Winning without being first

Opportunity often comes disguised in the form of misfortune, or temporary defeat.–Napoleon Hill

Talked to a friend who saw his dream job in a passive Linked In message. He was surprised that a job like this existed and wasn't even looking. (amazing what happens when you are not looking) He applied and got to the finals and could taste it. But was told he did not have a little extra the #1 candidate had. He was deeply disappointed. Over the next few months. he licked his wounds and chalked it up as a lesson of life and was deeply grateful that he found an example of what his next adventure would be. But then time and a positive perspective yield benefits. Low and behold, he gets a call from the recruiter and the "better" candidate quit and my friend was being back if he was still interested! No other candidates will be interviewed so it appears he will get his dream job.Tortoise and hare

In my travels, I have heard this story over and over again. People who suffer the initial disappointing defeat of a door slammed in their face only to find a new window swings open through persistence and grace.

I truly believe things happen for a reason and if you don't give up on who you are and what you want, new opportunities are revealed. New paths appear. I have learned that there are many paths that can take you where you want to go and to wonderful places you did not know existed.

It's not what happens to us, but the response to what happens to us that hurts us. —Stephen Covey

My career path is a road filled with potholes, detours and surprising off ramps. Not to mention the paths I chose NOT to take. While I'd like to take credit for my trajectory, the truth is I was rarely the top pick for anything. I have learned over time that my persistence and presence kept me in the process and sometimes, through a series of quirks and situations I was hired. I know that my mentors and network played a much bigger role than I ever did.

My hiring at the UCLA Alumni Association only happened after a series of candidates turned the job down. I was the "least qualified" of all of the candidates considered, according to the executive search firm in charge of the placement. My lack of university and alumni relations experience was considered a major deficiency. Once I became interested in this job, I waged a "campaign" to get it. During this time, unbeknownst to me, all of the top candidates fell away. I asked all of my references to advocate for my candidacy. As a result, I was politely asked, "please stop the lobbying". In the end, I believe expressing my serious interest in the position was the difference that got me the job.

Once you get it, what placed you finished in the original race is irrelevant.

Numerous times my hiring, appointment to a board, and selection as a keynote speaker came after the top candidates were considered. I don't have a complex about this! 🙂 I have learned that the tortoise can win the race. That being available, qualified, well-connected, and truly interested in the opportunity has always mattered.

I love the story about how Dick Clark got his big break on the Bandstand television show, when the original host was arrested for drunk driving. While I am sure Clark wanted the job, he was never expecting that his radio career would become a tv career in an unexpected moment. Clearly he was ready!Paul macarelli

My fav story involves Paul Marcarelli, the "Can you hear me now?" guy from Verizon. Paul was filming one of his famous commercials at our house and talking to a group of my kids and neighbors. One of the kids blurted out, "How much do you make?" And after an uncomfortable silence, Paul told these mesmerized kids that he was living his dream and makes "millions", but that he was not Verizon's first choice.  As Paul tells the story, he was an understudy, who's primary occupation was a waiter. When the first commercial was to be filmed, the lead actor came onto the set heavily made up to conceal his new black eye. Apparently he had a rough nite which ended in a bar fight. The Director fired the actor and summoned Paul in front of the cameras–for the next 9 years. And the rest is history!

What does all this mean?

  • Always be ready. Always look like you are ready.
  • Every interview is important to build your brand, no matter where you end up.
  • Be open and ready for a new and unexpected opportunity.
  • Stay in touch with your "dream" employer. Stuff happens.
  • Continue building your skills and delivering the goods.
  • Keep your netwok engaged with your searches and your dreams
  • Never give up on your dreams or yourself.

It is not whether you win, it is whether you get the opportunity. And you get the opportunity if you are consistently ready, willing and able.

Thanks for reading. John


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4 thoughts on “Winning without being first”

  1. It’s like a chess game… When u win I rarely learn anything but when I lose a competitive match I remember why and always learn alot for the next match.
    Am I just a pawn in the big game or da king??

  2. Thanks Mike. I am not sure if you are King, but certainly not a pawn! Your understanding of making mistakes and the learning process makes you a winner.

  3. Valerie Sheperd

    Hi Sir thanks for article I very motivate to continue my job search everyday is a learning process Thanks once again.

  4. I am so glad this post was helpful. Make sure you explore my other 250 posts on questions you have on your career and job search. I wish you all the best. John

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