By Gabriel Fernandez – Texas Tau (UTEP)
“To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it, I thought to be my duty.” -Robert Morrison
The Fork in the Road for Millennials
Today, as young millennials eagerly venturing out into the so-called “real world,” we are confronted with a two-way road where we must make a very crucial decision. In reality, not much has changed about the system that educated us in the years prior to graduation. In fact, while many new terms and studies have been adopted, the entire education system as a whole has remained consistent but yet unresponsive to what is truly happening in the outside world today.
Thus, we are entering into a world that essentially no book or institution can adequately prepare us for. The world is rapidly changing, and our preparation for it is not.
I have always believed that just because you can get really good at doing something, doesn’t necessarily mean that what you are doing is important to begin with. And while the goal of this article is not to bash the school system by any means, it is my hope to shed some light on a concept that we must always remember while we are pursuing the things that we dream of achieving with our lives.
Throughout all of my 17 years of schooling, I was constantly told to build my resume and learn how to sell myself. The more that you add to your resume, the greater your chances of success are in life, right? Back then, it seemed simple enough.
But as millennials, if we wish to be truly successful in this world, we must face that crucial decision of whether to be successful, or to be of value. It is my direct observation that the most successful people in the world did not accomplish what they did in life because they were necessarily smarter, had better resumes, or interviewed better; instead, they were simply just more valuable.
What It Means to Be Valuable
Robert Morrison tells us that he found it to be his duty to do the very things that no one else would have done. This is the very basis of what it means to be a valuable person. And in the world we live in today, it is not a perfect resume nor a great sales pitch that can guarantee you anything. It is what you do and how you do it that will guarantee you a life of true value.
All around us there are those duties to be performed, as Morrison would call them. Perhaps these duties might involve our own personal goals, responsibilities, or relationships, and in other cases, they involve other people, our communities, and the problems within our society. We are living in the day and age when there are more problems to be solved around us than there are people to create them. And if our world really is so advanced and more capable than ever before, where are all of the solutions to these problems?
If you take a close look at all of the people who have changed your life, it is obvious that we should strive to become valuable to the world, and not just successful for the sake of success. In the world we live in, there are far too many people that need our help, far too many problems to be solved, and far too many people who are not willing to do something about either.
It is our responsibility to do what ought to be done. No matter what career path you choose, no matter what your passion may be, these same principles apply and there still remain many duties to be performed.
Doing What Ought to Be Done
Is it enough to know and understand that there is a right thing to do, but not take action to actually do the right thing?
The world is full of people who are world class finger pointers. In the business world, the education world, and even the nonprofit world, everyone knows what the right thing to do is. In fact, we know exactly what the right thing to do is. We even make Powerpoint presentations about the right thing to do, we give speeches about the right thing to do, and we even go so far as to tweet and post about the right thing to do, but there is an elite population of people who actually do the right thing when it needs to be done. That’s a valuable person.
And this should come as no surprise. Doing the right thing is not always as easy as saying yes or no. Oftentimes, when trying to fulfill a universal good, we are met with resistance, hostility, and opposition, and when this happens, we usually throw in the towel.
But valuable people, the people who will never have to worry about finding an opportunity, simply because people will need them to get something done, those people do what ought to be done because no one else wants to do it.
This is our duty as young leaders and as the future of our world. We have to acknowledge the duties that exist around us and make the conscious decision to fulfill those duties. It doesn’t matter if your job title includes that duty or not, or even if you weren’t the first person to realize that duty; simply knowing and realizing is enough for us to do what ought to be done.
A person who is truly valuable always makes the conscious effort to do what ought to be done, especially if no one else wants to do it.
If you don’t do it, who will?
Solve Other People’s Problems
The biggest pitfall I have experienced in students is their sense of entitlement. It is true that we are all naturally good at certain things and naturally, we also love to flaunt the fact that we are good at those things. And when the realization sets in and we have discovered that we have an ability to outperform others, we suddenly develop an ego and feel that the world is indebted to us.
But are any of us really that good at anything?
