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Six Figures in Seven Years: From Slacker to Guru

April 6, 2014

Every job you have, no matter how crappy, can teach you something, about business, leadership, or about yourself. If you let it.

Career path.

Create your own career path!

We all have a career dream. Or had one at some time. Though that dream, if not forgotten or discarded, rarely comes to fruition in the way we envision. Sometimes it doesn’t come to life at all–because life happens, and we often let it derail us.

In the words of Scott M. Peck, from his book The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.” It’s true. It is. Sometimes it downright sucks. One of my college psychology professors used to say, “Life is a sh*t sandwich and sometimes you have to take a bite.” Peck also said, that “once we see the truth, we can transcend it.” I believe this to be true from personal experience–because if you expect that there will be disappointment and crap along the road to success, and there is, then you can plan for it and manage it accordingly, without letting it frazzle you and disillusion you right off your path.

That is easier said than done, but it is possible. I know. I did it. And though others looking from the outside in say, “I made it look easy,” it wasn’t.

I think back now to when I was finally getting ready to graduate from college. I was an older-than-average student, because I’d been in and out of school for 10 years, but that’s another story for another post–and a good one too. I remember how excited I was to go out into the world and get a real job and start making some REAL money. My dream was small then, I just wanted to earn $25K a year. That was my meager goal. And it was still the 90s. I used to think, that if I made just that much, my life would be much better. Anything would be better than the salary of a student. Back then I never even considered that someone who wanted to be a writer had the right to dream of six figures.

I was wrong.

Upon graduating and getting my first job, at about $19K, I quickly realized that even at $25K, I’d still have to wait tables on the weekends in order to have extra cash with which to enjoy life. I’d forgotten to factor that into my salary plan. Needless-to-say, the harsh reality of my new professional life, to put it bluntly, sucked!

After about 6 months of that, I already knew that kind of meager life was not for me. Professional life was not at all what I expected it to be. Not the “big time” I’d dreamed of. I needed to make things happen much faster. I wanted to be promoted faster, and get raises faster and started blazing a trail to a big salary as quickly as possible. I dreamed about this all the time. And thought about it all the time too: What are all the ways that I can bring this dream to reality? I brainstormed like crazy, just like I had when I was a kid. And it helped.

I looked at people like Oprah, who had a much harder life growing up than I did, and others who succeeded against way bigger odds, and thought, “if they can do it, this should be a lot easier for me!” And while in comparison it was easier, it didn’t feel like it. That’s where the importance of leadership comes in. I learned that sometimes leading yourself is the toughest job you’ll ever face–along with keeping yourself motivated.

So how do you do it? You stay focused on your goal. And you must be fully committed. And I mean “fully.” No matter what happens, no matter what you give up or miss out on, or how lonely you get, you cannot give up on that dream of success, because it’s there waiting for you to reach out and grab it It’s there for all of us. While all my other friends turned away from what seemed like a tough path, I stayed the course, and eventually started believing that I too could earn six figures. Why not? Why not me too? And why not you?

People often ask me if there were times when I wanted to give up. There were many times when I wanted to give up on the dream, because it seemed so distant and remote–and, well, “dreamlike.” Foreign. Ethereal. So I learned not to focus on the destination, but instead set smaller, achievable goals and milestones that gave me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, sometimes in huge ways. Those smaller accomplishments motivated me even more to get to the next point. And the next.

There were disappointments on the journey too though. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I got passed up for promotions when I knew I deserved them above others. My input and advice were often disregarded because I didn’t have an MBA. The raises I received were often insulting. And there were many other reasons that could have derailed me from my path to success, but I didn’t let them. I stayed strong, because I knew that all that stuff was just hiccups on a path to much greater things. Many of those people along the way would be at those same companies and same jobs for most of the rest of their lives, so the promotions meant much more to them than to me.

I saw my jobs as stepping stones that taught me valuable lessons enabling me to climb higher and faster, so while I wasn’t getting everything I wanted from it, I was still getting something of value. I basically learned to see those obstacles, as challenges that taught me how to solve problems and become more strategic at getting what I wanted in the workplace.

I knew it was going to take some time to achieve my goal of six figures, but I was willing to keep blazing that trail against those odds, because as I accomplished more, I also learned how to make things happen even faster, and convince people to hire me due to the value I brought, ultimately shortening my journey from $19K to six figures from 10 years to only seven! Something most people don’t accomplish in a lifetime. And it’s only gotten better from there.

I think we all have the power to achieve our dreams, but we give up too easily and listen to the voices of naysayers–people who want success to come easy, so when it doesn’t, they settle for much, much less. We lose sight of our vision, our dreams, and discount our brainstorms and our instinct.

I’d have to say that what kept me going more than anything was listening to my inner voice, because throughout the years, I kept hearing something inside me telling me that I could do it, that I could have a better life, get smarter, and better at recognizing and solving problems. That inner voice kept me going, especially during the tough times when all I wanted to do was go have fun with my friends, but instead stayed in on the weekends to read business books and do homework for my night classes.

It was worth it, because I was creating the life I wanted–the life I dreamed of as a kid. And again, I have to say that the book, From Good to Great was a tremendous source of inspiration for me at the time. It got me through the difficult times. I refer to that book a lot in my work because it affirmed my way of thinking and launched a major turning point for me. Guy Kawasaki’s book, Rules for Revolutionaries, basically served as my bible, because I saw myself as a revolutionary of sorts: I was trying to change what people saw as “the impossible.” His book still holds up today, because the lessons are timeless and just as valuable.

 career-development, #strategy

There’s a strategy for attaining six figures! What’s yours?

I never did get an MBA, though I started to twice, but always got so busy I could never continue. I ended up getting my MBA from books and actual work experience alongside other MBAs. After a couple of years, I often competed against MBAs for the same jobs–and I often won. And I don’t say that to brag, but to note the value of learning on your own from books-and from other people. I was lucky to have worked around a lot of every smart people who were willing to take me under their wings and teach me, so don’t discount the value of relationship building.

I like to joke that I got my MBA in a Box, and it still did the trick. Best of all, it only cost pennies in relation to a student loan for grad school. It’s all in what you do with the knowledge you have. An MBA can only open doors for you, the rest is still left up to you. If you cannot convey the value you can deliver to a company, an MBA still won’t get you the job. Not anymore.

You have to take that first step toward your dream, whatever it may be. And surround yourself with people who believe in you and challenge you to be your best. Stay away from negative people who have no vision. When I told people I was aiming for six figures in ten years, they all laughed at me. And said, “That’ll never happen. Today they ask for my advice on how to earn more, negotiate better and how to career transition, so I don’t hold it against them. They used to tell me I “was dreaming.” They were right. I was dreaming, all the time–about my future and how to make it come true.

Dreaming is a requirement! It’s your brain showing you what’s possible. It’s what moves us forward.

My favorite Buddhist quotation says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And I know from my experience that it’s never too late to get started. I didn’t start my journey, or even realize what that journey was for me, until I was in my early 30s. It’s never too late to start.

My dreams continue to be big, bigger every day actually. For me, the sky is the limit as far as success and accomplishment go. That’s how I see the world: Endless possibilities! And if I ever get disillusioned or think a dream is too big, or too far away, I just think of someone like Oprah and what she’s done, and still doing, and I quickly remember that my dreams are possible too. Yours are too.

Here’s to making your dreams a reality!

Read more. Learn more. Earn more!

g_ROD

 

 

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