in their shoes only a short time ago, I was wondering what wisdom I could possibly impart in a quick 15 minute speech.
I remember sitting at my university graduation filled with trepidation. I fully understood that the elation of finishing my course would soon be dampened by the reality that thousands of other graduates would be applying for the same positions I was seeking.
I’ve always believed that the confines of the classroom rarely prepare a student for the real lessons that need to be learned.
Life at the bottom end of the corporate food chain is tough – kind of like the reality TV show The Apprentice, but without the glitz and glamour. Still, unlike the wannabes in The Apprentice, most of us don’t have to put up with a bankrupt property mogul with a comb-over for a boss, who each week threatens to single us out and say “you’re fired”. Here’s how to rise to the top.
Don’t be discouraged
It’s been said that the work environment puts you into contact with people you would never choose to spend time with ordinarily, and that it’s a wonderful learning experience in your career.
Perhaps that’s true for the lucky graduate who scores a job at MI6 and ends up sipping martinis with James Bond after work, but for the rest of us dealing with the dynamics of work can be dispiriting to say the least.
Around the time I started work I began reading one of my all time favourite authors, American Robert Ringer.
In his many books Ringer often speaks of being conscious of the “discouragement fraternity” – co-workers who will attempt to pull you down at every turn, telling you that it can’t be done, you’re too young, and questioning the validity of your contribution to the job at hand.
Ringer explains that through his experience he has found that many of these people tend to be bitter that they themselves have never gone out and achieved things in their own right, and now take this frustration out on young people who dare to rise above.
Anyone who has worked in any organisation for some length of time will likely have encountered one or more of these people.
Without properly guarding themselves against their jibes, many young people often become discouraged to the detriment of their career.
Jump ahead of the pack
Another favourite author, Dan Kennedy, talks about the leapfrog theory. This simply states that at any stage of the game, regardless of your educational level, upbringing, or age, you can decide to leapfrog over the pettiness of people and move forward to achieve your goals.
Personal experience has shown me that when you make that decision and you have the courage to stick with it through thick and thin, you’ll get what you want.
It’s said that 90 per cent of success is in just showing up. Therefore having a game plan to work towards each and every day will invariably put you so far ahead of the rat race you’ll be surprised what you can achieve in a short period of time.
Instead of dealing with the discouragement fraternity who attempt to lecture you on the 101 reasons your ideas won’t work, you’ll often find that your vision will attract the attention and admiration of people with the same motives.
Prove the nay-sayers wrong
When I first started my Barefoot career on student radio station SYN-FM I was warned by lots of people who were “only looking out for my best interest” that young people didn’t care about finance, and that no one would take a money show aimed at youth seriously.
I could have taken that on board and dispensed with my silly notions of making finance fun. Instead I ploughed ahead and found unlikely friends among the very successful who were more than willing to give up their time (for free) for the success of the show – big names such as Sir Richard Branson, Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, and Gerry Harvey, to mention a few.
The truth is that young people have a wonderful opportunity that is in very short supply – time.
Without the pressures of the Triple Ms (Marriage, Mortgage and Midgets), many young people have a great opportunity to throw caution to the wind and create something of value in the market place.
Take sleepwear king Peter Alexander. After a few years in retail he stumbled upon the idea of designing men’s PJs for women.
At the time the conventional wisdom was that this was a ludicrous idea.
In the early stages of the business Peter was left with a large supply of pyjamas after a major retailer declined a purchase. Taking all the money he had left (and breaking a golden business rule) he placed an advertisement in a women’s magazine offering to sell via mail order. Peter now has the biggest mail order pyjama business in the country.
How to rise to the top
While it’s well documented that many businesses fail within the first year, there’s something to be said about attempting to turn your passion into profit.
The big secret they don’t tell you in those graduate interviews is that every employer is ultimately looking for a person who is willing to go the extra mile – to do more than they get paid to do.
Many people mistakenly believe that it’s hard to get to the top of a big business. The truth is that if you know where you’re going, are willing to put in over and above what your work contract stipulates, and manage to sidestep the negativity of the workplace you’ll be so far ahead of your competition you’ll leave them all for dust.
Tread your own path.