Column: Off the career path

"And to you C students, you too can be president of the United States," President George W. Bush told the Yale University class of 2001. While Bush's statement received giggles from some, it gave hope to others. Our very own commander-in-chief, love him or leave him, knows what it means to fail. In fact, many of the great successes of today were at one time considered hopeless failures.

In the crazed time of job hunting, we seniors measure ourselves by numbers and bulleted accomplishments. We hear stories of the people who've "made it" and worry that we are already far behind. Theodore Roosevelt had written his first book by the time he graduated from Harvard. Richard Branson started Virgin Records in high school. But for every child prodigy who becomes an adult genius, there is a still growing grown-up who finds his or her path only when the time is right.

Some well-known success stories give us comfort. We can smirk if Microsoft fails to offer a second round, knowing that Bill Gates probably wouldn't have hired himself. We can begin a pipe-dream screenplay, picturing Ben Affleck's transformation from Matt Damon's couch dweller to JLo's playboy.

Here I've selected a few more "failure" stories to help you breathe easier during the job search. Put them on the fridge next to your rejection letters. Post them on the bathroom mirror with your morning mantra. Success is painted by struggle, and it's not about where you start but where you finish.

Bush wasn't the only president who didn't look destined for the office from the get-go. A West Point graduate, Ulysses S. Grant was kicked out of the military for drinking. After bankrupting himself in personal businesses ventures, he retreated to his father for a job, only to fail even at nepotism. However, when he entered the Civil War, his exemplary leadership turned to heroism, and his vices no longer seemed so vile. When some politicians complained to Lincoln about the general's drinking problem, Lincoln responded: "You find out what kind of whiskey General Grant drinks, and I'll send a case of it to all my generals."

The best ideas are often called insane. Patch Adams became interested in medicine when he found himself in a mental ward--as a patient. Frustrated with the state of medical care, he trained to be a doctor and started healing with humor. He is currently working on construction of a free medical clinic, and doctors around the world are mimicking his method of bringing joy to patients by donning a clown suit.

How about the man some of us wake up to every morning? After having three shows canceled and being fired from another, Matt Lauer was so fed up with show business that he answered an ad to be a tree surgeon. When the phone rang later, it was not the tree trimming service calling back but WNBC asking him to host Today in New York. His starring role in the NBC affiliate's morning line-up led to his current position at the network's Today show.

The dorky kid on the broom may have reflected his writer's need to fly away. J.K. Rowling, famed creator of Harry Potter, has recently lived a personal fairly tale. A divorced, single mom living on welfare, Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone at a table in a cafe during her daughter's naps.

Although Rowling's book was snapped up right away, other writers haven't been so lucky. Pat Conway, author of Prince of Tides, was so desperate to sell his book that he was willing to pay for its publication. When he finally got a bite from one publishing company, he said he couldn't afford the $7500 price tag. He couldn't believe it when they explained that was the amount they were going to pay him.

Sometimes it doesn't even take a degree to make money. Douglas Tompkins, future creator of The North Face, was a high school drop-out who hung out in Chile as a ski bum and then worked in California as a tree topper and mountain guide. He met his wife when she picked him up as a hitchhiker in her VW Bug. After founding The North Face with a $5,000 loan, Tompkins and wife Susie went on to create multi-million dollar clothing line Esprit de Corps.

These stories remind us that the path to success often parallels that of self-discovery. If you haven't found the career of your dreams in your first four months in the real world, just remember you have 40 more years of working to go. To quote a song about a very famous duck made legendary by an enterprising cartoonist, "Go on and try your luck."

Julie Smith is a Trinity senior. His column appears every third Wednesday.


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