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One of the greatest things you can do for yourself is to learn from every single experience you have ever had. Each and every day you are having experiences, and you choose what to do with them. The wisest people are the ones who see every experience as an opportunity to learn. Smart people can transform even the smallest experiences into lessons that drive them to become better at everything they undertake in the future. You, too, can learn from your experiences and, in so doing, benefit tremendously.
In every experience, there are things that did and did not work for you. Your objective is to learn from what happened. The more you learn from your experiences, the more effective you will be at whatever you do in your career and life.
Think back on your career: There are things that have happened from which you can still learn. What lessons can you use to drive yourself forward? How can you get better at what you want to do now?
Every experience, no matter how trivial, offers a chance for you to learn. I’d like to tell you a story about just such an experience of mine and how I shaped my life by learning from it.
Years ago, when I was in college and about 19 years old, I was sitting in the television room of my dorm at the University of Chicago. As I sat there with a friend of mine, Danny Weisberg, a commercial came on for a real estate seminar led by a man named Tom Vu. In the 30-minute commercial, Tom Vu was shown driving around in fancy cars and on boats with beautiful women while talking about his real estate seminar.
As I watched this commercial with Danny, I was incredulous when, near the end of the commercial, Tom Vu said something to this effect:
“I came to the United States from Vietnam with no money, and the only job I could get was as a man who refilled people’s water glasses in a country club. One day, a very rich man came into the country club and sat down at a table. I asked him to tell me the secret to his success and he told me it came from only three words. He whispered them into my ear. Those three words changed my life!
“All this I got from three words. Come to my free informational seminar and I will teach you the three words,” said Vu.
At 19, there was nothing that Danny and I wanted more than to be surrounded by beautiful women, drive fast cars, and live in mansions. Therefore, we decided we would get up early on a Saturday morning and take the ‘L’ train from Hyde Park all the way to the downtown Chicago Hilton to see Tom Vu’s free seminar. Getting up early the morning after a Friday night party was something that I usually did not do in college – not even for an exam! In the spirit of fun, however, we decided we would get up early and go see Tom Vu that weekend.
When we arrived at the Hilton, we were sitting next to a single mother who had brought two children no more than three years old with her. I noticed the children were dirty. The single mother told us how she hoped this would be a profound experience. We also sat near two men who appeared to have come to watch Tom Vu in order to heckle him. The two men had beers in their hands, despite the fact that it was still morning. There were literally thousands of people crowded into the Hilton ballroom for the Vu seminar. There were so many people, in fact, the only place we could get seats was at the very back of the ballroom, at least 30 or 40 yards away from the stage. But that is exactly where we should have been.
About 15 minutes after the seminar was scheduled to start, Tom Vu entered the back of the banquet hall in a bathrobe, followed by a woman who started massaging his neck. She was saying stuff to him like “You can do this!” and “You control your future!” and other motivational encouragements. After a few minutes of this, some music started and she pulled off Tom’s bathrobe, revealing a business suit he was wearing. Tom Vu then rushed to the front of the stage to a standing ovation.
The men drinking next to us roared with laughter. The woman with the children put down one child so she could stand and clap.
Over the next hour or so, Tom Vu told the audience that if they paid him a couple thousand dollars, he would teach them how to buy distressed real estate and resell it at a profit. At the end of this sales pitch, Tom Vu got slightly teary-eyed and said:
“Now, does everyone want to hear those three words?”
The crowd roared and stamped their feet.
“Don’t give up!” Tom shouted. “The three words are ‘don’t give up!’”
I must admit I was really swept up in the passion of that moment. Despite the ethical considerations of whatever Tom Vu’s business practices were, I realized right then and there that there was a huge lesson in those three simple words. One should never give up.
Giving up was the greatest mistake one could make. If you gave up, you almost certainly welcomed failure.
