Recently I had the opportunity to attend the NFTE Chicago's 2013 Citywide Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, hosted by Morningstar at their Chicago headquarters. Together with a great crowd of entrepreneurs, educators, business people, and students, I watched the six high school finalists expertly present their business plans to a esteemed panel of judges and an encouraging audience. I was impressed. All of participants were confident, collected, and capable. They represented themselves, and their mentor network, fantastically.
As I was tweeting along with the event, I made a few comments referencing the excitement these budding entrepreneurs bring to people like me. My thoughts came in three waves: First, it was inspiring to see the hopes for our future in action! Second, given a chance and continued courage, that future will be in good hands. Third, there is so much potential in our youth today and they have such amazing tools at their disposal that I can only imagine what that future will bring. It is a genuinely exciting prospect to consider.
Before I knew anything of NFTE, a few years back when I was working at Microsoft, I had a chance to participate in GLEAM's (Gay and Lesbian Employees At Microsoft) It Gets Better video for The Trevor Project. It was an experience that provided a moment to reflect on where I have been, where I am, and where I am going. In contrast to the NFTE event, I thought of what sort of message I would want to impart to someone who is struggling with some circumstance of their situation. I realized that much of the support I have received at those rocky points in my life came in the form of helping me to define for myself what would be next in my life. Yes, it will get better. But, in order to get there, my mentors helped me to realize that I would have to plot my own course and be my own captain.
Seeing the NFTE Chicago high school students braving a corporate HQ auditorium of people and the scrutiny of a panel of very successful entrepreneur judges (some of whom headed multi-billion dollar publicly traded companies that they started themselves) I was reminded of that sage advice I received at a number of important waypoints in my life, which I have distilled into this: Define what's next for yourself.
When you consider what makes someone successful (in any endeavor, whether it be education, business, relationships, etc.) one of the common threads to success is what I describe as motion. Movement. In particular, moving forward or beyond. Successful people tend to be restless. They want to change their situation (even when things may look grand to those of us on the outside) and take another step. People who find success put themselves in motion, and that is how it gets better. We each must find a path that will help us to move to our goal, whatever that goal may be.
Very often we must actually create our own paths. That is the essence of defining what's next for yourself. Each of us must adopt a resolve that powers us from within in order to put ourselves in motion. Initially that motion may be the equivalent of a little wiggle, loosening ourselves from the mud of our situation. Further on, that motion will come in leaps and bounds, zigs and zags, that take us over, under, around, and through. If you consider the paths of people who have made it through a tough time their journeys, they are very rarely linear. Successful people have creatively worked with their circumstances to define the route they needed that would move them beyond, and to what's next.
Each of us must define what's next for ourselves, for three great reasons: 1. It is your life and your responsibility. 2. If you don't, someone else might take it upon themselves to do it for you, badly. 3. Whether you realize it or not, you are the only and best person who can chart your path to success (however you choose to define it).
Many of the students in the NFTE program have dealt with circumstances that could easily jam up their productive potential. NFTE itself has provided an environment that has enabled its students to step onto a path and define what's next for themselves. Importantly, each and every student must make the individual choice to step onto that path. The Trevor Project's message that it gets better is an important one. And just as important is the realization that in order for it to get better, and in order for each of us to develop our potential, we must put ourselves in motion. You must make a choice, and have the resolve, to define what is next in your life. That is how it gets better.