Translate Criticism into Improvement

This is a story you do not know that taught me to crave criticism in a way I never expected.

The summer before Kemba Walker was to lead UConn basketball to the Maui, Big East and NCAA Tournament Championship on his way to becoming a first round pick in the NBA draft, he was the new leader of a young team that entered the season unranked. Although he had demonstrated flashes of brilliance in the past, Kemba’s speed was out of control leading to poor possessions in transition. As a program that thrived off transition basketball- with Kemba the primary ball handler and decision maker- the coaching staff had to eliminate poor possessions, costly turnovers and unnecessary fouls that out of control play can bring. At the time, I was working as a video assistant with the men’s basketball program, tasked with compiling game clips of Kemba, coded by play result.

If you are unfamiliar with New York City point guards, a New York City point guard is defined by grit, tenacity and a desire to get to the rim under any circumstance. Not only was the criticism Kemba received from the coaching staff critical, it was critical of the style of play he was built on. Fast forward one year and if you follow me, you are now well aware of how this story goes. UConn won three tournament championship’s and Kemba produced one of the best seasons of any college athlete, ranking among the nation’s best in many statistical categories. When you analyze the stat line in the context of the criticism received, Kemba’s FG% improved while taking more shots, his Free Throws Attempted increased, and, his Turnovers and Personal Fouls decreased while playing more minutes. This is a stat line reflective of better possessions and decision making, or, the intended improvements in the criticism from the coaching staff.

I saw that even when faced with critical feedback of a career-changing nature, Kemba received the criticism, identified the lesson and made the intended improvements. Criticism led to improvements which transformed an unranked team into Champions.

This experience caused me to reflect on my own response to criticism. I immediately knew my reaction would have been much more defensive and I assume many others out there can relate- critical feedback of any variety can be devastating. But, after witnessing firsthand the success that originated from criticism, two questions kept popping into my head.

What criticism was I not receiving and what type of success was that keeping me from?

This story taught me to crave criticism as you cannot lose by receiving criticism. It is actually the only way to win…

Translate Criticism into Improvement

“The best way to prove yourself is show you are willing to improve yourself.”

We often find ourselves in disbelief when a quarterback throws an interception on consecutive possessions or, in the case of my mom, when a basketball player consistently misses free throws. It outrages us to the point where we question their ability and suggest a benching or even release. Are we open to the same criticism we give out? Are we as emotional about our own performance when we receive the same score in the same categories on a yearly evaluation or continue to commit the same weekly errors on the same weekly reports? Most importantly, are we improving?

If it hasn’t already the current digital transformation will soon create disruptive changes to industries that will have a significant impact on the future employment landscape, critical job functions and skills in demand. According to the World Economic Forum, in many industries and countries, the most in-demand occupations did not exist 10 or even 5 years ago. The same report estimates that 65% of children entering grade school today will work in a job that is yet to exist. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which industries these nonexistent jobs will infiltrate, but it is impossible to ignore the possibility.

In times of change, improvement is key. Change brings competition and improvement is necessary to stay ahead. The ability to receive feedback- whether that be from a manager, colleague, market or industry trend- and make the intended improvements will help decide who wins. Here are three common roadblocks to translating criticism into improvement and how to start addressing them.

We can’t receive criticism… 

Criticism, or critical feedback, can help us develop the humility, awareness and reflection necessary to become professionals in our field and reach our goals. Unfortunately, far too often it is absolutely devastating to receive criticism. Your face gets red, you start to sweat and your mind races. According to one study, our ego can become so defensive in these situations that it controls the flow of information to our brains. Let that sink in, our ego can actually censor what we hear. I am sure we can all painfully recall our reactions to these moments, it is our inclination after all! But if we never hear criticism, we never improve. Although this inclination may not be your fault, you can counter it. You can change your response to criticism from defensive to open or take the “critical” out of critical feedback if you will. To start, let’s redefine our definition of criticism to manage the negative emotional reaction.

If you have ever played sports (or hopefully read the introduction) you can understand the value of reviewing film with coaches and teammates- it keeps us honest about our performance. In 2014 Microsoft reached an agreement to add Surface Pro tablets to NFL sidelines providing instant video feedback/analysis to coaches and players (among other uses). At the time I was working with the Pittsburgh Steelers, on the sidelines for the debut of the tablet, responsible for distributing the tablet to players and coaches for review after each possession. No, I did not interact with Ben Roethlisberger aside from one particularly intimate moment when he overthrew a trash can and hit me with a piece of tape (I actually got a picture of this encounter, it’s at the end).

