Updated: Nov 22
“Freedom is always associated with risk taking, whether it leads to it or comes from it. You take risks, you feel part of history. And risk takers take risks because it is in their nature to be wild animals.” — Nassim N. Taleb, Skin in the Game
Me holding “records”When I was 5 years old my family moved to a town on the outskirts of Houston, TX. There was a pond behind our house where you could often find kids that lived in the neighborhood fishing. I decided to try my luck for the first time shortly after we settled in and took my rod and tackle box to the pond. On this day I caught two fish (pictured) at the same time. A kid who lived in the neighborhood exclaimed to me “those things (fish) are records!” I didn’t know any better so I thought that the type of fish I caught were called “records”. When I called my dad to tell him what I had done, I told him that I caught two record fish. My parents thought it was so funny because they knew I was mistaking the species of fish that I caught with what the neighbor kid actually meant by calling them “records”, meaning the largest fish that had been caught in the pond…I had misunderstood someone speaking english, imagine that. Looking back now, there is no way I could see where I would go in life. On that day, not only did I catch the largest fish to come out of the pond (allegedly), but I caught them at the same time. It wasn’t my intention to break any records that day. I just went out to have a good time like any 6 year old kid. If I had not gone out and gone fishing that day my life would be no different today. However, this day serves as a perfect example that you never know what will actually happen when you go out and try to do what you want to do. On that day there was no way for me to know what I would be doing right now. There was no way for me to know all the people that I would meet and see the impact that they would have on me. But looking back now, one thing is very clear: Trying new things, doing new things, and in turn creating new experiences has helped me to see new possibilities much more clearly than studying the same things, doing the same things, and having the same experiences. Now, me going fishing as a 6 year old is essentially a risk free experience. As I said, if I had not gone fishing that day, my life would be no different today. If I didn’t go, I potentially risked not having a good time fishing, but at the same time, I was 6 years old and could make a good time out of playing with a calculator. What is important is that I did what I wanted to do and the outcome was beyond my expectations. As an adult we often feel the consequences of our actions much more than we did as a child. Unlike children, we think much more about things before doing them. In general I believe that this is very unfortunate. Of course it would be unwise to do certain things without thinking about them first, but when it comes to doing things that we desire, thinking about it first often leads us to believe that it isn’t possible and thus discourages us from trying it. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is filled with educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race” — Calvin Coolidge, Amherst 1895 You can be the most talented, smartest, and well-educated person, but if you don’t have the persistence and determination to overcome the challenges that come with applying your intelligence and talent to the real world, it’s all for nothing. I learned this quote in college and know it by heart. I experienced the truth of the quote right after graduating. I graduated college with a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering, a minor in Mathematics and a minor in General Business. In college I was a part of a few organizations and held leadership positions in each of these organizations. I tended to focus my time toward these roles as opposed to focusing on studying differential equations and various other random topics that I was certain I would never use in real life. This resulted in graduating with a 2.8 Grade Point Average (GPA). In today’s world, having a GPA below 3.0 and no experience is a sure way to make it nearly impossible to get hired. Companies look at it as taking a risk to hire you, and that is exactly how my situation panned out as it took me 6 months to get hired after graduating. The first company I worked for “took a risk” on me and hired me on as an intern. They ended up hiring me at the end of the internship period during a “hiring freeze” (period in which a company is not actively hiring new employees, usually due to financial reasons). After about a year and a half of working there, I began to realize that I couldn’t see myself working there for the rest of my life, so I began looking for new jobs. As I searched for new jobs, I was overwhelmed with fear about how difficult it would be to begin anew. I doubted my own capability to overcome challenges and adapt to new environments. As an engineer, it is very common to overthink things in pursuit of perfection, and this is still a problem of mine today. Coupling this with my 2.8 GPA and “no (applicable) experience” in my mind I felt stuck and hopeless. At my job interview with my current company, a small business, the owner and I went over my resumé in his office. He asked me very little about what I learned in school but was very curious as to what type of projects that I had worked on. Out of fear of over expectation and wanting to be as honest as possible, I did my best to make it clear that I had no prior experience in his company’s field of work outside of a school project. I explained to him that my GPA was lower than average because I spread myself thin in college as I was very involved in organizations. He told me two things that really resonated with me.
“We don’t give a crap about GPA here, we care if you work hard and have the ability to solve the problems that our customers need fixed.”
“The most important thing that you have on this resumé here is that you have a sense of how business works.”
This really opened my eyes. I can remember distinctly calling my close friends and family to discuss these exact things. It gave me a huge sense of hope for something that I had stressed out over, because I didn’t think that I had any “real experience” for this job. I stressed that there would be too much for me to learn and that they would expect too much of me, which would ultimately lead to my failure and me being fired. It was just something that I needed to experience to get over the sense of nervousness before starting. Recently while helping some students prepare for a job now I found in an email that I described my current job as my “dream job.” It is funny to me now because it reminds me that “the journey is the destination.” As usual, I find myself wanting to learn something new, and it turns out that just learning something new in order to master it is not yet the final destination for me, but only the journey. Realizing this makes me extremely thankful to be on the journey that I am on. I personally don’t know another person that gets the opportunity to work with so many talented and “hungry” individuals in the world. It is both a learning experience and a humbling experience. I absolutely love to hear everyone’s story about how they got to where they are today. There is simply no other job like it that I have experienced.
As of right now, there is no telling where this journey will take me. As I prepare to spread my wings and fly by myself, I can’t help but ponder a little in awe at how comfortable I feel about it. I’ve become accustomed to feeling comfortable feeling uncomfortable. I know there will be failures, but I’m at a stage in life where I’ve learned to accept failure. I analyze it, and then refocus on what is important. Doing this consistently helps me to see past things that aren’t important and have a better understanding of who I am and who I want to become. I’m not here to set records, just to have a good time helping you in order to get where I want to be.
Tony Sossong Talk With Tone Blog — Helping Non-Native English Speakers Improve in Business English and Sounding Native