The biggest fault of this type occurs when people refuse to offer their time and talents simply for the benefit of others and nothing more. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, many college students that I mentor have landed jobs just weeks after gradation simply because they were willing to work for free and offer their talents to solve other people’s problems.
If you have an ability that can be of benefit to others, sometimes you have to swallow your pride and let your abilities speak for themselves. A monetary price for your abilities will never tell someone how truly valuable you are, but your ability to solve problems and help others always will.
I can personally attest to teaching countless hours of private lessons for free, teaching classes for free, performing for free, writing for free, tutoring for free, advising and consulting businesses and nonprofits for free, and even solving some of the biggest problems of others, all for free. And now today, when the time comes for my startups to get off the ground, or for my own problems to be solved, there are people all around me offering to help me out. Even when the time came for me to get my first salaried position, other people whom I had helped in the past were working tirelessly to secure me a position, without me asking them to do so. This all happened because I had proved that I was valuable to them and that my abilities could produce and solve problems; all the while, other people were refusing to offer their time and help without some sort of material compensation.
We sometimes forget that in the grand scheme of things, it is our relationships with people and the things that we do for others that matter the most. Most people make the mistake of trying to win and have everything too soon, while forgetting the big picture altogether.
Be a valuable person by helping others, serving others, and offering your talents where they are needed, even if that sometimes means working for free. Once people realize that the job can’t be done without you, you don’t have to look for opportunities because people will send those opportunities to you. Add value to people’s lives, and even if it doesn’t always come back to you in the form of a paycheck, continue to add value where you can.
This is just part of doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing.
Become a Student of Reality
There are really only two things that are certain in life: obstacles and death. Death is inevitable, and should constantly remind us that our time here is limited. There is nothing we can do to counter death, nor is there anything that we can do to skip over it. Let death always be a reminder that life is short and delicate, and it is how we spend our time that will make life worthwhile.
Obstacles, however, belong to an entirely different world of strategy.
A huge pitfall that I have observed in my students is the inability to seek out advantages in obstacles. Most people face obstacles, get angry and upset, blame the world, shut off, and wait it out. But the top 1% of performers in the world experience obstacles and use them as raw material for growth.
As Napoleon Hill famously said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” Except sometimes, we just aren’t digging deep enough to find that benefit.
The final, and probably the most important component of making yourself valuable is to be a perpetual student of the world. By this, I don’t mean just learning about the nuts and bolts of your career or industry, I mean learning from anyone and from every experience. In our lives, we don’t have enemies and great friends, we just have teachers. Every experience with every person is an opportunity to learn something.
While I aim to not make this concept a far too esoteric one, the biggest takeaway is that we need to always seek out the lesson in everything that we do. If you didn’t get a job offer, find out why and make improvements. If someone cheated you out in a business deal, find out where the holes in your plan were and fill them. If a relationship previously ended in your life, learn what went wrong and what you need to improve in your own self for the future.
You see, the seed of benefit is always present, we just have to dig for it. We need to learn how to condition ourselves to see the hidden benefit in every obstacle by asking ourselves what sort of virtue must be put to use at any given moment. In Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, a book I strongly recommend for any person who desires to make positive changes in their life, Marcus Aurelius says, “…always take the present moment as raw material for the exercise of rational and social virtue.” Indeed, we must look to our experiences as opportunities to practice the very virtues that we so deeply hope to exemplify.
Be a person who makes a habit of treating failures and pitfalls as opportunities and advantages. Use obstacles as opportunities to develop and call upon your virtues. Perhaps in this moment you need to be patient, perhaps you need to be more selfless, or perhaps you just need to show up and keep trying until it happens. Only then do you make yourself immune to obstacles in life, and only then do you make yourself a beacon of light and value to others.
It is our duty, as Robert Morrison would call it, to stop chasing after empty success and fame for selfish reasons. Instead, I hope that we can recognize that we are each just one person in an entire world of needs and problems. Let us use our talents and our abilities to become individuals of value to both the world and to ourselves for many generations to come.
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