PERSISTENCE

As the marathoners plan to beat the two-hour marathon record, I reflect on a trait that will make this possible. No trait was ever as important as this last one that I learned in Engineering school. Persistence. Engineering school is tough, period. If you’re going through it right now, I feel for you. It does get slightly easier though as you delve more into your interests and applicable studies. Persistence, grit, determination, perseverance, whatever you want to call it. This one attribute became paramount.

Before I started school in 2008, my dad and I drove up to Fayetteville for the Freshman Engineering Orientation. This was an exciting time for both of us. My father got to send me off to college, and I was more than happy to experience college. When we arrived, they maneuvered us into one of the large auditoriums in the Bell Engineering Center where we would be having most our classes. We found a seat among the hundreds of other eager prospective students and their parents. After they described the various engineering disciplines and courses, they laid it on us hard and heavy. They described that most of the forthcoming students would not make it out of the University with an Engineering degree. Wow! This was tough to hear for many of the kids and parents alike. There was a lot of nervous shifting in chairs and anxious coughs while everyone digested what the Engineering Dean just stated. This is exactly what I needed to hear though.

Like most engineering students in college, high school came easy for me. I studied rarely, but never really knew how to study. I hadn’t had to understand how to study in high school. I would say that I learned quickly when I made the leap to higher education though. With classes like Chemistry 2, Calculus 2, and Physics 2, I had to learn quickly. I began to enjoy the grind associated with getting decent grades. Not everybody had the same affinity for the “grind” as I did though.

As I continued through the freshman and sophomore years of the engineering school, I began to see what the Dean was talking about. Many of my friends that I encountered in classes started to slowly drop out. They decided that they didn’t quite enjoy the pressure of maintaining good grades, while the classes got tougher and tougher. Not to mention the fact that a lot of the engineering classes took place in the “early” morning. Guess they figured the engineering students wouldn’t be partying as much! I’m not going to say that I took the hardest classes on campus, because there were far harder ones in the Chemical and Biological engineering schools. Most of the ones that dropped out, did so in the first two years though, when everyone in engineering takes the same core classes. After this two-year period, you start to branch off and become more specialized in your degree.

Throughout the program, your moxie was tested. There were late nights studying, missed parties, and missed social opportunities. I did my best to balance my scholastic life with a social life. I joined a fraternity my freshman year, in hindsight, this might have been a bad idea. I did my best to maintain my educational standards while enjoying the social activities involved with the Greek system and succeeded. I maintained my grades and had a good time doing it. Needless to say, sleep came at a premium freshman year. Throughout all the struggles, including thermodynamics, I came out on top and graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering. Azim Premji, an Indian business mogul and engineer once stated, “You have students in America, in Britain, who do not want to be engineers. Perhaps it is the workload, I studied engineering, and I know what a grind it is.”

I am grateful for my experience at the University because of the skills I learned along the way. The hard work and determination needed to pass the classes was probably the biggest take-away from my education.  The classes were meant to teach about the various aspects of engineering, but they ended up teaching much more than that. Once I graduated from school, this became ever more apparent. I would like to restate the quote I inserted at the start of this chapter because it has meant so much to me and my goals. Calvin Coolidge has been attributed to this “persistence” quote but has never actually been confirmed to have written it. Regardless, the words of this familiar quote resonate with all those who are working toward a seemingly unobtainable goal. The quote goes like this “Nothing in the 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 full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” I challenge you to reminisce on these words when you need them most. I guarantee that they will help through the “tough times”.

Starve Your Distractions

Welcome to the 21st century. Distractions are literally everywhere you look. How can we not get caught up in distractions when everything we own seems to buzz, beep, or flash at you? This habit may be the hardest to pick up, but I guarantee it will be the most lifechanging.

Distractions come in the form of emails, texts, phone calls, co-workers, and other variables in your environment. In a study produced by Michigan State University, 300 participants were given a task to complete consisting of a sequence-based on a computer. This chore mimics the usual work tasks of a majority of office workers. They then produced distractions with various intervals. They found out that it only took a distraction of less than 3-seconds to result in twice the errors to their original effort. Less than 3-seconds! That’s similar to just glancing at your phone to read a text message. So why would this very short distraction cause so many errors? According to the lead researcher, Erik Altmann, “the answer is that the participants had to shift their attention from one task to another. Even momentary interruptions can seem jarring when they occur during a process that takes considerable thought.”

As I’m sitting here typing the book, my phone’s notifications are constantly drawing me away from concentration. So how do we take back our attention from the technology that now surrounds us? One strategy to remove distractions from our electronic devices is to simply turn off the notifications. This sounds maybe too intuitive, but without that little pop-up to check an email or the ding of your phone saying that you have a message, I can guarantee that you would not check your messages nearly as regularly. That “little” notification is intoxicating. It sends a rush of dopamine to your brain. Like that of drugs or sex. The unpredictability of the message triggers your brain to produce dopamine. You can actually become addicted to these alerts. Scary, right? I suggest picking two to three times a day to check emails and respond to calls or messages. You may miss a few “important” emails now and then, but your productivity will increase exponentially with just this small shift.

As a student at the University, we had various study groups that would meet to trudge through thermo’ homework or study for the next big test. These groups were great when you didn’t understand a topic because you could often get someone else’s take on a subject. They were not so great when you failed to grasp the concepts, because of the distraction caused from your peers. This takes place in corporate offices throughout the business world. Many distractions are in the form of questions or requests from co-workers, managers, or clients. How do you eliminate these distractions without abolishing the company’s culture norms and maintaining relationships? The key is communicating your needs up front. Tell your roaming colleague (oftentimes looking for a distraction their selves), that the best way to ask a question of you is to email you and you will get back to them. You may lose a few friends at first, but you are becoming more productive and taking your time back. You shouldn’t feel bad for this. They will eventually respect your requests and will start to make it a habit of sending an email first. You will then answer emails when you originally prearranged to. This will significantly cut back on distractions in the workplace.

With all of the distractions taking place these days, it’s a wonder anything gets done. You now have the advice and tools to reclaim your day from the power of disruptions. All of these distraction elimination techniques require discipline. Discipline to turn off notifications, discipline to confront diverting co-workers, and the discipline to block certain websites.

Passions

One of my passions has grown to be commercial development. I work on it from a consultants side but would soon like to get into the game from a developer’s side. As I sit here thinking about the winding road that lead me here, I can’t help thinking about how a true passion comes about. Are we just born with this innate love for a career path or is it something that is developed over our years in a career? Is that why some people don’t love what their doing? Is it because they never became a firefighter or an astronaut like the said they wanted to be as a child?

In Steve Jobs famous commencement speech to students at Stanford University in 2005, he stated: “You’ve got to find what you love,” Jobs said. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” He states that the only way to do what you love is to find it. Is that how it really works? Do you have to search for your passion or meanings or is it something that you run into like a brick wall?

I can see both sides of this coin. Growing up, I never quite knew what I wanted to be. Hell, I didn’t even know what I was truly passionate about. In school, it was truly hard for me to say definitively that I was really passionate about anything (other than myself I guess). I would spin this to say that you can become passionate about your mission in life, not necessarily a career. But once you understand how you can align your career with your mission, then you will truly thrive. Once I made the mental shift to change my career into more than just a paycheck and into a vessel that would align  with my personal mission, I really began to love what I was doing. It seemed to have purpose. From purpose came passion.