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The Door Of Opportunity is Open Only if We Knock: Attitude Really Matters
I was very fortunate to learn that attitude really matters at a young age. The idea that attitude matters is a concept that has been explored on many levels, and I'm not bringing you any new ideas. My goal is to make you a believer, because this concept CAN change your life in ways you dreamed, but it can also bring blessings and happiness that you didn't hope for as a residual effect of your success.
I'm an idea person and a reader, but I've often been afraid to put my ideas into practice. Especially as a teenager, I approached life with a sense of guarded reserve. The walls around me were very very high. I had a few trusted friends but wasn't anything close to popular, outgoing, or gregarious. So I was afraid. I was afraid of hurt, rejection, and afraid of taking chances.
But my life changed the first time I read Zig Ziglar's See You at the Top! I knew in high school that I wanted to go places and to be a success, but I honestly had no idea how to do that. I'm glad i found this book or it found me.
Zig Ziglar is the best-selling motivational guru known for his corny catch-phrases. "Take a check-up from the neck up!" "Eliminate stinkin' thinkin!" and "Get a Round Tuit" are some well-known ones. Zig Ziglar's book spoke to me. It had a message of encouragement and enthusiasm that I was missing in other places. It said "Yes, Yes, Yes, you can!" Really? I thought to myself. Yeah, I suppose. Maybe. Well, then, why not?
One of the key points of "See You at the Top!" is that in order to succeed, you have to dream, believe, then ACT. Something about Ziglar's words made me believe I could pursue my dreams. And the belief turned into action.
Acting on My Dreams Led to a $20,000 Scholarship
My dream at age 17 wasn't any different from most people at that age. I wanted to go to college. No one in my immediate family had attended an institution of higher learning. My father had a successful career in the military, and he progressed in his career with some very specialized skills, which taught to others as an instructor. My mother worked tirelessly at a food service job so that we could have many extras and niceties. She taught me some of my most important values.
My grandmother on my father's side had been offered a scholarship to attend a business college after she went to high school, but she determined instead to assist her mother by going to work to help pay for her family's expenses. College seemed like an unattainable and inaccessible dream for the privileged elite. I was not the privileged elite, but I still wanted to go.
The end of my junior year approached and I knew I needed to apply for scholarships. I applied for every single one that I might possibly qualify for. Most of them were smaller, one time, and partial scholarships made available through civic organizations in my community. I must have applied for 30 or 40 scholarships. It felt like even more. I tried for some others too. If I appeared to qualify at all, I applied. Zig Ziglar said I could do it. And deep down, I knew I could, if only I would give it a try. I had to give it my best shot.
By the end of my first semester in my senior year, I was down to the wire, and starting to feel defeated. I hadn't received any scholarships I tried for. I had applied and been accepted to Brigham Young University, where I would be an out of state student. I had to pay for my books, my dormitory expenses, my food, and my tuition. That was a lot of money, and the scholarship gravy train didn't seem to want me on board. It's no use, I decided. I'll go to school, scholarship or not, I'll just have to work my way through. The prospect was scary but I knew I could do it. With or without help, I was still going to go.
One day, I think it must have been the 15th of January or so, My mom came home with an application form. She told me her manager had given her the form and thought I should apply for it. My eyes almost popped out of my head. "But that scholarship is for $20,000!" I exclaimed in disbelief.
Suddenly I was in the middle of a fire-storm of self-doubt. I was an A-student at my school, but I wasn't a 4.0 student. I wasn't a valedictorian! Didn't they give these types of scholarships to valedictorians and salutatorians, and geniuses who were planning to attend Ivy League schools? My college test scores were good, but they weren't superior. In fact, they were kind of average. I had a depressing feeling that I didn't even have a pie in the sky chance. I set it down for a day or two.
"Are you going to apply for that scholarship?" my mom asked. I don't know I said. I've tried for all of those other scholarships, why would I get this one? You have to answer a ton of questions. They want detailed answers. I don't know. And to myself, I added, why would they choose me? What's the point? They're not going to pick me anyway. I couldn't even get a $500 scholarship from the rotary club. Another day passed. Then another. I had about 5 days left to submit my scholarship form before the deadline. It lay on the desk in my bedroom, full of hopeful promises I was afraid to claim. Getting this scholarship would be like winning the lottery, and nobody wins the lottery.
Finally, a tiny voice inside me remembered Zig Ziglar's advice. I really wanted to believe. I wanted to take a chance. I wanted to get that $20,000 scholarship. The scholarship represented a full ride for me...books, tuition, and even lodging. I decided to ACT, and I started filling out the scholarship form. I knew a lot rided on how I presented myself on the form. So I decided to put in a $20,000 effort. I gave it my best shot. I spent about 8 hours writing paragraph-long answers to every question. I pulled out my Selectric typewriter and typed in the answers, then I gave the forms to my mom. She looked at the forms, and didn't say much else. And after that I forgot about it.
“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude”
I Almost Lost My Chance...
How many of us fail because we never tried? I almost did. I almost let someone else claim a $20,000 no-strings attached scholarship award because I had 100 different reasons why the selection committee wouldn't pick me. But in the end, you guessed it, THEY DID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One day in April I received a thick envelope from an organization I had never heard of - AFL-CIO. What I didn't know at the time was that they are a wealthy and powerful force on Capitol Hill, and they represent lots of hardworking middle-class Americans. AFL-CIO wasn't giving just 1 scholarship, they were giving 4! Guess what? Most of the other kids were planning to attend Ivy League schools. One of them was a valedictorian. But they chose me too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I jumped up and down! I laughed. I cried. I stood in a state of shock. I was thrilled. But there's more to this story, and you're not going to believe it. And it's relevant, so please hang in there.
Nobody Believed It
I went to school on cloud nine. I told everyone I knew that I had just been chosen as the recipient of a $20,000 scholarship. And all of those kids, the ones who had smugly received 6 or 7 local awards from the Rotary and the Kiwanis club, they stared at me in abject disbelief. Remember, I wasn't the valedictorian or the salutatorian. Not even the school administrators or my teachers believed me. if they did, they chose not to recognize me during graduation.
Graduation day arrived. I listened as the graduation announcement called up about 15 different individuals to the stage who had received scholarship awards. And not one mention of mine. And you know, I do believe it was the biggest award received that year!
But this is what is important--it didn't matter! During my first week at BYU I visited the college tuition office. They wrote me a check to cover the costs of my books and fees, they told me my tuition was covered. And I stayed at the dorms for a year, then moved off-campus for the next three. I went to BYU, worked part time, and graduated from school debt free!
What I Learned
I was extremely fortunate to be selected by the scholarship committee for such a huge award. To this day I shake my head sometimes. I realize that my strengths as a writer helped me to stand out in the application process, but any of the other qualified candidates could have received it. It is with real humilty that I acknowledge just how lucky I am. I am deeply grateful to the members of the scholarship committee and the organization that financed my education.
However, I learned an important life lesson about luck. if I had listened to the negative, doubtful voices in my head, I wouldn't have even tried. Not trying is often a genuine, real, temptation in life. If I had preempted my chances by leaving the form on the desk, luck wouldn't have ever had a chance.
Is this story about filling out one last scholarship application a bit silly? Maybe. Was I lucky? Yes! Did a belief in myself play a role in my luck? Absolutely.