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It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish

Graduation season is here!

During the month of May, hundreds of thousands of new graduates are leaving high school and college to begin a new phase of their lives—whether in a new city or a new career. This is a season of anticipation and promise. It is a time period where people have high expectations for their future.

The future is undeniably bright for these young people. But what advice can be given to those who might be starting jobs that are “lower” than they anticipated?

The answer is simple. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.

Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat

Consider this: The NBA Playoffs are one of my favorite sporting events of the year, in no small part because I love to see exceptional coaches do what they do best. There are only thirty available head coaching jobs for the respective professional teams in that sport; of those teams, only sixteen will make the playoffs (with eight currently remaining in the semi-finals). Among those current eight teams, many of the most successful coaches began their careers in less than glamorous positions.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat has won two NBA championships in the last couple of years, and yet he began his career as a video coordinator for the Heat. In the ranks of an organization, a video coordinator is in the bowels of the arena breaking down game film—sometimes all night long—looking for an edge for their team. It would be hard to imagine a role in an organization that was less flashy, but Spoelstra’s dedication stood out. He was nicknamed “No Problems” by the Heat organization because every time anyone asked him to do something, he said, “No problem.” After two years, Spoelstra was promoted to assistant coach and then, in 2011, to head coach.

Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers

In 1997, head coach Frank Vogel of the Indiana Pacers also began his career as head video coordinator for the Boston Celtics. Vogel held that position for five long-suffering years and now, he’s leading one of the strongest teams in the Eastern conference. (Note: The Pacers are in the second-round because they beat the Atlanta Hawks in a first-round, best-of-seven game series. The Hawks head coach is Mike Budenholzer, who began his career as video coordinator for the San Antonio Spurs.)

These coaches now are at the peak of their career, but they have the very humblest of beginnings.

To the graduates: No matter where you are starting as you take off for that new career—or maybe a change in career—always remember that it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. When you are thinking about your entry-level into the professional world, take time to remember where these coaches ended up despite their early stages. Your present dedication could catch the eye of supervisors who admire your drive. In one of my previous blog posts I wrote about the value of someone watching you, and having a passion for even the smallest of tasks.

Remember that where you finish will be determined by what you do with where you start. Use this job, this moment, to be special.

Pass this blog on to any graduate you may know and, if you can relate to this post, send me a note. I’d like to hear your success story!

Visit my Facebook page and, as always, feel free to join the discussion today!

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Comments (2)

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    I started my “career” as a stay-at-home mom. My first adult job that paid in exchangeable funds as opposed to hugs and kisses was as a test baker in a small (less than 100 employees), family owned, food processing plant. I am sure there are less prestigious positions, but not many in a food plant. I eventually worked my way up to a Regulatory Affairs position in a major frozen food company. My advice, don’t be afraid to work at many jobs, some of which you know aren’t what you want to do forever. You will work for many years and it takes a while to figure out what strikes your fancy, what makes you want to get up each morning. Work at figuring that out by doing as many things as you can while you are young. Even do that when you aren’t so young. It took me over twenty years to figure out which part of the food business drives me, reasonates and ignites my passion. Now I feel like I could do this job forever or as long as my brain cells hold out.

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      Don Yaeger


      Jackie, I appreciate your comment! I think that there is Great wisdom in learning as much as you can when you are young. It helps you channel your passion and ultimately decide what it is that you really like to do. Thank you for sharing your story!

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Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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