What is it that makes some people consistent winners at life and others just an average dot on the bell curve?
After finishing school (a very long time ago), I wanted to be a Veterinarian. I spent 12 months putting my all into getting a place at vet school - doing unpaid internships, studying hard to get good grades and every other spare second I had I spent refining my application. After biting my nails all summer long, in January the offer letter arrived. And it wasn’t what I expected. Rejected – ‘places in the vet program are competitive, you’re welcome to apply next year’. How did this happen? I was great!
How did I feel? Fucking gutted.
I had failed despite putting everything I had into it and it HURT. That same day, I received a second letter with a ‘Congratulations, you have been accepted into the Bachelor of Science’ – of which I probably could have been accepted into without even finishing year 12, they were so desperate. The university was over 3000km from my home (there wasn’t very many vet schools in those days!) so there didn’t seem much point accepting a place in the science course, which I could have easily done at a university closer to home – even though my bags were basically packed (I had clearly anticipated success). For weeks, I moped around home and felt sorry for myself. Like most teenagers, to me – it was the end of the world. After I hit rock bottom, I got over myself and I made a plan. A solid plan.
I decided to pack my things, accept the offer into the science program and haul my backside the 3000km to the other side of the country -all in one week, despite my parents thinking I’d lost my mind.
My plan: I’d work harder this year and I’ll apply again next year. And that’s what I did.
So, I worked really hard (no change there).
Step 1: Be persistent and resilient. Move on from failure (it happens to the best of us) and don’t accept NO. Sometimes failure feeds your hunger – so play another hand.
It became clear in those early months of the science program that 95% of the other 300 students, were like me, rejected from Medicine or Veterinary Science and all had the same plan as me – work hard and reapply.
My plan was flawed – I was doing the exact same thing I did the year before and I was expecting a different result? I had the same plan as hundreds of other people and I was hoping for my application to get to the top of the pile and shine through? I had to change something…
Step 2: Don’t keep doing the same things over and over and expect a different result. Change something. And that something is usually YOU.
It became clearer what I needed to do over the following months. Sure, I needed top grades, but I needed to stand out. And to do that, I needed help from someone that knows how to navigate the application process to give me the best possible intel. Someone that knows how to get in.
This brings me to Dr John Pluske – he was my biology professor. He was smart, charismatic, young (for a Professor) and had a relaxed, easy to understand way of teaching. People liked him. I also knew he was on the Admissions Board - and I saw an opportunity. I made myself known by always sitting near the front and asking a few questions after lectures (a hard task for me who was always a rogue student, notoriously late and not great at sucking up). One day I approached him in his office and asked if he might have time to chat to me about applying to vet school.
His first reaction was surprise: “Kate, I didn’t even know you wanted to go to vet school?!”
Glad that he even knew my name, I sat down and told him my story and I asked in my awkward round-about way if he could help me. Of course, he said yes – who knows if he even meant it at the time, but that was enough for me to grab hold of the fishing line and pester him the rest of the year.
Step 3: Make yourself KNOWN. Nobody is going to approach you or offer help you if they don’t even know who the hell you are. They have no reason to want you to win if they don’t know you exist.
Dr Pluske helped me with my internships, my academic performance, looking over drafts and he guided me through the application writing process (and just so you know, he never asked for anything in return).
Sure, I still did all the actual work (and received the highest grade possible for biochemistry) but he helped me shine. My gratitude to him was almost overwhelming and I found myself thinking ‘why me?’ (a thought that I would have again many times over in the following years everytime someone has helped me). By the time offer letters came that second year, I already knew what mine would say.
Two out of approximately 300 students had been given a place and I was one of them, and I have Dr Pluske to thank for that - and it was this sequence of events that changed my course as well as my thinking forever. It’s also what prompted me to build Sydney startup www.thankly.com.au – an online platform that makes sending a thank you as easy as sending an email.
Step 4: Stand out (without being weird about it or attention seeking). Be likeable, memorable and look after your relationships. Quality relationships will take you far.
We are not islands. Success (and happiness) is a direct result of the people around you and who’s supporting you. The quality of your relationships with others, and how you look after them is what sets you apart and allows you to consistently win at life.
Of course you have to be good. It’s a given – good at your job, good grades, good at pretty much everything and anything - but that’s only ever going to get you to the start line. Because when you get to that starting line, you’re not going to stand a chance when you’ve got nothing else up your sleeve and realise every single other person is as GOOD as you. You need a cheer squad.
You have to have something more than good – and quality relationships are your opportunity creators. It could be landing a job, landing a new client or building a business - it comes back to who is in your corner.
NB I should point out here, sending requests to random people you don’t actually know on linked-in or Facebook will NOT help you. Building your networks is not just a numbers game – it’s about building quality relationships with people – you know them, and they know you.
Step 5: When you see the opportunity to solidify a relationship or connection you’ve made or if someone has helped you, follow the fuck up. Write a card or send a genuine thank you gesture to show you value them. Repeat many times over.
We all have our own stories. Mine isn’t very special. In fact, depending on how successful we’ve been we’ve all got a few Dr Pluskes. There is probably some study I could do on the direct positive correlation between an individual’s success and just how many Dr Pluskes they’ve had in their lives.
Sure, there is an element of chance (sometimes bad things happen to good people and so on), but it’s not just chance – it’s a cocktail of chance + opportunism that turns just plain luck into a game changer.
Even after a first meeting, if you’ve felt a connection, send a goddam handwritten card. If they’ve helped you in some way, send a gesture of thanks (that isn’t an email). If someone bought you coffee or lunch, helped you with your business, wrote an article about you or referred a client – send them something and write the words that show you value them. The person will not only remember your name, they’ll be in your corner for many years to come. If you did this 1000 times over, I think you’d find you’d have personal brand advocates all over the place. People willing to give you a leg up when the time comes.
Step 6: When you’re a big fish, take time to remember the people that influenced you and changed your course, and let them know the impact they had. It’ll mean more than you know.
We’ve all got a Dr Pluske in our past, and as 2017 gets started and we all reflect, take a small moment to think about those people that have given you a leg up, helped you succeed and possibly even changed your course. Send them something – a card or gesture to express how much you appreciated what they did. Let them know what they meant to you – I think you’ll find most don’t even know that they had such an impact.
Step 7: The final step. Pay it forward and give another little hungry fish a leg up in life.
My story isn’t unique and I have accumulated a few Dr Pluskes in the 15 years since the real one. It’s because of other people giving me a leg up, that have helped me succeed. Creating Thankly was my way of paying it forward. To others, it might look like just another gift store, but to me, it’s so much more. I find meaning in building a service that helps people build networks, send gratitude, land a sale and make quality connections with others – and ultimately help them succeed.