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Career choices and entrepreneurship

ID: INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE

DAVID MULLINGS

Sunday, September 23, 2012    

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LAST week I was approached to speak to all the fifth form classes at my old high school, Campion College. I spoke to the first two classes on Friday and will speak to the rest between tomorrow and this Thursday, focusing on the topic "career choices and entrepreneurship". Those of you who are regular readers of my column know that I am a big supporter of giving back via sharing knowledge, so naturally I was thrilled to speak to students. My column today is based on what I have been telling these students.

I remember fifth form very clearly and I had chosen sciences with the goal of pursuing genetics so that I could possibly cure a disease. My parents had presented the option to study in the USA and skip sixth form, a decision I have never regretted. That is the first lesson I want to pass on to you today: find a way to spend some time outside of Jamaica.

It may only be an internship for a few weeks, a study course abroad or being fortunate enough to attend university overseas, but the experience is worth the effort. It broadens your network and exposes you to additional opportunities in a way that staying in Jamaica simply cannot, even with the Internet making the world much flatter.

Jamaica is no different from any other country in that parents usually push their children to become doctors, lawyers, teachers and the usual professions. Those are all great professions but my parents, a doctor and a nurse, changed the trajectory of my life with one simple requirement: When I graduated from fifth form in 1996 they asked me and my brother, who was a year younger, to use every summer and Christmas going forward to present a business plan for something that they could invest in.

We had to do five-year projections and the whole nine yards. That experience led us both to do some undergraduate courses even though I focused on biology and my brother, Robert, focused on computer information systems. One of the books my mother had given us also contributed to where we are today and tied in with the plans we presented. The book was Think and grow Rich.

This is my second lesson for you: do not feel that you have to be a doctor, lawyer or pursue a traditional profession. Definitely do not do it just because your parents want you to. If you do, then you will most likely end up leaving the profession after a few years. If you do not pursue something that you enjoy, then you will feel unfulfilled, as if you are banging your head against a wall every day. Life is too short not to think about your happiness.

Steve Jobs whom we know from Apple and Pixar said: "Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

I tend to listen to what successful people who have made a major impact on the world say, because I do not want to be average.

That is your third lesson: never aim to be average. If you do what everyone else does, then you will be like everyone else. You have to believe that you can do better, that you can be above average. Do not settle for mediocrity in anything you do. Either try to do it well or don't bother. Put in the effort and do your best.

In order not to be average you need role models. Most of us start out with our parents as role models, but by the time we are teenagers we start to look up to other people, some we know personally and others we just read about. My role models, aside from my parents, include RIchard Branson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Martin Luther King Jr, none of whom I have ever met but who have had major influences on my life and how I give back to society.

That is the fourth lesson: identify role models and mentors, learn from their successes and their failures. However, do not try to recreate their success. There is only one of you and only one Richard Branson. Be your own person, make your own mark.

I am sure you noticed that most of my role models are entrepreneurs. A few people make the mistake of becoming entrepreneurs because they want to be wealthy. Money is the wrong reason to go into business for yourself. It is the wrong reason, because when the money doesn't come as quickly as you expected, when the going gets very tough and you are working 22 hours per day you will need something other than the desire for money to keep you working hard.

Only a greater desire can keep that passion alive and allow you to push through the dips you will encounter. That is my fifth lesson for you: find something other than money to be passionate about.

Finally, after you have found a way to spend some time outside of Jamaica in order to network and soak up ideas, broken the mindset that you have to have a profession, decided not to be average and identified role models and mentors and then found a passion other than money, you can figure out how you will give back and leave your mark on the world.

Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, said that "obviously everyone wants to be successful, but I want to be looked back on as being very innovative, very trusted and ethical and ultimately making a big difference in the world."

I want to be looked back on as being very generous, ethical and also making a big difference in the world. Take your time to figure out how you want to be thought of and then make your career choice. You can always change paths too, so don't think that fifth form is where you determine your life.

I was a little different in that I wrote out a 15-year plan when I finished fifth form at 15, broken down into blocks of five years. I started with the end goal in mind and worked backwards, looking back at what I would need to do and avoid in order to get there.

You don't have to plan so far ahead, but please have a plan, write it down, share it with a mentor, then start pursuing it. If you have no idea where you are going, then any road will get you there.

David Mullings is President and CEO of Keystone Augusta and was the first Future Leaders Representative for the USA on the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue and Twitter.com/davidmullings

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