Giving Yourself A Competitive Edge

When I was seventeen, I remember going to the “new” Cherry Hill Mall in New Jersey when it opened in 1962. Many teenagers used to go there often – then and now. Today, I sit on one of the benches while my wife shops. I look for anyone passing by older than I am. I rarely see anyone. Time passes – and a lot faster than you might expect – so the time to act in improving your future is now, not later. Here’s some of what I’ve learned that I pass on to help you or to help your sons, daughters, or grandchildren:

Focus and Specialize

While having general knowledge in your field can be useful, today is the day of the specialist. Find what interests you and laser focus on it. It’s very easy to get distracted. I made a career of doing that: customer service manager, convenience store franchisee, Congressional campaign manager, real estate broker, NJ approved real estate school director and instructor, adjunct college professor at six colleges, full time business administration faculty at Atlantic-Cape, Stockton and Camden County College, and author of seven books. Not always unrelated, but certainly not as related and as focused as it could have been – and that has consequences.

Sometimes not focusing won’t all be on you. Your job may force it on you. In law practices, attorneys can get pulled into a variety of different areas, making it more difficult to stay focused. That’s a situation not isolated to the practice of law either. While it may make focusing more difficult in these circumstances, try to identify what you want to focus on, then make any extra effort you can to do it. Time constraints can make this difficult, but otherwise the tail is going to keep wagging the dog. Just take as much control as you can to put the focus where you want it to be.

While money shouldn’t be the focus of a successful life, it surely can be an important component of it. One of my high school classmates knew he wanted to be a pharmacist. He worked in a Gloucester City pharmacy while we were at Gloucester Catholic. He graduated, went to pharmacy school, and later became the Chief Pharmacist at one of Philadelphia’s leading hospitals. He knew early on – a big advantage – and he was focused. Even though he went ahead a few years ago, I still admire the focus he had. He also made about two and a half times more annually than I’m making now, near the end of my career. Obviously, his focus paid off.

Another of our classmates was a student of “modest accomplishment”, like I was. We both would be the first to admit it. However, when he graduated he went to a fine college where he became highly motivated, subsequently went on to a lengthy post-graduate program and became a highly successful professional. It would be very safe to say he’s far exceeded the two and a half times figure above. He wasn’t focused early, any more than I was, but he surely turned that around – big time. He made the necessary changes. It made all the difference. So find something you can truly focus on, specialize as much as you are able to and go for it.

Get An Advanced Degree and/or Certifications – Or Maybe You Don’t Even Have Your Bachelor’s Yet?

If you’re talented, you may not have too much difficulty finding a good position. The question though is how far are you going to be able to go with it in the intermediate and long term?

I tell my Management students that in order to get a job, they need to create significant differential advantages over other candidates to get hired. Just saying, “I’m Jack or Jill and I have a Bachelor’s degree” isn’t going to cut it. (Especially when over 35% of NJ adults already hold Bachelor’s degrees.) I recommend that they learn to speak other languages, maintain an exceptional GPA, take foreign study programs, experience foreign travel, take online courses for improved flexibility and time management, gain relevant experience in the field they are planning to enter, and build their contacts, especially in fields and organizations they aspire to. LinkedIn is designed to help do that, but professionals should become well-versed in all major social media, to facilitate properly promoting themselves and their organizations.

(But what if you don’t even have your Bachelor’s degree or training in a skill that’s in demand? Maybe you think there isn’t any rush. You’re wrong. There is. I told you already how fast time went for me – from seventeen to seventy-three in no time. It’s not going to go any slower for you. You’ll be forty before you know it! And how much extra income are you sacrificing every year by just working at odd jobs or in a job that’s taking you nowhere? Income that could make you more independent – instead of having to just slink through life depending on your parents or others. Everyone has a valuable talent in something. You do too. Get started and find out what it is and focus on it until you’ve started your own road to success. Make an appointment at a local community college’s Advising Office. Take an interest test and listen to the advice you get. There are many options for you. You might be a late starter, but you can still be a strong finisher!)

