I started my career working as a security guard at IBM. I didn’t know what the future held, and truthfully, I had no idea of how amazing my future could be. My biggest dream at that time was to become an IBM manager and own a home. While that was a big step up from where I was, I wasn’t aiming high enough.
I always believed I was capable of achieving anything, I just didn’t think the world would let me, given my background as well as some of the choices I made. I think I understood that I always had to better myself, and I knew I could, but I doubted whether the system would see my unique capabilities as I took a very non-traditional route. I was what one executive who mentored me called “an acquired taste.”
I had an unconventional childhood that’s incongruous with the life I live today. My father died unexpectedly when I was seven years old. He didn’t have life insurance and my mom had to go back to work to support five kids. We lost the air conditioner, hot water and TV. Things weren’t easy in school either.
No one ever spoke to me about applying for scholarships or aiming to go to college. No one expected that I could be better than good—and that I could hustle my way to great. No one told me that there was such a thing as a breakout. I was only told that I would have to take care of myself when I graduated high school. That curtailed the possibilities. While both of my parents went to college, I was the first of my siblings to get a degree. For all of us, the options felt somewhat limited.
I wish we knew then that they were boundless. I wish I knew that we could create opportunities, jobs—an extraordinary life. While there’s no formula, there are individual steps on the path to success that must be followed. It all starts with aiming high. What’s high enough? Imagine yourself on a stage five years in the future telling people what you’ve accomplished. Are they inspired or unimpressed? You always want to leave them amazed. If what you are thinking is not amazing enough, think bigger.
In working, I learned:
• One opportunity could beget another and hard work—especially volunteering for the hard jobs no one else wanted—could yield stratospheric success.
• A pedigree, while a good stepping stone, is not the only way to get where you need to go. The only way to get where you need to go was to actually go for it—to show up, and knock on the door, and then run through it.
• When you try and succeed you’ll see winning is fun—and addictive. You will want to do it over and over.
• Don’t ever become cocky. You have to learn how to win gracefully. Stay humble and live up to the hype about you.
• Prove yourself, again and again. With successes you will gain the perspective that what you once saw as a mountain was just a hill, and you will realize that you still have a ways to go to reach your peak. Always focus on the next range of mountains in front of you.
After a decades long career, I’ve come to understand that what society expects you to do is not all that you can do, or are going to or can do. We are all capable of more than we think we are. Dream big, but execute bigger. If you are willing to dream and then work hard and execute well you can achieve more than you ever imagined.