When I stepped onto Harding’s campus as a freshman in August 1980, I may have been the greenest, wettest-behind-the-ears new student in the history of the school.
OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it isn’t far from the truth. I grew up in a tiny southern Arkansas town (population 150), and my exposure to anything outside of that community was limited.
Needless to say, my worldview exploded as I sat at the feet of the knowledgeable and faith-filled Harding professors and made friends with people from across the globe. As a journalism major, I served as sports editor on The Bison and Petit Jean staffs and worked in the school’s Sports Information office.
I graduated in 1984, prepared to chase my dream of writing for Sports Illustrated. The first stops were sports editor gigs at two small newspapers. But something happened along the way that changed everything: I fell in love and got married. Suddenly, my dream became our dream, and the path to Sports Illustrated took a detour to graduate school, and eventually, the world of corporate public relations and marketing.
Children and family responsibilities further solidified the need for career stability. I never made it to Sports Illustrated, but I have no regrets. Thirty-four years, four states, five companies and a million air miles later, I am back at Harding as a fund raiser.
If someone had looked into the crystal ball and told the 1984 version of me where I would go and what I would do, I would not have believed them. What lessons would I tell my 23-year-old self if I could go back in time? Here are some things I would say:
Be prepared to pay your dues: Few people start where they want to end up. Hard work, patience and persistence are keys to reaching your goals.
Surround yourself with people who care about you: You may be able to survive, but you will not thrive without friends and family who support and encourage you.
Do not chase money, chase service opportunities: The cliché “money can’t buy happiness” is true. Joy comes through service, and every job provides opportunities to serve. The money will come as you advance your career, but recognize that more money comes with a price. Know what price you are willing to pay.
Be a risk taker: Few successful people, regardless of profession, are risk averse. Stretch your boundaries, step outside of your comfort zone.
Live in the moment but invest in your future: Savor the present, but do not spend all you earn. You never know what the future will bring.
Take care of your body and mind: Exercise and eat healthily. Never stop learning.
Find a mentor, be a mentor: Identify someone whom you admire and soak in his or her wisdom. Pay it forward by sharing your learnings with a younger, less experienced version of you.
Commit yourself to excellence, not perfection: Be the best you, every day, but do not fall into the perfection trap. As someone once said, “Slow and perfect is the enemy of fast and good enough.”
Remember that God is ever-present, even in the darkest places: The road you take typically is straight, level and joy-filled, but there will be deep valleys along the way. Strengthen your faith when things go well, and rely on your faith when you face struggles.
For the Harding class of 2018, the adventure begins when you step off the Benson Auditorium stage with your diploma in hand. Remember this quote from Dr. Seuss’ wonderful book “Oh The Places You’ll Go: “You’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, So get on your way!”
Written by Ken Bissell