The following Instant Messenger conversation took place between me, Susan Greene, and a friend who wants to become a copywriter. He is 29 years old and has just started college on a full scholarship. He is currently homeless, unemployed and has no family, all of which makes doing well in school that much harder.
Why am I involved? This person is my friend on Facebook, although we’ve never met in person. For the past two years he has occasionally reached out to me for advice about achieving his goal of becoming a copywriter. He’s also shown me some of his writing, which is surprisingly good and proves he does indeed have writing talent.
I see my role as providing encouragement as I would for any friend and offering writing career guidance when needed. I should mention that he’s had several false starts, which have taken a toll on his confidence. I mention this because I think you’ll hear in my tone a bit of tough love. My intent is not to be harsh. It is, however, a no-bullshit, failure-is-not-an-option approach to pushing him.
I am sharing the following conversation in hopes that perhaps it can help others who may be dealing with their own challenges to keep moving forward in pursuit of their dreams.
RH: Susan, I wasn’t originally going to write but I just decided to. I’m having trouble with the whole college idea. I just feel like I’m not college material. I feel like I’m someone who shouldn’t go to college. I’m one of those people who doesn’t “fit.”
Don’t worry. I’m still going. I’ve made no rash decisions. I’m only hoping I’m not setting myself up for failure.
Susan: Do not quit! “Not college material.” Oh please, who is? We all have our struggles.
You’re one of the smartest and well-read individuals I know. You belong in college more than any of those 18-year-old kids who have zero real- life experience. Stop over-analyzing yourself. And just focus on accomplishing your goal to become a copywriter.
You’ve already tried the not-going-to-college route and it wasn’t leading anywhere great. So now, just resolve in your mind that you have no choice but to get that damn degree, and if possible, try to learn something along the way so you’re employable in a job befitting someone of your intelligence and talent.
Saying you’re not “college material” is a cop out. If you told me you had other better options awaiting you, I’d be supportive of you quitting. But you don’t. And you’ve been given an opportunity that few others get FOR FREE.
Do not quit! Stop letting yourself even play with that temptation. That’s the easy, lazy way out.
Setting yourself up for failure? That’s your concern? So your solution is to fail before you’ve barely begun? Just stop thinking that way right now. It’s stupid. Do not quit!
Go do something useful and productive today, whether it’s homework, helping someone on the streets or writing something creative. Accomplish something and don’t let yourself even CONSIDER quitting. The only real failure is quitting. You got it? Do not quit!
Ok, I’m done with my rant. But man, I sure hope you got my point. DO NOT QUIT!
RH: I never said I was going to quit. What? I didn’t, I swear.
You know what the problem is? As much as I love my friends on the street, I’ve been around them too long. These are people who have either have no opportunities or had plenty and just screwed them up due to bad choices. None of them is going anywhere. They’re doing nothing. The reality is they’re going to die on the streets. Someone will find their bodies.
I can’t be around these people anymore. So I’m gradually letting go and surrounding myself with college people. But those people are a decade younger and we have nothing in common.
My brain hurts from all the upshifting. I feel like a feral animal being caged. Then rehabilitated for its own good. I hope I’m making sense and shedding a little light on my thinking.
Susan: I hear all that. Your brain is supposed to hurt in college. It’s supposed to be hard. But you can’t allow the thought of quitting to even be a possibility. Just because something is hard to do isn’t a reason to not try. It really doesn’t matter if you don’t have anything in common with the 18-year-olds at your college. Your goal is not to make best friends. It’s to get your degree.
Stay clear of anyone who is likely to deter you from your goal. If you need help, such as tutoring, get it. But don’t even consider quitting just because there’s a possibility you will fail.
Look, I have fear of failure too. Everyone does. But you know what? I just keep chugging along. I say “yes” to writing assignments that are way over my head, and then somehow, I figure out how to get them done. I don’t give myself a choice. That would be a luxury that I haven’t earned. So I do the work, learn as I go, and the next time it’s not as scary. Progress.
Take one small step in the right direction today. Little accomplishments add up and lead to great achievements. You know you have my support. Just fight through those doubts and focus on your goal.
RH: I’ve actually had similar thoughts and insights. Hell, just last week someone taught me a concept called “Commander’s Intent.” It’s where you remember why you’re there and what you’re there for. She cited the same example you used. Getting the degree. You’re not there for friends or chicks or fun. You’re there for the degree.
Susan: Exactly. Now you’re getting it. Keep your eye on the prize — getting the degree and working in a job that makes use of your writing talent.
Here’s an analogy. I’m not sure this will make sense because being homeless, I don’t know if you ever watch TV. In any case, there are shows like The Biggest Loser and My 600 lb. Life that show obese people who want to lose weight or rather, must lose weight or they’re going to die.
They’re all gung ho at first. They love the sound of hearing they can lose 30 lbs a month and being physically able to do things like play with their kids or go for a walk. Then the hard work begins.
They have to resist the temptation to return to their bad eating ways. And they have to begin working out, which in their case often means something as minimal as walking a few steps, literally a few steps. And you know what? Most of them want to quit almost immediately.
“It’s too hard,” they say. “I can’t,” they say. “I’ll try again tomorrow,” they say. And you come to realize that these people haven’t ever done anything that’s hard. They don’t know what it’s like to break a sweat or not give in to temptation to eat unhealthy food. They have given into their impulses and laziness for so long that they simply can’t handle the smallest challenge.
So, in your case, you’ve had a lot of bad stuff happen. You’ve been through a lot. And now you have the chance to turn your life around. You’ve been given this opportunity. But you have to DO THE WORK.
As Oprah once said, “All the money in the world won’t make me thin. I can’t hire someone to eat healthy or work out for me. It’s my fat ass I gotta drag up the mountain.” Ok, so she didn’t say it exactly like that (although the words “fat ass” and the mountain image are all hers, not mine) but you get the idea.
Drag your ass up the mountain of academia, RH. Not college material. Ha! Screw all your homeless pals who are holding you back because they don’t want to see you get skinny while they’re still fat. Just keep moving forward. You got this, RH.
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