Life Lessons From Adults To Children
Today’s Guest – Mary Lee Gannon
I was asked to present to high school students as part of a program entitled “Pittsburghers That Make a Difference.” My topic was Goal Setting. When first asked to do this all I could think about was how boring a topic this would be to teenagers. It was even boring to me. And then when I found out that one of the other presenters was the veterinarian from the National Aviary who was bringing the Froot Loops bird I knew I was in trouble. So I decided to focus my talk on something kids and many adults tend not to think about – failure.
What happens when you set a goal, are working toward it and realize the goal was a mistake?
Forty-four percent of college graduates change their major between the second semester of their freshman year and graduation day. Eighty-three percent of a recent graduating class of Duke University were working for a different organization within five years of graduation and 43 % had changed careers at least once.
Setting goals and readjusting them is an ongoing part of life.
Remember two things with respect to setting goals:
#1. Begin with the end in mind – Know where you ultimately want to be.
#2. It is important to fail early – Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks.
If you have made a bad career choice, define your transferable skills and start researching other opportunities. Transferable skills are in the following three key areas: 1) Organization of Information, 2) Communication and 3) Fixing and operating equipment and systems. If you are in school and majoring in something you feel will ultimately not make you happy, diversify your course selection and change majors or minor is something new if it is too close to graduation.
Your job, your ongoing education, your relationships, your outside activities – they are like a boat at a dock. You will get one. You will get in it. Your boat will start to pull away from the pier. If you have a set of oars, you will drive the boat. If you don’t the boat will drive you. You probably won’t sink – unless there is a terrible storm where faith and self-worth will come strongly into play. But you will more likely find yourself in the same inlet circling the same waters over and over never being able to pull out of the harbor and into the sea toward a destination.
Think about people whom you have heard repeatedly say, “I hate my job.” “I hate my life.” “If only he would…” They haven’t taken hold of the oars.
Goals are not notions. Goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results Oriented and Timely. “I am trying” is not a goal. It’s a notion.
“I will do it within this amount of time” is a goal.
So ask yourself, if circling the inlet is good enough for you? Who is driving your boat?
When I graduated from high school I went off to college in Michigan where I majored in an allied health profession and took a job in the Houston Medical Center upon graduation. In my first month living in Texas I knew I had made a mistake. Houston, though lovely, was not where I wanted to live the rest of my life, but I could gain valuable work experience there that I couldn’t get in any other part of the world. I hadn’t anticipated how much I would miss my family and the familiarity of a town I loved. I really didn’t want to fall in love and marry someone and have to live away from things that m nattered to me the rest of my life so I set a goal – I would work in Houston for two years (personal goal with a time-frame) and then move to a place where my professional experience would stand out (professional goal with the end in mind). Two years to the day I moved back to Pittsburgh. Sure while in Houston I had to focus on smaller goals like where I wanted to live, what kind of furniture I’d buy, how long I wanted my commute to work to be. But the ultimate place I wanted to be was back in Pittsburgh with great work experience behind me.
Then I got back to Pittsburgh and set another goal. In two years I would buy a house. Well I hadn’t figured on falling in love so that goal got tossed out the window when I married and bought a house with my husband. We had four children. I continued to work in my profession before my first child was born but I was beginning to see
that while I was very fulfilled in an allied health profession at 25, there really wasn’t a lot of room for advancement and I couldn’t imagine doing this work at 45 or even 26 for that matter. I have an entrepreneurial spirit and that personality type breeds restlessness and achievement.
I was at a crossroads: I could continue doing allied health work forever. (Remember the people that say they hate their job?) Or I could work at something new – which was risky. I decided to fail early at my first career choice and regroup.
So I started building a corporate gift business and an antiques business on the side while I was working in a large physician’s office so that when we started a family in two years, I’d have something in place for home. (Calculated risk with a time frame that gave me the luxury of a paying job while building a business on the side.) I had always loved writing and after my first child was born I began writing on a volunteer basis for organizations for which I was volunteering.
What happened was that the corporate gift business and antique business were getting too large to manage from home and I did not want to work outside of the home while my children were young so one day I saw an ad that said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was looking for freelance writers and I sent clips of my writing in to the PG for consideration. (The goal of staying at home with my children was ‘keeping the end in mind’ and being a reporter held a calculate risk of rejection.) I didn’t have a degree in journalism but that didn’t stop me. I’ll never forget what the PG editor said when he hired me. “Mary Lee, you can write like you are having a conversation around the dining room table. We can’t always find that.” So by now I had pretty much realized that I was not going back to the profession in which I had a degree. I was writing five stories a week for the PG. I had picked up a lot of freelance work such as being the public relations director of a public school district, the executive director of a trade association, freelance business writing and graphic design and more – all work I
did from home.
I taught myself to write grant proposals when the public school district asked me to help them secure a grant for a summer program for special needs children. This work was not in my contract but that didn’t matter to me. I saw this as an opportunity to learn a new skill for which there was a need in society. I went to the Foundation Center of the Carnegie Library and looked up everything I could on grant proposals and then started calling funders all over the city to see if they would read my proposal. We succeed and the district was awarded $68,000 for the program. Next we pursued a grant to put AstroTurf on the athletic field. I then started to see that raising money was not just about the written proposal but more about the relationships between those asking for money and those giving away the money. I mentored under a keen school board member and we secured that grant as well – $450,000. I never got paid for working on that grant either. And I wouldn’t be where I am today without having volunteered to learn how to do this work.
The school district awarded me a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for my efforts in securing these grants. Shortly after this and when my youngest child was in school full time I took that citation on an interview which resulted in me being offered a full time executive director position at a hospital foundation in charge of all of the hospital’s fundraising. Now remember, I had never worked as a professional fundraiser. They were not offering me the job of major gifts officer, event planner, vice president of operations or any of the other myriad of jobs in the fundraising profession. They were offering me the lead job because of measurably what I had accomplished in a short period of time – $518,000 in grants on my first two attempts to fund raise.
I was with that hospital for less than two years and was then offered the position at a much larger hospital as president of their foundation where our capital campaign goal was $5 million over two years and we raised more than $10 million. That led to a bigger position at a hospital foundation where I was just recently recruited.
“I will do it by taking these steps it in this amount of time” is a goal.
Again: If you only remember two things about goals remember this:
#1. Begin with the end in mind
#2. It is important to fail early – don’t be afraid to take calculated risks
and adjust your goals.
So ask yourself, “Who is driving your boat?” Do you want to get out of the inlet to a destination or is circling the same waters OK with you?
What are the steps to get there?
It was Christopher Columbus who said, “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Pick up your oars and start now!
Mary Lee Gannon, CAE, President, StartingOverNow.com / Gannon Group