Hearing those words that day had an immediate impact on me. I realized I had gotten up early in the morning to come see Tom Vu and had wasted my time listening to him, because I certainly could not afford to go to his paid seminar. So, I told myself that I would at least learn from this piece of career advice and would never give up in anything I did.
And I have refused to ever give up. I believe this particular lesson has not only served me well, but it has profoundly altered the course of my life. Let me tell you how.
When I was in college, I wanted to go to law school. To be accepted by the best law schools, I knew I would need to get a near perfect score on the law school admissions test (LSAT). I studied for this test, but no matter how hard I studied, I could never get even close to a perfect score. Therefore, I kept delaying the test over and over again. I delayed it until December of my third year of college. By the time I finally scheduled the real test, I had taken enough practice tests to assess how well I would do.
Then I got sick just before taking the test. I canceled my scores and retook the test in March of that year. I still did not do as well as I had hoped. By the time I got my results, almost all the law schools had accepted students for that year, and they told me I had simply taken the test too late. Notwithstanding this, some schools told me they would let me know later in the summer if they had an opening for me.
In considering this, I did everything within my power to ensure I did not give up on the schools that told me there still might be hope. I was remembering the lesson I learned from Tom Vu. I wrote, I called, and I had teachers and others write on my behalf. I graduated from college knowing there was very little hope I would go to law school and, instead, I decided I would probably stick with my then current life as a pavement contractor.
Working in the asphalt business was extremely hard work. Many people who do this kind of work get cancer or die very young because of the hazardous chemicals involved. For example, I was working with hot tar, which gives off gaseous fumes that stick inside your lungs. I would often get so burned from chemicals that I would have to peel a layer of my skin off of my arms or feet.
As the summer progressed, I continued to drop short notes to the law schools with whom I was still corresponding. However, I still needed to make a living, so I continued building up my asphalt business. My friends were all contractors and I was associating and spending my life entirely with people who used their hands to make a living. I was enjoying my life.
One night I was out with another contractor and my girlfriend, having pizza and beer. When I returned home there were a few messages on my answering machine. I checked the first message and it was from someone who told me he’d noticed I was becoming very busy with my asphalt business and that he and “other people he knew” wanted to meet with me. It was a person I’d heard about over the years. Essentially, he was with the mafia and he was demanding I pay money in order to operate in a certain area of Detroit. It might have been a prank call, but I doubted it. I think back on that message to this day because it was a sign of where my life was going. The moment was truly a crossroads because the next message was from a law school administrator, telling me classes would be starting in two days and, if I wanted to attend, I was welcome.
I chose to go to law school.
I’m not sure if I ever would have gotten into law school had I not learned the lesson of not giving up from Tom Vu. I kept studying for the LSAT even when I was not doing as well as I wanted. I took it again after I canceled my score. I kept writing law schools even after not getting accepted. In short, I did not give up, even after my life started going in another direction.
Had I been six months further into my asphalt business, it might very well have been impossible to go back to life as a student. I would have had more trucks, more equipment, more employees – my life might have turned out much different. Who knows?
I believe taking so much away from the single lesson of Tom Vu made a huge difference in the quality of my life. My first job after law school was one of the first times I had ever set foot in an office. I could not believe people got paid to work indoors and read and write! My entire working world up until that point had been hard and grueling manual labor.
There are numerous moments in your life from which you can choose to learn a lesson, or not. Your own experiences present a wealth of learning opportunities on which you can build. I chose to learn from Tom Vu that day because I had invested so much time in the preliminary seminar. What can you learn from your past?
Learning from your past provides you with a solid and rich foundation for your future. You can learn from your experiences every day, and each day can provide a better experience for your future. Your past and its lessons set the stage for what you can do differently tomorrow. There is so much available that can enrich your future. Learn from your past and enjoy a happy future.
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Filed Under : Goal Setting
Tagged: blue collar job, career advice, career advices, contractor, contractor job, experiences, job search, job search guru | a harrison barnes, law job, law school, learn every experience, learn from experience, learning opportunities, real estate, university of chicago