On Saturday 23rd July 2011, I had the privilege of speaking to a diverse audience of high school students, college students and mid-career professionals in Philadelphia, USA on the subject “What’s Next?”
This is a question which inevitably pops up at every point in life when a person begins to feel dissatisfied with the status quo. For the average high school student, the question is largely that of progressing to College for Undergraduate studies, for the College graduate, the questions vary between getting a job and proceeding for graduate studies. And for career professionals, the range of questions is much wider: getting married now or later, moving on to a better job, switching careers, working longer or combining jobs in order to meet the financial challenges that definitely lie ahead and so on. The bottom line is, every human being will someday arrive at the point where the question “What’s Next” arises.
One fundamental issue that needs to be clarified is that every physical shift is preceded by a mental shift. The old saying by Albert Einstein that “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result” still stands true. Before one can make that physical movement from one level to another, there needs to be an alteration in the thought pattern of the individual. A working professional who would move from one level to another within a corporation must be prepared to think strategically for the next level before the promotion arises. Similarly, a bachelor/bachelorette who intends to make the transition from singlehood to married life must be prepared to ‘think for two’ (or more, if tiny feet appear soon enough). Therefore, mental progress is essential in moving to the next level at all stages of life.
What necessitates a shift to the next level? For most individuals, progress to the next level is imperative when they have outgrown their present state; when they begin to engage in activities below their capacities. Each individual needs to maximize their potentials, but sadly, most working professionals are engaged in activities below their abilities. Les Brown, a frontline motivational speaker once said that “Most people fail in life not because they aim too high and miss but because they aim too low and hit!
For anyone who would make the shift to the next level, there must be a preparation stage. This entails analysing one’s present strengths and weaknesses, analysing one’s interests, studying the new field into which one intends to proceed and developing new skills to thrive in the next level. Any high school student who intends to proceed to College for undergraduate studies must be prepared to do well on the SATs, just like any college graduate must do well on the GRE test. Similarly, any young person hoping for a blissful marital life must invest time and resources towards marriage!
Having prepared for the next level, one needs to discover the next level which comes by keeping one’s eyes out for opportunities and continuing in the process of self development and building a culture of excellence. At times, opportunities will find you when you least expect them; therefore as the motto of the Boys Scouts goes “be prepared always”. With full preparation, stepping into the next level will not be so difficult. With desire, drive and discipline; ambition, ability and the right attitude; education, experience and education, anybody can move to the next level in education, career and family life.
Finally, thriving in the next level requires vision, creativity, risk-taking, passion and focus. We must realize that as Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds said, “Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. The world is full of educated derelicts”. Whoever will survive in the next level must add training to talent and maintain a sense of focus. Reproducing success is equally important; we must all imbibe a spirit of mentorship to ensure that we can multiply our efforts through other people.
Life will not always be fair, some people would travel more difficult roads than others, but Joe Biden’s words ring true every time “the measure of a man is not the road which he travels, but the choices he makes along that road”. As we remember that this is our one shot at life, not a dress rehearsal, we must focus on giving value at all times and raising the bar on ourselves. I’ll conclude this line of thought with some words from Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group: “Nobody should be remembered for how much money they made in life. What matters is whether you have created something special and whether you made a real difference to other people’s lives”.
Give value always! Enjoy the next level!