For college students, January means the arrival of the spring semester. When the calendar turns to 2016 it could mark the beginning of your last semester as a college student, or the start of the completion of your freshman year. No matter your class standing, I want this new year to represent something other than another 15 weeks of classes. Let 2016 be the year you begin to take more risks.
I’m not asking you to be more open to taking risks as a resolution, but as a philosophy. All too often I meet students who shy away from opportunity and count themselves out before they even try. The success stories I share about students who have gone on to land great internships and launch their careers, are success stories because they took a risk. They took a chance and applied, they took a chance and talked to a recruiter, they took a chance and made a phone call, they took a chance and sent an email.
Taking risks is also not just about doing things that line up perfectly with your preset goals. Don’t go after only what is comfortable. A risk could mean diverting your course for an opportunity that presents itself. Perhaps you apply for an internship with X company for a certain position but they offer you an internship in a different department. Take the chance and get exposed to something new, don’t run way because it doesn’t fit into your perfect plan. There are many people doing careers they love now, who discovered talents or passions because they took a risk and explored something new.
I know the idea of taking a risk can be intimidating. Don’t let fear and doubt creep in because you don’t have a 4.0, aren’t super involved in everything on campus, have no previous experience, or don’t have the “right” major. Furthermore, don’t get intimidated and not apply to the best internships because you don’t attend what others may consider to be a more prestigious university.
Shift your focus to what you do have. You have earned the right to sit in a college classroom and learn, you’ve earned the right to prepare for a bright future, you’ve worked for the opportunity to pursue a career you can love. Taking risks will be an integral part of your career path. Taking risks will be a necessary part to you achieving the success you desire.
The summer before my sophomore year I applied to intern with the Rochester Red Wings AAA baseball team. I had good grades, I had some part-time work experience, I played sports in high school and I had the right attitude to want to learn. What I didn’t have was a four-year college on my resume. Even though I’d gotten into five four-year colleges, my parents thought it best to save money and go to the community college (you can read more of this story in my book, The Internship Manual). Ultimately, I got the internship. I was the only intern out of 12 from the community college. I could have easily talked myself out of applying for the internship because of where I was in my educational journey. I was prepared, so I took a chance and it worked in my favor.
One of my best friends, during her senior year in college contemplated applying to Teach for America, a very competitive non-profit organization that provides teachers for low-income schools. Annually they receive over 40,000 applications and accept only 15 percent into the teaching corps. She was concerned because she had a major in Health Sciences with just below a 3.0 GPA from a public university. We talked. She took a risk and applied anyway without much belief that she would get in. She did of course get offered the position and started her teaching career with them. She has since served as the Principal at three elementary schools. She was prepared, she just needed to take the chance, to put herself out there.
In my five years as senior manager for a national internship program, I lead the efforts to place over 400 interns with some of the largest media companies in the world. Yearly the program placed only about 10 percent of applicants into internships. What did all of the interns have in common? They all had to decide to apply and take a risk despite the apparent odds being against them. Some of my students never thought they would get to work for companies like ESPN, HBO, Showtime, Viacom, Comcast, NBCUniversal and others. I’ll let you in on a secret, not every intern I placed had a 4.0 GPA and an Ivy League education (most didn’t). Another secret, some of the students I placed applied to the program multiple times before getting their dream internship.
Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation.
Just because you choose to take a risk doesn’t mean it will happen for you immediately. I am not talking about overnight, instant, microwave success because you see something you want. I am talking risk with preparation and thought. What I see often is students who are prepared, who are ready but who don’t take the plunge. Who get nervous that they aren’t good enough so they stay on the sidelines while others who are less prepared scoop up opportunity.
You are good enough and in 2016 you need to get off the sidelines. Regardless of the result, you need to move towards goals that you have have previously thought outside of your reach. There is a lot to be said for passion and fire but there are also some tangible things you need to bring to the table to get that dream internship or eventual dream job. Figure out what they are for you then move forward by learning, challenging yourself, pushing your limits and preparing for it.
Success occurs when opportunity meets preparation. Are you prepared to take that risk?