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Life After College?! by James A. Cusumano

You’re a college student struggling to create your future, a future embraced with meaning, success, fun and fulfillment—been there, done that, and know the challenges and misgivings that come at that point in college life. However, I can assure you that tools exist to short-circuit what can be an arduous process, often filled with disappointment as you struggle from major to major and job to job, in order to get “there,” wherever you think “there” may be.

I spent the better part of five professional lives (so far!) working with colleagues and speaking with successful entrepreneurs to find the most effective means to long-term fulfillment and success. I discovered from my experiences and from numerous discussions over the years with successful entrepreneurs that the classic definition of success, the one that has been propagated globally by society for more than 300 years, no longer applies.

As world-renowned journalist Arianna Huffington like to say in her “Third Metric” model for success, the classic definition has only two legs on the metaphorical three-legged stool, money and power. Most professionals now find that this “unstable” two-legged structure is not the source of long-lasting fulfillment and success.

I’m not dismissing the importance of financial security and personal advancement, but there is a much more powerful and fundamental driver in the new model for success, one which, if truth be told, is hardwired into most people, and if accessed, more often than not, results in significant financial and position rewards. And that driver is service—providing a product that helps others and makes the world a better place.

My neighbor in Palo Alto, California for more than five years was Steve Jobs and I can assure you from conversations with him and others that he, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and numerous other successful Silicon Valley entrepreneurs were not driven to success primarily by money or advancement. They wanted to make a positive difference in the world, or as Jobs once told me, “I want to make a memorable dent in the universe with insanely great products—period!”

Many of these successful entrepreneurs ended up making billions of dollars, and now most are in the process of giving much of it away. So why is this outcome such a common financial exit strategy for so many “successful” entrepreneurs?” What did they find out in their journey that was so important? The answer is unquestionably, service; making the world a better place by creating products that properly used can make a positive change in the world.

I have found that you are absolutely capable of finding that special part of your body, mind, and spirit that distinguishes you from all others in your professional or academic and personal circles—that unique “something” which gives you sheer pleasure and has the potential to generate great value for both you and the world. I call it your Essence. Everyone has it. It’s the real you, not what you or someone else thinks you should be, but—deep down—what you have always wanted to be—what you were born to be!  You come into this world with it, and when you discover it and connect it with a need in the world that makes it a better place, you have found your Life Purpose.

Most of us innately “know” what it is when we are quite young, but for many of us, the machinations and rapid momentum of our modern technological world are a distraction and can push us on to another track—one that is often unsatisfying and unproductive, even if it results in money and power.  Your parents always wanted you to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or to fall in line and follow the family business.  But is that what you really want to do with your life? 

Or possibly there is a recording that has echoed over and over again in your mind since childhood, something like, “Everyone knows that a degree in business is the best way to a high-paying job and financial freedom.  And for goodness sake, forget about your interest and special talents in the arts or music or sports. Do you want to be a pauper all of your life?”  Many people end up pursuing “practical” professions, not ones that are based on their innate strengths, capabilities, and deep interests.  Here, “practical” is the classic definition of success and equates to money, status, and power.

Is it any wonder that recent studies show that only about 20 percent of employees are happy with their jobs?  And as for so-called “successful” business people, less than 20 percent have truly satisfying marriages and close relationships.  Your true interests and capabilities, if properly pursued, have the highest probability of providing personal satisfaction, making a positive impact on the world around you, providing financial security and an enviable professional position.

No matter what your fundamental capability may be, there are many avenues to pursue all three legs of the proverbial “stool of success.” Let’s say you are excellent at sports, but for many reasons, you don’t want to pursue a career as a professional athlete. Depending on your desire, predilections and capabilities, you might decide to open a chain of sporting goods stores; or become a professional sports agent, or pursue a position as a sports announcer, or a coach, or many other possibilities. Similar strategies can be developed for those highly skilled in the arts or music or any other profession not considered by the archaic classic definition of success as the “proper” path to pursue.

Finding your Life Purpose excites high levels of emotional and physical energy; it opens up incredible avenues of creativity; and enables you to address challenges in ways you never thought possible. The power it gives you can lead to significant achievements, which in turn result in huge benefits. These benefits may be financial, emotional, psychological, spiritual or some combination. You will experience gratitude as you have never felt it before, and that is one of the two critical requirements for long-term happiness.

The second component is BALANCE between your personal and professional endeavors. As a college student, professional in this case means your academic pursuits.  My definition of balance is an effective level of effort in both your personal and professional lives such that you readily achieve the goals you set for yourself in both areas. These goals must be based on your personal values. Your values are not the basis for what is right or wrong; they are not what someone else, even you, thinks they should be, but in a moment of unadulterated truth what is really important to you. 

In BALANCE, after showing you how to discover your Life Purpose, I provide you with the means to identify your fundamental values, ones that always point you to “true north” for your successful personal path through life.

The final step is to use your Life Purpose and your Values to create a rolling three-year Life Plan, one that you update at the end of each calendar year. This plan is a bit of a challenge to create the first time around, but after that, updating it on an annual basis is straightforward. The plan must be time-managed. You should consult it weekly and sometimes daily to be sure you are directionally on track. It keeps you focused on what is important to you, both in your personal and professional (academic) lives. It soon becomes an enjoyable habit as you observe your progress.

I developed this process over five professional careers while playing an active role as a father helping to raise three lovely daughters, and still had time for my hobbies and personal endeavors. As I progressed from rock star and recording artist; to research scientist and corporate executive; to Silicon Valley entrepreneur; to filmmaker; and more recently to holistic hotelier, I have improved on the process, and I can guarantee that it works. It has for me, for many of my friends and colleagues, and it can work for you!


By James A. Cusumano www.JamesCusumano.Com