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Teaching your Kids: You Miss Every Shot You Don't Take

In most cases, when you try to be self-reliant, people around you will encourage you. Like Steve, Blair was encouraged by his teacher in the last lesson. But it's not always that way. Sometimes being self-reliant means doing something even when other people tell you it will never work. That's exactly what Emily Chang had to do as a teenager.

Emily grew up in Pittsford, New York. By her junior year in high school, she decided she wanted to be a doctor. So when she found out there was an internship available in Eastman Kodak's biohazard lab in nearby Rochester, she was immediately interested.

She knew medical school would be competitive. And what better way to differentiate herself than have some real work experience in a medical-related field? It didn't even bother her that it was what she described as "a very unsexy job. I would have to harvest diseased cells and organs from mice and freeze them so they could be used in cancer research." And besides, at around $15 an hour, the pay was outstanding, certainly for a high school student.

The only real problem was that the internship was intended for college students—people a few years older, more mature, and perhaps with other work experience under their belt. Emily was just sixteen years old and had no real qualifications for the job. She recalls some adults discouraging her: "There's no way you can get that internship. It's for college students. You're still in high school. I don't know why you're even wasting your time."

Undaunted, Emily applied anyway. She filled out the application with her surely unimpressive credentials. But she also attached a passionate essay describing why she wanted the internship.

The result? She said, "I got the job! I was so excited."

Well, about a month into the job, she remembers being off in a corner of the lab, out of sight, when two full-time employees walked in. They obviously didn't know Emily was there, because she overheard them talking about her. She heard one of them say, "Well, sure, she's a great fit, given she's the only one who applied for the job."

That, of course, ended any mystery over how she got the internship and perhaps tarnished a little of the luster of being selected. More important, however, consider this: Hearing that news would disappoint most people. But Emily was glad she heard it, because it taught her a valuable lesson. It reinforced how right she was to apply for the job in the first place. Imagine how foolish she would have felt if she hadn't applied and then found out the job never got filled because nobody applied. She said, "The possibility that you're the only one brave enough is a great reason to try. Because you never know."

In fact, today, Emily credits that internship as one of the most important turning points in her life. It was the steppingstone that got her a later job in a hospital, which helped her get into a top medical school. She later switched to an MBA program and went on to a very successful career at notable companies, including Procter & Gamble and Apple. And today, she's the CEO of an enormous advertising agency in China. And it all started with being bold enough to apply for a job she wasn't qualified for and that apparently nobody else wanted.

So, when your child is old enough to start applying for jobs, even if it's just summer work, share this story, and have a conversation about it. Here are some questions to get you started.

  1. What difference do you think Emily's passionate essay would have made if there had been other candidates for the job?

  2. How do you think Emily would have felt if she hadn't applied for the job and then found out it was canceled because nobody applied for it?

  3. Have you ever entered a race or competition and gotten a prize because you were the only one that entered?

  4. How do you know when it's a good idea to follow your instincts and when it's a good time to follow the advice of the people around you? Okay, in the next four lessons, we'll turn our attention to Grit.

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Written by

Paul Andrew Smith