After two years on the job in 1967, I was ready to “jump ship” from a small, local dairy cooperative in a small town of 279 people in what some called the “arm pit” of Wisconsin. My college roommates were getting good jobs in big cities, while I was stuck in rural Wisconsin where college graduates were the exception.
I combed the help-wanted ads every Sunday (yes, before the Internet) in our state-wide newspaper and mailed resume after resume -- all to no avail. As a job seeker with a disability (cerebral palsy) I was discouraged. I wanted to work in Madison, a college town where I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and where I could enjoy the arts, socialize with creative people etc. Yet that dream seemed beyond my reach.
But a funny thing happened. The small, local co-op continued to grow and I soon found myself continually scrambling to keep ahead of changes that, at the time, I didn’t recognize as a major restructuring of the Midwest dairy industry. And by happenstance, I had landed a “beginner’s job” with the organization which would survive and prevail among more than 20 competitors.
To prepare myself for the changes which were coming at me at increasing speed in my own job, I joined the International Association of Business Communicators and took courses on the Madison campus in business, management, leadership and communications. With lots of effort and failure (but also some success) I prodded senior management (and the new people just out of college who were beginning to join our growing company) into considering new methods of communicating with dairy farmer members and managing employees.Learning & Growing From Success & Setbacks
Now flash forward 20 years.
In 1987 I was vice president for corporate communication at the same cooperative. It had become a much larger dairy processing organization with 14 manufacturing plants. Reporting directly to the firm’s CEO, I was involved with developing senior management’s strategy for preparing our employees and dairy farmer owners for an impending consolidation with a major competitor. We had a central office picnic that summer and I could feel the excitement about the consolidation among headquarters’ employees because the future looked bright for each of us.
Doubling the size of the organization presented both challenges and opportunities. It had been our vision for a decade. We even had a new company logo designed and I had my staff all set to present it to the combined board of directors on the day when a final vote on the deal was to be taken. I remember our CEO raising the bar especially for me as we danced the “limbo” at the picnic. It didn’t matter that I slithered awkwardly beneath it with my crutches. We all felt like we were part of something bigger than ourselves.
But then the board of directors failed to approve the consolidation by one vote on what was to be our big day. Everyone was devastated. I saw my CEO’s long face after the vote. But he snapped back the next day when I watched him walk by the office with the same confident stride he always had. And I took my cue from him.
To re-energize my own staff, I positioned the apparent “defeat” as an opportunity to reinforce the strengths we had in the company’s management structure and style. Over the following three years, we planned and conducted a corporate-wide communications audit. And my staff stuck with me. In carrying out the recommendations from that audit, we further strengthened the organization.
In 1995, the consolidation proposed eight years earlier was finally approved and the corporate logo we originally proposed in 1987 became the corporate identity for what is now Foremost Farms USA, a $1.14 billion company which employs 1,000 people and processes and markets a variety of cheeses, whey ingredients and butter for commercial customers around the globe.
Flash ahead another 20 years. Pam, my wife and I are retired. I’ve had a 50-year career of office and online work with small companies and non-profits in Los Angles and New York City as well as Wisconsin. We live in a high-rise condo in downtown Madison three blocks from the Capitol on the edge of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus and we love it. My dream in 1967 has come true.Creating Your Own Dreams
You too can realize your dreams if you dream big (like George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life”). Create a vision for yourself, show your passion, develop patience and connect with people who can influence your future.
That’s what Dr. Samantha Collins, CEO of Aspire Companies and founder of The Aspire Foundation (a mentorship program for women across 24 countries) recommends. She’s a recognized leadership expert and executive coach. One of the Top 100 Coaches in the UK, Collins says identifying your big goal is important because your dreams are your fuel. They motivate you.
She’s not a big fan of SMART goals (those which are “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-framed”). She recommends instead, “developing more of a vision, going to your highest level.” She adds, “You don’t have to be realistic at this stage. Your vision should invoke excitement as well as slight terror -- terror because you’re clueless about how you’re going to pull it all off. All the planning can come later.”
Collins reminds us that in order to achieve, we have to fail and learn how to get up and try again. Learning how to live with failure develops persistence, agility and resiliency -- all key attributes employers today seek in job candidates.
You develop that persistence, agility and resiliency by learning how to bounce back quickly in the face of adversity (in minutes -- or in a day at the maximum) Collins points out. “Go to the next level of deciding what to do differently next time and then practice so you really do it differently,” she emphasizes. In other words, being authentic and knowing what you need to know to do better next time will draw people to you who can help your realize your dream.
Thinking “I’m lucky” or “I’m a super person” are both pitfalls because when some things don’t work out like you had hoped (and that will most likely happen along the way) you can easily start thinking “I’m a fraud,” Collins points out. In other words, true personal power is being comfortable with yourself and your capabilities -- being authentic. Develop a ‘dream board’ for pulling yourself into the future, she recommends. You can do that by following these steps:
1. Create a collage of magazine pictures, newspaper headlines etc. which resonate with you because they illustrate, in concrete terms, what your dream is all about.
2. Put yourself in the center of your dream board.
3. Place it in a location where you see it frequently on a daily basis.
4. Take one small, achievable action toward your dream within 24 hours of creating your dream board so you feel like you’re already a part of it.
5. Work toward making your dream board come true one step at a time, perhaps with the help of a personal coach, mentor or friend.
6. Go onto your next dream board when you have accomplished what you first envisioned.
By following that process, Collins asserts, you’ll get to know yourself and create a satisfying work/life balance in your life. And in doing so you’ll be able to step beyond yourself and your disability and impact the lives of others.
Copyright © 2015. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse (www.jimhasse.com), Global Career Development Facilitator, has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy, and owner of Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC, which develops win-win direct mail fundraisers for champions of disability employment.