Motivating Myself and Others: Being Able is a Blessing, But Not Enough

This is the First in a Series of Articles on Motivation

By Make The Days Count Contributor Philip Wood


Midway through my final year at DePaul University, a recruiting banquet was held at the Chicago Athletic Club for the survivors in the honors accounting program.  For those of us not headed immediately to graduate school, the fete was the culmination of our academic careers. 

Four years prior, dozens of students entered the program.  A brutal attrition rate, however, reduced our number ninety percent by the time the recruiting banquet was held.  The survivors were the guests of honor at the banquet, there to be wined and dined by recruiters from the then Big 8 public accounting firms and other major local corporations. 

Attending the University on an academic scholarship and achieving near perfect grades to date, I believed myself to be at the top of the program.  Blindly arrogant, I expected that I would be the center of attention. 

From the time I was tiny, I had been told that I was smarter than most folks and that my life would be easy as a result.  At four years old, I was reading, writing, and doing basic math.  I carried the Baseball Encyclopedia under my arm and could recite, with a crude degree of understanding, batting averages and other statistics of famous players from years well past.  “You’ll do great things,” I was told often. 

I came to believe the hype and this night was to be the fulfillment of the promise.  While each of my classmates perhaps hoped they would leave the event with their dream jobs secured, I was certain that I would.

I was wrong.

To my dismay, my expectations went unfulfilled.  Throughout the entire night, not a single recruiter spoke to me.  While the rest of my peers were courted, I sat alone.

Eventually, I found my way to the small bar where the professor who ran the program sat watching the event unfold.  Saddling up next to him, I expressed my disappointment and confusion.  Generously, our mentor offered to buy me a drink at the free bar while explaining to me how the world worked. 

“It doesn’t matter that you’ve gotten an A in every course.  You never get the best A you could.  You don’t even try to.  You never come to class.  You never buy textbooks.  You just show up for tests.  Employers would much rather hire a B student who works their tail off to get a B than an A student who doesn’t work, doesn’t try, doesn’t care, and doesn’t always show.  And, at an event like this, you really should be drinking scotch.”

Admittedly, I was the disinterested and unmotivated student that he described.  It would be years, however, until I understood and realized the importance of the lesson presented that night.  Initially, the lesson I took with me was that one should drink scotch at an event like this. 

Thankfully, the lesson intended did not take long to sink in.  Later, I would come to understand that being able was a blessing, but not nearly enough, nor what mattered most, nor anywhere near a guarantee.  I would also come to understand that wanting, while not the same as being willing could be the first step toward willingness. 

With the exception of a few months the following summer, I have never been employed as an accountant.  Instead, and ironically, I’ve spent the better part of the past twenty years self employed in a direct marketing environment that required me to motivate myself and thousands of others along the way.  In a series of posts to follow, I’ll share more of what I’ve learned about motivating myself and others over the past twenty years. 

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.”
-John Wooden

 “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
-Lou Holtz


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Posted on 18 December, 2008 in Career, Motivation, Productivity
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Erin
    December 18th, 2008 at 10:06 am #

    Like the post. I am in grad school and my concentration will allow me to do what I am training to do (I am lucky!), however I have a lot of friends who are in school and don’t know what they are going to do after graduation. I’m not talking about the ones who are worried about the economy and jobs. There are a lot of people who graduate and still don’t have an idea of what they want for a career. I think that there is so much change that happens in our 20s that it’s hard to know for certain what you are meant to be doing.

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