Think back to the last NFL game you watched. How many times did the camera pan to players huddled over a Surface Pro, watching clips from the last drive? It is a familiar scene but it’s important to acknowledge why they are glued to the screen. Critical feedback. Athletes at the highest level have trained themselves to receive feedback to the extent that it’s instinctual once they return to the sideline. Professional athletes are constantly seeking critical feedback, evaluating their performance and making improvements- this is how they continue to perform at a professional level. They accept criticism as the only means to improvement and more than just crave it, they seek it out. When you witness this scene in future NFL broadcasts it will hopefully serve as a reminder of the new definition of criticism.

If we recognize the importance of reviewing game tape, why don’t we do the same at work? If our objective is to be the professionals of our industry, why do we automatically become defensive and passive when presented with criticism? Work to redefine criticism as necessary to improving yourself to stay ahead of the competition, becoming the best version of yourself or reaching your potential. If you are competitive, view it as a challenge to improve. For those who are particularly bad at receiving it, expose yourself to more of it. The more feedback you are exposed to, the better you will become at managing the negative emotional reaction and translating that criticism into a lesson and improvement. Once you train yourself to accept that negative feedback leads to positive outcomes, you will begin to enjoy it and eventually crave it. You just need to be open to receiving it.

We need criticism. If we never hear criticism, we will never improve- it can be as simple as that. Athletes at the highest level have trained themselves to receive criticism due to the nature of their profession. We bear witness to their constant adaptation of critical job functions to win the next play or beat the next opponent. If they fail to receive criticism and make the intended improvements, they are replaced. Our industry could experience a similar need to adapt critical job functions to compete in the not-so-distant future. Would we survive in that competition, or, would we be replaced? Improvement starts with receiving criticism. Redefine it to manage the negative emotional reaction and expose yourself to more of it.

We aren’t getting criticism…

There are studies showing that when co-workers criticize us, we tend to avoid them. It is much easier to go straight to those who agree with us to receive reassurance. This is known as our support network. Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant has worked with organizations such as Google, the NBA and the U.S. Army on improving success at work. He suggests we take advantage of a different network, a challenge network. This network is the group of people who push us to get better by giving the feedback we don’t want to hear, but need to hear. This process of self-discovery leads to what is actually true, not what we believe to be true. The hard truths. When we become aware of how bad is the bad and how good is the good, we now have information we can work with.

Self-discovery starts with the challenge network. Try to find the smartest people in your life who disagree with you to understand their perspectives, the self-discovery of what is actually true. Begin to build your challenge network in the office, odds are you probably know the exact individuals. Leverage that challenge network into self-discovery. Make today the day you no longer avoid them but start to hear them. It is important to note that a challenge network is only beneficial if you are ready to listen and receive criticism.

We don’t know what to do with criticism…

A habit we can all develop is what psychologists call the second score. In this context, I like to think of it as your reaction score. When someone gives you feedback, they have already evaluated you- it’s out of your control. Instead, every time you receive feedback, rate yourself on how well you took the feedback- your second score or reaction score. Remind yourself that regardless of the content of the feedback, the major element to grade is whether you are open or defensive.

For example, you cannot control the C you just received on your performance review, however, you do control the current grade you receive for how well you took that C. When your second score proves you are open to criticism, you can then act on the intended lesson and improve. Practice the habit of hearing criticism and immediately asking yourself “what’s the lesson?” The answer leads down the path to improvement.

The Future

The dynamic, evolving world we live in is marked by the digital transformation. In fact, the Surface Pro example discussed earlier represents a digital transformation in the sports industry. This transformation is constantly reshaping how we live, learn and work while creating disruptive changes to business models that will have a profound impact on the future employment landscape, critical job functions and skills in demand. The ability to receive feedback -from a manager, colleague, market or industry trend- and make the intended improvements will help decide who wins.

It is difficult to pinpoint the impact of the digital transformation on job functions and anticipated skill needs. However, with the pace of change accelerating, we must recognize this trend to stay on top of it. In times of change, improvement is key. The most effective way to improve is by opening yourself to receiving criticism, identifying the lesson to be learned and translating that feedback into improvement.

