Recently, a friend messaged me on Facebook, asking a question about pursuing his dream. It went something like this:
Friend: What would you consider more noble, right, and helpful for the future: working toward a passion and balancing work or sacrificing a lot of time for an excellent opportunity that will help you in the future (but it may interfere with your passion and work/life balance)? And briefly why?
Me: what do you define as an “excellent opportunity” and what do you define as “helping you”?
Friend: “Helping you” as in stable job and income flow, and “Excellent opportunity” as a competitive internship.
Me: haha as I thought. I mean it’s ultimately your choice.
Friend: I just rejected a competitive internship so I can pursue my research interest in cryptography and systems research, so I am not sure what I did was right.
This is a struggle familiar among all persons of the human race. Everyone struggles at some point with whether they should pursue what they love or pursue what is practical. At the very core, it is a struggle between security and risk.
And the thing is, people are constantly faced with such decisions nearly every day. Almost every decision has an option that appears to be more secure, and an option that appears to be riskier.
To my friend, it seems foolish to reject a competitive internship that is very practical and desired by many, and he is justified in thinking that way. If an internship looks good on your resume, will help you find employment in the future, and perhaps can provide you some money, it almost doesn’t make sense to not accept it. However, the part of being competent and wise person is knowing when to reject good looking opportunities in order to pursue prospects that are more appropriate for them.
My Old Model Airplane Hobby
Yesterday, I rummaged through my closet, pulling out my collection of airplanes that I had built in middle school.
In middle school, I used to build and fly wooden airplanes. It was a hobby that consumed hours of my day, and kept me from having a social life and perfect grades. Building and flying airplanes gave me a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that appealed to me, and almost completely consumed me. I loved the feeling of completing a plane, winding up the rubber band, and letting it take off into the air, watching it circle around the gym.
However, by the time I reached high school, I stopped building and flying. It wasn’t because I got bored with the craft, nor was it because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped because I realized that there were bigger and better things for me, and that I had to let go of how much time I was spending on it.
It was a conscious and intentional step for me to say no to something that was extremely attractive to me in order to move on in my process. I don’t regret any of the time, money, or energy I spent on building and flying these airplanes, and I would love to have the chance to once again fly them with someone.
Being Competent and Rejecting Opportunities
Not all opportunities that present themselves to you are ones that you should take. Being able to decisively and confidently reject an opportunity shows that a person truly understands what they want, what their goal is, and how they are going to get there.
In order to navigate the decisions that you have to make and opportunities that are made available to you, there are three main elements to consider.
- Definite of Purpose – I need to know who I am.
- Knowledge of What One Wants and How One Wants to Get There – I need to know what I want.
- A Burning Desire to Possess it – I need to declare that I will get it.
The person who doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t know what they want, and doesn’t really want it is the person that will accept any random opportunity that comes their way, hoping that somewhere somehow, it will lead them to a better place.
But without the intentional drive and passion to get what you want, it’s easy to get lost and confused in the midst of all the tempting, shiny opportunities.
“The words you hear are what you start to think about. The words you start to think about in your mind will form your goals, beliefs, and ideas. These will move from your mind to your heart. These become an outward habit. These define your character.” – Anthony Arnold
Knowing who you are and what you want helps you to filter and process the things that you listen to and the things that you think about. And as these thoughts eventually determine your character, they also determine the way you carry yourself and how you relate to and impact the people around you.
That’s why you can’t just take every opportunity or thought that presents itself, you have to learn to filter and process what actually matters.
Someone else will always get more recognition for doing less significant work.
Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind Apple, was heralded as a visionary and creative genius according to the Apple website. The man knew how to position Apple according to their audience, and create value that no one has ever seen before. He was known by millions as the guy who lived a minimalist life and designed flawless products. He knew how to create, how to brand, and how to sell. He deserves the respect for bringing accessible and beautiful technology into the hands of so many everyday consumers.
But arguably, Dennis Ritchie, the creator of the C programming language, and co-creator of the Unix operating system, had a much greater impact on the world of computing. With practically every modern program, kernel, and compilers written in C, Steve Jobs would not have had the impact that he did without the work of Dennis Ritchie. Dennis Ritchie was the genius that empowered every single technology company today to do what they do. The work of Dennis Ritchie laid the foundation that Apple, Microsoft, Google, etc built their companies on top. And not surprisingly, Ritchie had much less recognition than Jobs did.
In the same way, being a teacher usually doesn’t come with a great opportunity to become recognized by millions, but being a teacher presents hundreds of opportunities to empower students with what they need to be recognized by millions.
The difference between success and significance is that success means doing something that impacts millions while significance means doing something that empowers a handful to impact millions. Success is about building yourself a name, while significance is about empowering someone else to build a name. Significant people who empower individuals have no idea how many people those individuals will impact.
