With the election quickly approaching, voters are asking, “What is the vision of each candidate to move the country forward?”
Perhaps, because I put little faith or stock in politicians, I think you would be better served asking, “What vision do I have for myself?” Answer that question faithfully, and watch yourself and the country succeed.
Lately, as part of a multi-pronged strategy to market my book, Life Lessons of a Harvard Reject, one or two days a week, I’ll stand on some street corner or thoroughfare and wave my sign, “READ HARVARD REJECT.Com,” hoping to drive people to my website so they can learn more about the book.
A couple of weeks ago, with my sandwich board sign, I stood atop a rock wall waving the sign as drivers descended into the Rose Bowl to watch the UCLA game. It was a little eerie (spooky, it’s Halloween season) because the entire time I was facing the house in which my father died on Linda Vista Avenue. As I stood there, I wondered many times what my dad would be thinking if he saw me. I believed he would have given me two-thumbs up!
Then about a week ago, I was back in Pasadena waving my sign by an on-ramp at the confluence of Lake Avenue and the 210 freeway. Because of parking restrictions, I had to park a few blocks away. Well, I ended up parking in front of an old five-unit Craftsman-style apartment building that my parents once owned. I worked many a Saturday and Sunday there. I received my first bee sting there while chipping and sanding away old paint under the second-story eaves. I also remember helping my dad build a slightly crooked outside staircase.
I mention this only because that apartment represented income to my parents. Each tenant represented x-amount of dollars. Well, that dowdy Craftsman at the corner of Maple and Catalina in Pasadena that runs along the freeway is a much improved and respectable lady now. The staircase doesn’t look crooked anymore and a new clapboard facing dresses up the building handsomely. The trouble was at the time, we thought of the building as simply an old wreck that provided us income. It could have been the Taj Mahal, and we wouldn’t have cared. Our vision was limited. We were living in the now; heritage was a foreign word.
The new owners, however, had a different vision, a grander vision, a better vision. (In fairness to my parents and me, I don’t know what rents the new tenants are paying some 30 or 40 years later, but I’m glad the building has been restored to a measure of her original greatness even at the cost of higher rents.)
Shifting gears now, I also spent much of last week on the phone arranging speaking engagements in front of different business groups. At the end of each conversation, I’d make sure to point the person I was speaking with to my website, www.HarvardReject.com.
But from the start, although I went to great effort and expense to make the lead video on my website, I always suspected that that initial video was too serious. (If you’re getting in front of people for 10 or 15 minutes, they don’t want to see some dour sourpuss ranting on; they want entertainment with a little bit of information.) After getting some instructive feedback, spooned to me delicately, I resolved to make another video — a more fun video, less corporate, etc. But what would I replace it with? Redo’s always require more thinking and extra vision.
Well, I figured it had to include a dog. People like dogs, right? Colleen and I are surrounded by three Pomeranians every day. So, I wrote a 30 second-script, with the last frame being the dog, a Boxer named Tank that belongs to my middle son, Roger, walking in with a mortar board on its head, indicative of the dog being wiser and smarter after having read Life Lessons.
With the concept of the video in my mind, I began rummaging through my closet and pulled out a mortar board that you wear at graduation. It even had a maroon tassel, the Harvard colors. Then in another closet I found a black robe. After putting on the cap and gown, I put on my sandwich board, and after glancing in the mirror, I felt ready to graduate to a higher vision of marketing for the book.
With my new wardrobe, Colleen and I drove to Claremont, where the city was hosting a big outdoor fair on Saturday (by the way there were lots of La Verne people there (Roy and Cindi Prather, John and Sandy Norman, Mike Albo and his wife, etc.) In my cap and flowing black robe, I fit right in. It is a college town. It was Halloween. Colleen and I even had Princess, one of our three Poms, walking beside us. It was the perfect marketing storm!
I was getting a better response from people, simply because I now had a better vision of my product and message. I was fully owning my role. I had refined my vision. The cap and gown were the finishing pieces of my ensemble.
Why do some of us lack vision? Why had I been walking the streets partly disrobed – my costume and message not fully connecting with audiences? I had simply failed to think things completely through. I didn’t see far enough because I hadn’t been thinking and pushing my thinking far enough. I had curtailed my vision. I hadn’t taken all the blinders off.
Final case in point, and this is for you aspiring students. You have a job and you’ve been a loyal employee, but you have an important test you need to pass to advance your career. You need at least a week off from work to bone up for the test and do your best, but you ask your boss for only two or three days off.
That’s the wrong vision. If you have a good boss, he or she will give you the full week you need. And if you ask and don’t get the full week to realize your vision, it’s time to work somewhere else.
This vision thing is a big deal, and the sooner you learn to expand and embrace yours (instead of following somebody else’s vision for you), the more successful you’ll be. If only my father and I had seen the full potential of that old Craftsman we had been working on, maybe some of those drudgery-filled hours of chipping, painting and sanding wouldn’t have been so dreadful. If only I had seen that my sign-waving self had needed a better, more eye-catching costume to drive people to my site … If only the student had seen that his vision was as important as his employer’s and had boldly asked for those extra hours.
From today forward, no more “if only’s. See a grander vision for yourself. Don’t sell yourself or your vision short ever again.
See your Moses in the marble before you every strike the first blow. As Michelangelo told us, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim to high and miss it, but we aim too low and reach it.”