“I see the voices, faces, difference makers of tomorrow,” said Stephen A. Smith, who stood before an audience large enough to pack the seats of the Reighard Multipurpose Room, and cover the surrounding walls. They patiently waited hours to hear the words and experience of Mr. Smith’s life and career, delivering the “unpleasant, uncomfortable” facts to the ears of every student, parent, and child alike. “I am here to bring you the truth as I see it.”
The way Mr. Smith saw the time of a college student and onwards was simple: there are opportunities available for those who work hard, especially in today’s economy, where jobs and careers are difficult to find and keep. Life outside of college is even tougher for those who took shortcuts to achieve their goal, or for students who did not remain focused. They are “done before it even started.”
He continued, “How do I know? Look at me.”
Mr. Smith was not always a regular face on ESPN and ESPN First Take as an analyst and talk show host. He was not always the host of the cancelled show, Quite Frankly, or a radio host for ESPN New York. Before his career skyrocketed in the sports department, Mr. Smith was a young man in grade school, who was left back twice. His first grade reading level was a significant disadvantage for him, which left him unable to move through third and fourth grade. This experience could not match the humiliation, however, of his fellow peers ridiculing him. Other children would call him dummy and laugh at him incessantly. Behind their cruel actions, they were confident Mr. Smith would never amount to anything great.
How wrong they would be.
Mr. Smith made those remarks and his peers – who he still remembers by first and last name after 38 years – extremely personal and created his main priority from there on. “No one will ever laugh at me again or call me a dummy,” he told the audience.
And they, or anyone else, would never commit such an act against him again. His advice: there are those who are hungry, and then there are individuals who are starving to succeed. He called it “an ingredient to win.” With this single ingredient stirred into anyone’s life, they are able to remain ahead of the competition, the critics, and people who want to topple their careers. Every day there is something left to accomplish, else there is a possibility to be left behind in the dust without a care.
“In the world of business, you have no friends,” Mr. Smith remarked.
Opportunities aplenty are diminishing in the struggling economy, where friends and enemies alike are out to get anyone who loses their hunger for success. Therefore, Mr. Smith emphasized the importance that students prepare for the adversity they would have to face outside of college. It’s not enough to just earn a degree and move on to a job or career. A college degree is only the beginning, not the end. It tells employers that graduates have the necessary, basic skills of higher education: reading, writing, and comprehending. What is also required is networking with professionals already in the field and lining up internships to get a first-hand experience.
Mr. Smith stated that students need to have the ambition toward “what you want to do.” He continued, guaranteeing that employers are looking for young, bright, talented, and hungry – and starving – college students. They are not looking for individuals who make excuses or are easily distracted from what they want – for lack of a better word, no one is ever looking to hire a loser.
Mr. Smith bestowed upon the audience four sound tips to avoid being a loser, and become a starving individual focused on their success.
Students need to understand who the decision makers are in the professional world and what they want; this involves educating yourself to properly handle the challenges that will ultimately be present. Then there is dressing the part, according to whoever owns the business you work for.
“You don’t own the business, you don’t have the right to do what you want,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s corporate America. It comes with the territory.”
No matter the business a student is considering, it’s important to pursue a career, and not a job. The latter is doing what you have to do for a paycheck. The former is what you want to do, and you just so happen to be getting paid. This idea goes hand-in-hand with the quote: if you love what you do, it’s not work.
Developing the soft skills is integral for a successful, professional career after college. The rise and overwhelming attraction of the Internet gave way to a generation of people unable to properly communicate with others. Not only is communication important with talking and conveying ideas, it’s also ideal for networking.
“Have people who will vouch for you,” Mr. Smith advised.
Most students have a mentor in their lives that offer guidance and will easily credit their hard work for employers. But no mentor can ever take the place of a cheerleader, whether it is a parent, friend, or spouse. These people, according to Mr. Smith, are pivotal for individuals who need someone to inspire, uplift, and support them through the obstacles of life.
“People will always try to beat you down,” said Mr. Smith. “Fierce enemies will always try to beat you down. Everyone needs a cheerleader.”
Ultimately, students must be internally starving, and educated to prepare themselves for what lays ahead. There will always be adversity along the path to success.
“You must be willing to play the game,” Mr. Smith said.