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April 6, 2016

Leverage Your Game

Leverage Your Game

WILDCAT WEDNESDAY – This is the day I’ve set aside to celebrate all things Northwestern. Hail to purple, hail to white …Yet when people ask where I went to college, I answer them and then add, “I was on a basketball scholarship.”

I am such a hypocrite. One minute I’m saying don’t make it an issue, then I’m making it an issue.

I do this not to brag about basketball. I do it to make it clear that my family could not afford to send me there. I guess I do it to admit that I had a break, and that I’m not like those rich folks or I even say that I wasn’t that kid who scored perfectly on her tests.

I should probably stop doing this because there’s something more that all of us should be focusing on for the next generation entering college.

And that is – no matter where you come from, how much money you have or don’t have, no matter what your story is – know your real strengths (don’t fool yourself) and leverage.

The bottom line is that I leveraged what I had going for me. I loved to hoop and I loved to write. I not only leveraged it, but when I got to Northwestern, I flourished at Medill, the toughest school of journalism in the country. A student almost knocked me over on my first day of Grammar 101. I received a D on my first test in that class. In my second class, I spelled a person’s last name incorrectly. I think it was Ronald Reagan. I knew how to spell his name, but I typed it wrong. The professor followed house rules. She stopped reading and marked an F at the top of my paper.

I look back and am grateful for the opportunity that such a high academic setting presented to me. I say to kids with parents who have about $250K to drop on their kids’ education that Northwestern is a really great pick for many reasons.

But what about all the kids struggling to pay off debt? What do you do now? I would think that athletes who can get into these schools and get something for it would see it as a major advantage over their peers. But it’s only an advantage if they get in, hustle and leverage hard work.

Hard work.

I leveraged hoops and my love for writing the same way a student (and parents) who could afford private school, tutors, international experiences, internships, networks of powerful people and money leveraged their strengths to get into a Top 25 school.

The crazy thing is that from a financial standpoint, I’m not the most successful kid from my block in Wynantskill, NY. That person is a kid named Jeff Harley, who did not attend school. Jeff went from a kid who hated school. Jeff’s teachers often called him stupid. There was one person on the block who worked as hard as he did – that was me. Jeff loved body-building and fitness. He was crazy competitive one minute, yet he was also a master at talking to people. Just after college, knowing he was heading off the rails, he moved south with a girlfriend and picked up a front desk job at a local fitness club. Within about 10 years, he ended up owning 36 clubs.

From the happy guy at the reception desk to personal training to managing to owning 36 clubs.

Not bad for a kid who hated school.

The second most successful person is probably my sister, who is head of North American Sales at a big finance company in NYC. Meg received an athletic scholarship at the 11th hour, and she thanks her lucky stars every day that she dropped those 25 points on the day that the Rider coach showed up. He showed up to her last high school basketball game.

I guess the takeaway for me on this day is to reflect back on what Rebecca Lobo said about why she went to UConn. She knew she was a good kid who studied hard and would be smart wherever she went because her mom was a teacher, and her respect for learning would never change. But she wanted to be a national champion. She wanted to be the best basketball player she could be. The job she has today would not have been possible without her awareness of how much she could leverage the game to get her where she wanted to be in the broadcast world. She will always have a job and rightfully so.

Rebecca found a place where she could leverage her strengths the same way Jeff found a place where he could show off his muscles, hard work and passion and IQ for making an honest buck.

Meghan will tell you that she never intentionally set out a plan, yet it is very clear that after all the years of being the youngest of four, and working her way out of my shadow, that she learned to leverage persistence, commitment and toughness.

I’m sure all the Wildcats out there are proud of all we did at our school. I’m sure many of you have kids and with all the insanity around the cost of college, you don’t know what to say or do sometimes. Do you help out the kids? Do you not?

I think the best we can do sometimes is tell the next generation to be honest about their strengths, pick a place where you can leverage and go all in.

No matter if they pick Harvard or the virtual online course or a vocational school, if they really want to set themselves apart, tell those young kids to be ready to do more work than they have ever done in their lives. And anyone who has done the same will assure you that good things follow those who do the time.