As we learned, criticism led to the improvements which transformed an unranked team into Champions. But the story doesn’t end here, continued criticism and improvements have transformed an ex-college champion into a present NBA franchise scoring leader and future perennial All-Star.

You cannot lose by receiving criticism. It is not just the only way to win, it’s the only way to continue to win.

See you in the future.

Problem: We can’t receive criticism… 

  1. Redefine it to manage the negative emotional reaction and transform it to a focus on positive outcomes.

  2. Expose yourself to more of it.

Problem: We aren’t getting criticism…

  1. Identify and form a challenge network.

  2. Leverage challenge network for self-discovery.

Problem: We don’t know what to do with criticism…

  1. Focus on your second score.

  2. Develop habit of asking “what’s the lesson?” when criticized.

 

Big Ben

As promised, my moment with Big Ben.

 

 

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Hacking Success

Think of someone you look up to as a model of success. What if I told you that level of success is not as far off as it may appear…

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Butler v UConn

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

I have carefully observed many successful people over the years from professional athletes to Hall of Fame coaches to surgeons, educators and business men/women at the top of their respective fields. During these observations I pride myself on remaining as unbiased as possible. To clarify, I am not trying to confirm that what I think is right. Rather, I want to know what successful people around me have already decided to be right (the answers are out there, you just have to pay attention). Through these observations, I have found there are two things needed to be successful:

1). Know the best decisions to make.

2). Make them every day.

Success is not as elusive as it can sometimes appear. Billionaire Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s most successful hedge funds, references this:

“Behavior modification typically takes about 18 months of constant reinforcement.”

Define what success looks like to you. Identify the behaviors you need to change to be successful. Practice those behaviors every day for 18 months. If you are impatient or anxious and 18 months is too long of a commitment, focus on winning each day. Win each day until a day becomes a week. Win each week until a week becomes a month. Win each month until a month becomes a year. At some point, you will begin to notice improvement. This improvement will energize you and re-motivate you to continue making progress. All of a sudden, 18 months will pass and you will have reached the next level.

The more you practice a behavior (reinforce), the easier it becomes until it is a habit. By identifying and practicing behaviors that will make you successful, success (as you defined it) will become a habit. This is the ultimate goal. Success is now as routine as making coffee in the morning or brushing your teeth.

If you are 25 you can establish successful habits by 27. If you are 45 you can establish successful habits by 47. If you are 65 you can establish successful habits by 67- the process is irrespective of age, gender and all other identities. After the first 18 months, re-evaluate the decisions you need to make to reach a higher level. Make them. Repeat the process until you are where you want to be.

If you don’t know where to start, here is an example for success at work. Practice the behavior of completing every assignment to the point where it could never be returned to you for revision. If you are entry or mid-level- submitting documents to managers- treat every assignment as an opportunity to make an impression on the person who evaluates your performance and ultimately decides your fate. Yes, it will take more time/attention and yes, you may have to stay later initially, but with each document you submit you are reinforcing the behavior until it becomes a habit.

Anyone, no matter where they fall on the totem pole can ask the right questions, obtain necessary information and put in 100% effort. You don’t start magically completing better work once you are promoted. You reinforce the behavior of completing better work to establish a successful habit which over time can result in success (promotion).

Everyone looks up to someone as a model of success. There is only one thing that separates you from the people you look up to…

They started.

 

How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in your Job Search

Land your Dream Job from your Smart Phone

Let’s face it, whether you are fresh out of college or a young professional, the job search is not something we look forward to. After recently switching industries, I wanted to develop an efficient, measurable process to guide my job search. The following strategy was compiled through feedback I gathered from career planning experts. This strategy can be used for those seeking an entry-level position as well as anyone looking to change jobs or industries. I hope this information can serve as a roadmap to help you reach the next step in your career- whatever that may be- while developing strong networking habits and learning to advocate for yourself in a professional manner.

Employee referrals have become the most valuable tool in hiring. An employee referral is an internal recruitment method where organizations identify potential candidates through existing employees’ social networks. HR professionals rate employee referrals as the No. 1 source for quality hires. It makes sense, with so many similarly qualified applicants competing for the same position, submitting your application through an already established current employee (as opposed to a traditional online application) gives you immediate credibility that provides a competitive advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. Therefore, the goal of this post is to help you win an employee referral at the company you desire. Below is an outline of the steps.