For anyone who already has his/her Bachelor’s degree and a position, the same “distinguishing characteristics” logic above applies, except that you need to do some different things:

Getting a Ph.D can be one of them. Opportunities for promotion, the ability to teach on the university level, to do research, to get published, and to have greater credence in your field are all benefits that can emanate from this. I wish someone had told me this a long time ago. Wait… Someone did. When I was in my thirties, I thought that just by being recognized as a highly rated teacher and writing books, it would make me a tenure candidate at a four year school. Someone even told me flat out, “You’ll never go anywhere in education without a doctorate.” But I knew more, of course, just like you might think you do now with the limited knowledge you have. I never got a doctorate. While I may not have ever been promoted beyond my current modest academic rank, I ensured it by not getting one. That could be you if you don’t do what you might need to do.

This isn’t a gripe or crying over spilled milk. I made my choices. We’re bound by all the ones we made. After all, who was the one who was always there when the decisions were made?

I’m very fortunate to have the position I have and I appreciate it. This is just an attempt to get you to think about your future and to do something about it now, not when you’re past fifty, when it might be too late to make a substantive difference. Many of my colleagues have gotten their doctorates, even in their fifties. I really applaud them for it. Better late than never. But I’m sure all of them would tell you, it would have been far better to have done it sooner than later.

Obtaining a JD, a law degree, is another path. It is very true that even excellent law school graduates often have difficulty finding a position in the law, especially if they are seeking a position in private practice. However, a law degree can add prestige to a resume, and provide valuable legal, analytical and writing skills. It can also be a real plus when applying for a higher level position in your current field, or in another one. A law degree can be used in the military, business, human resources, educational administration, college teaching, and federal and state government administrative, research and analytical positions, among others.

It is almost a knee-jerk reaction for business administration majors to go for an MBA as a higher degree. If I were in that position again, I would get a JD instead. It’s a doctorate. That enables the holder to teach at the university level. It is also a more prestigious degree. MBA’s might be able to teach as adjunct university instructors, but almost never as full time faculty.

A “doctoral equivalent” for accounting majors, after a Master’s, can be to obtain a CPA. That is considered by a number of universities as the equivalent of a terminal degree in that field.

Sometimes a Master’s may do the trick. It’s very important in fields such as physical therapy, speech therapy and nursing. Similarly in nursing, it can be very wise to obtain an advanced credential as a Physician’s Assistant or Nurse Practitioner. These are what I call “intermediate professional positions”, between being a nurse and a physician. They have a strong future. Analogous to this is becoming a Paralegal, between being an attorney and a legal secretary. Just ask yourself this. If you managed a law practice or a hospital and could hire two or three of these employees for what it would cost to hire one attorney or one physician – when they perform some of the same functions – what would you do? That’s why there is only going to be continued growth in these professions.

One Master’s modification may be necessary when applying for an elementary or high school teaching position. It can often be better to get the job first with your Bachelor’s. Then after you get it, get your Master’s to make more money and have a more substantive professional credential, one that may also enable you to teach in a community college later. Normally, I would suggest getting a Master’s as soon as possible in any field, but school districts often don’t want to hire candidates with Master’s up front and strain their limited budgets. One caution: Some positions do require a Master’s to get hired, so check the job announcement carefully to determine if there is any such requirement.

Other avenues for creating strong “differentials” include obtaining fellowships, judicial clerkships, Board Certifications in the medical field, and certifications in other fields, both professional and technical. There are hundreds of computer,manufacturing and technical certifications that can be investigated too. Speak to professors in respective academic departments to advise you. It can all help. They can give you an edge in hiring, promotion and salary improvement.

Your competitors are going to have one or more of the above. You should think seriously about being more competitive yourself. Do what needs to be done. Not just what you feel like doing. Keep in mind that even successful people don’t want to do some of these things, but they do them anyway.

One of my cousins, who is the Vice-President of the Board of Directors of well known national company, previously served as CEO there and at several other national corporations. This necessitated a number of moves to Baltimore, New England, Wisconsin, Canada and many other locations for decades, as well as his having to travel throughout the world frequently. He, and his wife, knew what these jobs entailed when he took them and did what had to be done – and they did it well. That’s why he’s successful. That might not be for you, but whatever you choose to do, you have to be prepared to get the job done, whether if it’s operating an auto body shop, running a restaurant, operating a heavy rental equipment business or running a funeral home.

