Like many college sophomores, I was facing an existential crisis. I hadn’t had a job of any kind prior to my freshman year, and I had been just fired from the first job I ever had — quite deservedly so, in retrospect. Comfort had turned to complacency, and complacency then became laziness. I soon found myself nearly halfway into my college career with no prospects, a black stain on my employment history, mediocre grades, and no real plan for what I’d do when I’d graduated, if I’d even make it that far.
Directionless and despondent, I drifted from class to class in a haze. Improving my grades at the time felt like a monumental task, especially with the mental state I was in at the time.
I noticed I had an oral presentation to give in my personal finance course. There was nothing particularly special about the course, per se; just a stereotypical 101-level general education class I had to take to fill out my roster for the semester.
And then one day, I was struck by a peculiar sort of inspiration. Whether it was direction from some higher power, or whether a fortuitous arrangement of chemicals had decided to assemble in my brain that day, I can’t truly say. I decided to go completely above and beyond on this project, figuring that I had the technical chops to make it a presentation worth remembering. (Now that I think about it, maybe it was simple egotism that saved the day here.) I spent far more time on it than it perhaps deserved, but I had so much free time from being fired that I barely missed it, and hey, I’m at college, might as well use the time to study, right?
It worked. I got an A without much difficulty and an ovation from the class, but that’s not why I’m writing this article.
The professor came up to me after class to discuss the project; she was blown away and wanted to know more about the technicals. I told her that I was a computer science major and already had a background in programming, Office products, and so on, so putting together some flashy effects in PowerPoint was completely within my wheelhouse. She then mentioned that her husband worked at a condominium development firm and was desperate need of a network administrator, and that she could work it through the university as an internship.
Needless to say, I was overjoyed, and gratefully accepted.
The internship was successful and led to my college classes being shifted around completely to more advanced level work.
Experiences in this class led to a hearty letter of recommendation and thus directly to my first ‘real-world’ job at ADP immediately after college.
Given that opportunity, I climbed up the ladder at my company without much trouble. I then moved to New York for further adventures at my company. By the time I left ADP, my income had nearly tripled compared to what I was hired at.
And now I’m writing to you here on Medium.
All because of a silly little presentation that I gave extra effort on where it probably wasn’t needed to get the job done.
What I didn’t tell you about until right now, though, is what felt like thousands of job applications I put out. I tried taking on a few freelance jobs that failed spectacularly, primarily due to my lack of confidence rather than my lack of skills. I’d try to read up on new skills, try them out, form little cottage industries, then watched them fail. The one success I had here followed so many missed swings that even to this day it hurts to think about, but it only took one success to wipe ten thousand failures off the board.
But all it took was that one success in the midst of a sea of failure to set me on a track that would carry me for the next fifteen years.
What this has shown me is that life does not experience effort commensurate with effort. You’re rarely given a little reward for a little effort, so it becomes difficult to see if you’re on the right path. We’d all love to see if a path is going to bear fruit before we set too much effort walking down it, but that is not a luxury given to us. “Life isn’t fair” is a cliché, to be sure, but it’s often spoken from a perspective of envy or greed; “they have more of what I want, I should have that too.” I found it much more constructive to view it instead as, “life will not always reward my effort the way I feel it should, but that is not an excuse for me not to try.”
Every time you put the effort to move forward, no matter how far you’ve fallen, no matter what your position is in life, you plant a seed. You can put all your hopes on that single seed, and it may never germinate; but if you never plant a single seed, you’ll never grow a garden.
So the question becomes, what seeds will you plant today?