  1. Prepare by identifying a best-fit company, conducting research and practicing your story.
  2. Network in your industry of choice and maintain a list of connections.
  3. Leverage your connections into an informational interview.
  4. Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

First, before you begin, it is important to get yourself in the right state of mind. The job search can be a daunting and discouraging process. It can be helpful to change your mindset and dig into whatever motivates and inspires you. I am a competitive person who is motivated by competition, so I have reframed my mindset accordingly. I approach every step in the process with the effort necessary to be more prepared than the rest of the applicant pool with the final goal to “win” the referral. This works for me and I would encourage you to discover what motivates you and employ whatever strategies tap into that motivation.

 1). Prepare

This is the most important stage as it sets the tone for the rest of the process. Prepare your story of why the company/industry is a good fit at this point in your career and practice speaking that story out loud. Similar to how you are looking for a best-fit company based on what you value, companies are looking for a best-fit candidate based on what they value. The more research you conduct and more thought you put into your search, the more clearly you can communicate why this particular company is the most appropriate next step for you in your career. This reflects well as your search strategy will come off as targeted instead of random.

Always keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Make sure it accurately reflects your achievements, awards and work experience as it relates to the position you are looking to obtain. Write a summary that allows others to gain a sense of where you have been, what you have done and how that relates to what you are looking for at a quick glance. You should treat your LinkedIn with as much precision and planning as you treat your Instagram or Snapchat.

Tip: Practice your answer to the interview question “tell me about yourself”. This answer should be a concise summary of your experiences/achievements as they relate to the position/industry you are seeking. The answer to this question is “your story” and you should be able to give this answer at a moment’s notice. An inability to answer this question raises immediate red flags as it shows a lack of thought/research. You can consider this answer your personal elevator pitch.

 2). Network

Network, network, network. Attend job fairs, join a professional organization, utilize your college career center- talk to any and everyone who may have connections to the industry/company you are interested in including family, friends, mentors, college alums and professors. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner as with practice, it becomes habit. Exchange contact information with people of interest that you meet. Connect on LinkedIn with those you have networked with directly after meeting them. Include a note such as “It was great to meet you at x            event, I look forward to staying in touch in the future.

To stay organized, make an Excel list of everyone you know who works in the industry or has connections to the company where you seek employment. Search the company you are interested in on LinkedIn. Browse through current employees and compile a list of 1st degree (friends) and 2nd degree connections (friends of friends) you have at that company. Add these names to the top of your list.

 3). Leverage your connections into an informational interview.

Informational interviews are conversations designed for a prospective employee (applicant) to learn more about the company/position from a current employee. Browse over your list and identify the most relevant connections you have to the company/position of interest. For example, if you are interested in marketing at Amazon, your marketing contact would be a more relevant connection than an engineer. You should explore the more relevant contact first.

Next, you will need to reach out via email (if available) or LinkedIn -whichever is more appropriate- depending on your relationship with the connection to ask for an informational interview. If the individual is local, it is appropriate to ask for an in-person informational interview where you would treat them to coffee or lunch. More commonly, a 20-30 minute phone conversation is also appropriate. Remember, though the goal is to win a referral, use the informational interview to determine if this the right company/position for you. After speaking with a current employee you may realize you do not jive with company culture!

It is not professional to directly ask for a referral, rather, you must “win” the referral through your research and thoughtful responses. The informational interview must be treated as advertised so the individual you are speaking with does not feel misled. Here are broad examples of how to ask for the informational interview with both direct connections and friends of friends.

Direct: “I am interested in working in marketing. Through my research I have identified your company as somewhere I could see myself working. Do you have any time in the coming week for a brief phone call where I can learn more about what it is like to work at your company?”

More frequently, you will be connected to your company of interest through 2nd degree connections (friends of friends). In this situation, though you are not directly connected to an employee at the company, you have a friend who is. In this case, depending on your relationship with that friend, it would be appropriate to reach out for an introduction to the employee at the company of interest.

“I noticed you are connected on LinkedIn to John Doe at Amazon. I have identified Amazon as a company I would like to work for and I am interested in learning more about John’s experiences. I was wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to John so that I could have a brief phone call to learn more about what it is like to work at Amazon.”

