Everyone is motivated by something. For some, becoming more fit is a motivation to work out every morning. Maybe for you, your motivation to do well in school is because you are paying for each credit yourself. My biggest motivator is my dad. He motivates me to work harder, be kinder to others, and to do the dishes. In all seriousness though, my dad has been there to congratulate me after every success and to push me when the going gets tough. One thing about my dad though, he is never quite content. After every success or accomplishment, he asks me, “What’s next?”.
My senior year of high school, I led a team of five students to organize a career fair for the 500 students at my high school. We spent four months organizing, calling businesses, writing emails, meeting with administration, and renting spaces, tables, and chairs to host over 70 businesses in our community center and a college panel with a handful of alumni. The night after the career fair took place I got home, proud of the work that had finally paid off.
My dad listened to me share all about it, then smiled, and said, “What’s next?”. To be honest, at the moment I was a bit annoyed and wanted to just take a nap. This is just one story of countless times my dad has subtly told me that I am capable of more.
Since I like all of my readers so much, I will share with you one of my biggest “secrets.” Over the last few years, I have been building my resume full of qualifications and experiences that I hope will make me a competent and caring community servant for the rest of my life. The secret to having a full resume and long email signature like mine is … to say “yes.”
So many of the opportunities that have literally changed my life were given to me. I am grateful for someone asking me, “Anna, would you be interested in [fill in the blank]?”. No matter how scary the opportunity sounded or how under-qualified I felt in the moment, I have challenged myself to say “yes” every time.
The funny thing about opportunities is that one usually leads to another. In my experience, an opportunity does not lead to a closed door; honestly, it typically leads to many open doors. The key is to figure out which opportunities to say yes to. The old Anna Panek method was to say “yes” to every opportunity; however, I’m starting to realize the value of saying “no” once in a while.
Now, hear me out. It may sound contradictory for me to start by advising you to say “yes,” and now to advise you to say “no.” Don’t say “no” to everything like high school sophomore Anna. Say “yes” when a good opportunity arises. However, what I have learned in college is that there are SO MANY opportunities, and unfortunately it is impossible to take advantage of all of them. It is necessary to say “no” to some opportunities in order to say “yes” to others.
For example, in order for you to get your favorite professor in English, you might have to switch an elective you wanted to take because they are offered at the same time. Or, maybe you are looking for a new job, and got offered one that isn’t exactly what you wanted to do but pays well, then the next day you get another job offer that aligns better with your future goals.
Opportunities are also like hair styles, they aren’t meant to be worn forever. There are opportunities that are great for a while, that teach you a lot, that expand your network, and likely lead you to new opportunities. However, eventually it will be time for you to move on and give that opportunity to someone else.
I started joking in April my senior year of high school that I was going to try to fail all of my classes so I could stay another year because I was fond of my school community and wanted to continue to participate in the activities I was involved in. However, I realized that at that point it was too late for me to do anything but graduate. Looking back, I have had so many better opportunities in college than I ever could have dreamed of as a high school senior.
This previous fall, I had to leave probably my favorite job thus far, leading a child care site in my hometown. I had led the site for over two years, and grown attached to the students for almost three. In my time there, I grew tremendously as a person and as an educator. I also hope that I made a positive impact on my students. However, as you grow, your life changes, and working there just didn’t work in my life equation anymore. While I was sad to go, I was grateful for the opportunity and knew that me leaving meant that someone else could then take advantage of the opportunity that gave me so much.
Saying “yes” has given me the opportunity to serve on the school board my senior year of high school, to travel abroad after completing my freshman year of college, to become the Managing Editor for the University Chronicle, to write a grant proposal in hopes to receive money to provide enrichment activities to the St. Cloud youth, and many, many more.
In order to say “yes” to all of those opportunities above has also required me to say “no” to others. I’ve had to say “no” to a road trip with my friends, being a part of the news in order for me to report on it, and many traditional college gatherings in order for me to study, volunteer, work at jobs I love, and of course be exposed to more opportunities.
One of my old mentors shared this quote with me once, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” The quote is credited to Benjamin Franklin. While, I’m not saying you should have every moment of your life packed with work, school, and fun activities -though I’d love to compare planner techniques if you do-, I’m sharing this quote to point out that opportunities are usually handed to people who take advantage of opportunities. So, get out there. Take advantage of an opportunity. Learn from it. Meet new people. Then, take advantage of the next opportunity that arises.
For those of you who don’t have my dad to ask them everyday, “What’s next?”.
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Anna is a junior at St. Cloud State University and is double majoring in Math Education and Spanish Education, with a minor in Special Education. She is the Managing Editor for the University Chronicle this year. When she is not at campus attending class, working as a learning assistant or math tutor, or writing for the University Chronicle, she enjoys volunteering, reading, being overly competitive at board games, and telling horribly funny puns.