The people who have truly changed the world are sometimes largely unrecognized, because they valued empowering specific people over being known by all people. So to all the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, teachers, counselors, mentors, friends, etc out there, thank you for your significant impact on the world.
Do you want to be successful or significant? Neither is less honorable than the other, and the two are not always mutually exclusive.
The purpose of any leader or leadership organization is to bring some sort of change or obtain some sort of goal. It is not enough for a leader simply to know what to do, they must know how to communicate and bring people together.
I’ve written in the past about how high schoolers have poor training in leadership, and how leadership is about being significant rather than famous. At the heart of significant leadership, there needs to be a desire to empower future generations to accomplish things beyond what you have been able to accomplish. A leader that is afraid of his followers gaining more power than himself is one who builds a community around himself rather than around the group he is serving.
Significant leaders, ones that have a heart for the people they are leading, understand that they must surround themselves with other leaders, instead of surrounding themselves with obedient workers.
“Managers are maintainers, tending to rely on systems and controls. Leaders are innovators and creators who rely on people. Creative ideas become reality when people who are in a position to act catch the vision of their innovative leader.” – John Maxwell
With that said, I’ve noticed that there are four significant areas, that when properly understood, contribute to a leader. I am not claiming to be the perfect leader by any stretch, but these are simply based off of what I’ve noticed.
Create A leader must have a goal, vision, or an understanding of what he/she wants to change. The leader must understand how to accept himself and be vulnerable with the people he leads, in order to boldly and fearlessly take steps toward achieving the goal or vision. Having something tangible to show for often is a leader’s creation that will attract the interest of people, whether it be an idea, a teaching, a philosophy, a talent or skill, or anything else that catches the attention of people.
Express Leaders must be able to express their vision, goal, or creation to other people. A person who is unable to communicate what their creation is will have a hard time having people understand what they are about. In order to lead a group of people, communication allows people to connect with a leader and understand the leader. Effective communication is more than revealing your vision or goal, but also being open and vulnerable about the heart behind it, where it’s coming from, and the emotions and feelings that may be attached.
Inspire After communicating the purpose, vision, and goal with people, leaders must inspire people to make their own steps and choices. This often requires telling people why they should care, in order to get people excited and passionate about what a leader is trying to do. Giving people the freedom to be inspired means giving them the freedom to choose what their response is. Significant leaders understand that not everyone they pitch their idea to will come under their cause, but it’s more important to have a smaller group that freely chooses to accept what you have to offer rather than a larger group that comes through manipulation and pressure.
Empower A significant leader empowers others with the freedom to accomplish things that are greater than what they have accomplished. Significant leaders allow people to take their breakthroughs and build on them, instead of hiding them away. Empowering other people means giving up your control and trusting that people will be able to contribute as much to the purpose or vision that the leader can.
Being a leader is a position that requires an understanding of how to serve people, and being effective at leadership is a practice that is very much related to personal skills.
As a recently graduated high school senior (class of 2012) that has served in leadership in various clubs and groups, there is definitely a lot more to leadership than it might seem. Here are a couple of pointers.
Take Risks. You will fail sooner or later, and once you come to accept that, you will realize that you grow best in leadership when you learn from your own mistakes. With that said, never hesitate to venture out into the unknown, and do things in ways that no one has ever done before. Think outside the preconceived traditional ways of leading, and focus on doing whatever you can to help.
Lead By Example. The fastest way to lose people who support you is talking the talk without walking the walk. Lessons are infinitely more valuable when you teach from experience. When you experience something, you experientially know what is practical and what is impractical.
Inspire People. Inspire people to action. Give them the freedom to question you, and make yourself open to any opinions or concerns people might have. Invest above and beyond what is required of you into these people’s lives, and get to know people personally.
Have a Vision. Establish a vision and refer back to it often, so that you constantly take steps toward your goal. A vision is something that often takes weeks to establish, and may change as things go along. Since having a fuzzy goal leads to fuzzy results, try to be clear with your vision, defining every little term so that everyone who hears your mission statement interprets it the same way.
Serve Humbly. Leading is not about building yourself up and making yourself famous. Ironically, the way to most successfully lead any group of people is to build them up and make them famous. Because when you empower other people to lead other groups, your influence extends to people you would never have had time to influence. Learn to build other people up.
Communicate. Being able to communicate is perhaps the most valuable asset to a leader. Focus on being able to express your ideas clearly, meaning that you probably may have to repeat yourself. Also understand that communication is two way, meaning listening is also key to communication. Take interest in what the other person has to say, and value them as individuals. There is no such thing as overcommunication.
Lastly, remember that you are dealing with high schoolers, which means you are dealing with a huge variety of maturity levels and changing personalities. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go your way, because leading a teenage kids can be a real challenge. Just pick yourself up and keep being awesome.