 4). Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

Although the purpose of the informational interview is to learn more about the company, the true value is to build a professional contact. The conversation should end in one of two ways, either a referral or an introduction for a conversation with another employee. Depending on the quality/flow of the conversation, it is up to you to determine which ask is most appropriate.

During the informational interview, ask broad questions to encourage dialogue that flows as a conversation. Some examples of good questions to get the conversation started are, “can you speak to your experience at the company”, “what do you like most about working at the company” and “what is the day-to-day work like in your position?” Make sure your questions reflect the research you have conducted. If asked, you will want to concisely state your story for context, however, it is important to listen as much as possible out of respect for the time this individual has given. If they do ask you to expand on your story, use the opportunity to impress them by preparing and practicing thoughtful answers beforehand.

At the end of the interview will be the ask. If a referral seems likely, approach the topic in this way, “after hearing your experiences, I am very interested in your company- do you have any advice on how to apply?” Hopefully, if the conversation went well, that individual will offer to refer you to a position. Another way to approach the referral would be, “do you think I would be a good fit for this position? If so, would you be willing to refer me to this position?” Most importantly, you want to maintain this individual as a professional connection. If you do not feel it is appropriate to ask for a referral, continue to build out your network by asking, “is there anyone else you think would be beneficial for me to speak with?” If they were impressed by your preparation during the conversation, they should be willing to connect you to another employee, giving you another chance to win the referral. Ultimately, it is up to you to gauge the quality of the conversation and insert a natural ask accordingly.


As uncomfortable as this process may seem, it is essential for your career to learn to advocate for yourself relentlessly. No one else will, it is your responsibility to take control. We are fortunate to live in a digital age where networking tools such as LinkedIn are right at our fingertips. This allows anyone who is willing to put in the work to gain a competitive advantage with only a smartphone. There are plenty of qualified applicants in the job market, however, few are willing to commit to the process to gain a competitive advantage. As always, those who are willing to put in the work will reap the rewards.

If you have specific questions about this strategy as it relates to your unique search, please feel free to contact me using the information below. I would be happy to help however I can.

 Email: matthew.ouimette@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewouimette/

Instagram: @mattwemet

 

Inspiration

GaryVee

Inspiration 3

GaryVee

Dreams 2.0

 

“Find what you were made for.”

This is the slogan for To Write Love on Her Arms National Suicide Prevention Week 2017 campaign. For myself, this week provides additional meaning as it coincides with the birthday of my close friend who took his life in 2014, a sacrifice that has forever inspired me to find my happiness.


Two years ago I packed my life into my Altima and drove cross-country from Connecticut in pursuit of a California dream. When I arrived at the University of California, Riverside, everything and I mean everything was different. For starters, Connecticut has four very colorful seasons, cold winters and humid summers. Riverside is in the desert -it’s quite hot- and only varies between different shades of brown. Another striking difference- the demographics of Southern California compared to Connecticut. To illustrate, UC Riverside is known for its commitment to underrepresented, first-generation students, leading to a student body that is among the most diverse in the country. In my position on campus as an admissions counselor, many of my colleagues and students I worked with also identified as underrepresented, first-generation students. Through our interactions I became more familiar with their challenges, challenges much different from those at the University of Connecticut.

  • The transfer student who spent five years at community college paying class-by-class for the chance at a four year degree.
  • The commuter student battling the worst traffic in the country twice a day because living at home is the only way college would be realistic.
  • The daughter whose father took night classes while she was little to better help with her homework so she may graduate. A story you may already be familiar with.

“Happiness can only be found by identifying and striving to achieve meaningful purpose for one’s existence.”

-Jerry Hirsch (Lodestar Foundation), Barron’s list of high-impact givers.

Most impressive was that regardless of the individual circumstance or obstacle, these students were very happy. In most cases, I probably had more- money, experience, possessions- but they seemed to have the one thing I wanted, consistent happiness. As the months passed it became clear to me that the “what” – or adversity/obstacle – did not matter. The common theme I found with UCR students was the “why”- or purpose – and that made all the difference. Over the years I have worked with and observed all types of students from all types of backgrounds with all types of purposes. Though they are fighting an uphill battle, the students completing a degree with the motivation of creating a better life for their family are rich in purpose, and therefore, rich in happiness (generally speaking).