I’ve been a full time college professor for thirty-two years, an adjunct professor for seven years before that, and an approved real estate instructor for twenty years. I cost myself a great deal of money by not getting a law degree or Ph.D. as an educational credential. Probably at a minimum average of about $20,000 per year for thirty years – well over a half a million dollars. Do you want to lose that kind of money and lose the opportunities for promotions in your career because you lack the proper credentials? The same goes for more credence being given to much of what you might say or write. At my age, I’m not going to be making many changes. But it’s not too late for you.

Make A Change If You Need To

Its not uncommon today for workers to change positions a number of times and even career fields two or three times. This can be next to impossible for those who don’t have high level credentials and certifications. They give you flexibility. I can’t do much about that now, but you can. Please don’t think – “poor him”. Think instead “possibly poor me”, if I don’t do something about this while I’m still able to.

Sometimes when progress is stymied in a particular organization, or in your field, because a promotional path seems likely to be blocked for a long time, or there is serious difference of opinion on organizational matters or a disconnect with personalities, it might be best to make a change. Speak with some reliable mentors to get the pros and cons of doing so. Sometimes making a change can lead you to where you would do a lot better. It can make all the difference.

Finding True Happiness and Success

My Management lecture and online courses are about 70% Management and about 30% self-help in finding happiness and personal success. “Self-Management” is a necessary prerequisite to being a good manager in any field. And all fields, not just business, require management. It would benefit any student to take a Principles of Management course. I offer it, principally online. Anyone from anywhere in the world can take it through Camden County College, registering through CamdenCC.edu WebAdvisor, or through the College’s Registrar’s Office.

Success is something you need to define for yourself – and it’s not just about money. That’s one thing positive psychologists agree on.

I read a superior post on LinkedIn about a grade school teacher who sent home a message to Thomas Edison’s mother about him. His wise mother took a very negative portrayal and turned it into encouragement that produced a genius. I commented on it:

“This is an outstanding short – with a huge message. What people say to someone can provide the encouragement to discovery and success. Similarly, how many of you have heard of someone being told, “You’re not college material.” Perhaps sometimes they were right. But what about all those who got discouraged because some supposedly knowledgeable, but not too prescience or tactful “superior”, defined for them what was going to be possible in their life. Believe in yourself and possibilities. Thomas Edison’s mother did. It worked out well for him – and the rest of us too.”

We can all be Edisons in our own special way. Start building bridges to your own potential – no matter how old you are or what your station in life is now. George Bernard Shaw was asked near the end of his life, “Who would you have chosen to be if you could have been anyone else. He said, “I would be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was.” It is never too late for you to become that person.

That’s the version of yourself you should strive for every day, so you have fewer regrets at the end.”Of all the words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been” – Rudyard Kipling. Now’s the time.

Need motivation yourself? Visit my extensive “Happiness and Success ” website at Camden County College. It will encourage you and it will help you:

Finding Happiness and Well-Being, Success, Motivation, Innovation, Reinvention and Becoming A Better You

It’s not just for college students. It’s for anyone of any age and any occupation or profession seeking real gratification, peace and contentment in their lives.

I guarantee that it will improve perspective for anyone who takes the time to read the over one hundred and ten positive psychology and self-help topics it contains. Read a few each day or at night before going to bed. I would encourage any employers to point their employees toward taking a look at it or to use the topical summaries in their own professional development courses. It’s the type of material that Chief Happiness Officers (CHO) would use. The website log-in appears below:

Happiness and Success Course Log-in:

– Go to: ccc.webstudy.com

– User Name: happiness

– Password: success

– Click Happiness, Success and Motivation Course

– Then “Timeline” on left

– Then “Expand All” at the top

– and You’re In! Scroll down to view the fifteen website segments and the many readings that can be clicked on, including two of my books. One is Your Unfinished Life. If you’re still breathing, you have one.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be successful. Just pay better attention to some of the good advice you might be getting – and choosing to ignore. Far better to ignore those who tell you that you don’t have the right stuff. Be the best of what you are capable of becoming. Don’t sit rocking in a chair on a porch someday far in the future with regrets about what you could have done. Do something about it now.

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