The unwavering commitment to education despite an uphill climb against the system invoked overwhelming feelings of guilt for a lack of effort into my own education, specifically the sacrifices I took for granted. Aside from education, at the crux of the issue was a recognition of a lack of accountability when I was at home- quick to place blame (usually on my family) instead of taking responsibility for my actions. This was certainly not part of the California dream I had envisioned, but the unexpected result from these realizations was that I stopped taking my life for granted. I stopped expecting a certain life to just happen to me and instead actively started creating the life I wanted for myself through a commitment to maintaining positive habits and accepting daily, incremental change as part of a long term goal. That goal? Treat others the way I would like to be treated. When I was finally honest with myself and identified my faults, change then became a commitment to correcting those faults hour-by-hour, day-by-day. Once I took the first step, my guilt transformed to motivation and happiness began to replace emptiness.

Nate

RIP Nate

Recently I was able to attract a nice girl into my life as a direct result of my commitment to change. She has introduced a simplicity that I seem to have lost touch with through years of solo journeying- a simplicity that revolves around family, a simplicity that I would like to return to. I have not been the best son, the best brother or the best friend, but I would like to change that and I finally know where to start.

“Find what you were made for.”

My purpose when I moved to California was strictly adventure. This purpose had little meaning as my worldview at that point was formed exclusively from experiences growing up on the East Coast- valuable experiences but only one side of the story. However, after two years on the other side, my interactions and experiences in California merged with those from Connecticut and blended into an updated worldview that is more reflective of who I am and what I am looking for, a worldview I will continue to refine.

After a summer of deliberation, I decided to resign from UCR and return home to spend September with my family. I want a re-engagement in what matters most- relationships with family and friends- and I will work at it hour-by-hour, day-by-day until I am satisfied. Thus far I have been able to see my dad’s side of the family at a reunion on the Cape, bring flowers to my grandparents grave and make dinner for my parents. Simplicity. Life is too short to waste time and there is no better time to begin.

Cape Cod Reunion 2017

Cape Cod Reunion 2017

Looking forward, I have long understood an underlying purpose of mine is to make others’ lives easier- whether it be through large scale innovation or individual interactions, that story is yet to unfold. What I do know is when I am able to live out that purpose in some way, shape or form, that is when I am most happy. I have a rejuvenated appreciation for the sacrifice and work ethic it will take to reach my goals. I am ready to put in the work and I know how to get the job done. The process translates. Effort, concentration and persistence combined with purpose will lead to success. I am committed to the process, no matter how long it may take.

I don’t know where this journey will end up, but I do know it was meant to start at home.

In the meantime, if anyone has any leads, suggestions or recommendations, either short or long-term, I would be more than happy to hear them. I am planning a return to Southern California in October to pursue experiences in the Los Angeles area that will continue to push me out of my comfort zone.

Matthew.Ouimette@gmail.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewouimette/

If the key to happiness is living a meaningful purpose, I will continue to re-purpose until I find what I am made for. For those out there who feel stuck in any aspect of life, I believe in you to always find the courage to do the same.

 

 

Why New Year’s resolutions are more important than you think

I have been keeping a journal since my dad gave me one for Christmas in 2009. I write down pretty much everything- places I go, people I meet, random thoughts, jokes and even New Year’s resolutions. Growing up, I never took resolutions seriously. Most years I would simply jot down a few hurried thoughts minutes before the clock struck midnight like I’m sure many out there can relate to. Let’s face it, there’s just not enough time in our busy schedules- especially around the holidays- to write thoughtful New Year’s resolutions.

A few years ago when I was desperate for a change, I tried something different. I made time. I began a tradition of finding a quiet place on New Year’s Eve to write my resolutions. I wanted these resolutions to be different, I wanted these resolutions to accurately portray my ambitions for the close of the following year. So, before I even lift a pen I sit and read through everything I have experienced since I was a sophomore in college. I find it helpful to refresh myself on where I have been before deciding where I want to go next.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

I noted this quote on five separate occasions over the last six years. Coincidentally, I have been thinking a lot lately about this quote and how it pertains to not only my life but life in general. Recently I have come to conclude that there may not be a destination after all- that maybe the joy of life is found in the continuous journey with no end required. I know personally that much of my joy in life comes from adventure. The people I meet, places I visit and lessons I learn from travel have taught me much more about myself than any textbook ever could. I am a big believer in the necessity of the process. However, as I reviewed prior years resolutions, I couldn’t help but notice the top recurring item was a destination.

  1. Move to California
  2. Go to the gym daily
  3. Write More

This recognition forced me to ponder the relationship between journey and destination. I have reached my destination, I am in California- I live here. But, as I began to write my 2016 resolutions I realized there were many more destinations I wanted to reach. I have been on the journey for so long- 39 months to be exact– I seem to have forgotten the importance of the destination. If life is a journey and not a destination, what purpose does the destination serve? I have reached the destination through a testing journey so what can explain my desire for more? I took a look back at my own journey to find the answers.

Two additional resolutions I emphasized over the years were going to the gym daily and writing every night- two of my stress relievers. In order to live the life I was striving for, I needed to incorporate these activities into my daily routine without sacrificing my drive to reach California. It was a pretty easy start, everything I had done up to that point hadn’t worked so I already accepted change was necessary. Unbeknownst to me, my biggest hindrance was learning to manage time effectively. In other words, how can I balance my goals into a full-time work schedule and typically active weekends. We are always battling time and I’ll be the first to admit, there is never enough of it, but as I learned, there are ways to maximize it.

My moment of clarity occurred when I committed to shifting my priorities. This included making sacrifices in areas I previously never thought possible- sleep and the weekend. As painful as it was to leave the house at 5:30 AM into negative temperatures, I went to the gym before work. A week later I found that I was much more focused and less stressed in the office knowing one goal was already completed. In turn, this allowed for a much more productive work day. Returning home from work, I found I had more energy to write and work on job applications. Another unanticipated result of my early mornings was I went to bed earlier. This eliminated those countless late night hours spent perusing social media. I also cut out many of my weekend antics which granted two more days of the week previously spent viciously hungover and melted into the couch. Once this new lifestyle became habitual and I started seeing results, I couldn’t stop. I had finally learned how to maximize my time.

Months later, when positions weren’t opening, I became proactive for the first time in my life. I arranged informational interviews at 8 schools spanning California. I knew I was ready. I knew it was time. Almost immediately, like a reward for my efforts, I received a call for an interview with my current employer. It just so happened to be during the 3 days I was in LA, during the random week I chose to visit and the rest is history. My journey was not a physical trip to some foreign land where everything finally made sense, but an internal journey. A journey to change my lifestyle, my habits and the status quo.

As I look back on my process and the changes made I realize they were all to reach a clear destination: California. Then, it hit me. Setting a clear destination is imperative to the progress of the journey. If you don’t know where you want to be, how will you know what changes you need to make? Though admittedly frustrating at times, my journey was defined by the goal of getting a job in California. Once I understood this as my purpose, everything else fell into place. Although I may not stay in California my whole life, I not only made it, I gained the knowledge to make it even further.

California

Now that I have reached my destination, how can I explain my desire for more?

The relationship between journey and destination is not mutually exclusive, but progressive. One is not more important than the other, they are both equally essential for personal growth. You don’t reach the destination and stop, rather, the skills learned on your initial journey enable you to reach even further destinations. Through my journey I learned how to manage my time, make sacrifices and most importantly, commit to a long term plan and execute. California is not my end destination but instead a stop along the way to a whole new realm of destinations I never thought possible. In that sense, as I sit on my couch on New Year’s Day, I am content in knowing I am not melted but continuing to live my changes.

At this time last year I was as firmly rooted in Connecticut as I’ve ever been. Today I sit 3,000 miles away from all I know, as free as I ever will be.

Next year, when you are inevitably rushing around on New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to take a few moments out of your day and write thoughtful resolutions. As long as you are headed where you want to be, you will never fail on your journey.

Cheers to 2016 and cheers to the journey, may it never end.

Dreams

Never give up.

I am 25 years old. I have a full-time job with medical and dental coverage as well as a generous retirement plan at my alma mater, the University of Connecticut. I have an incredibly rewarding job as an admissions counselor, serving as a liaison between the school and prospective students. Storrs, Connecticut will always be my home.

Although raised in Connecticut I was born in Los Angeles and have been infatuated with California ever since. When I was younger I would stare at pictures of the boardwalks and endless coastline for hours. The infatuation quickly turned into a dream.

Every month since I graduated college I have applied to jobs in California and every month, for 39 months, I have been rejected. That’s 39 months of deep disappointment only experienced when a dream is crushed again and again before your eyes. No matter how positive your approach or how strong your intuition, 39 months of rejection takes its toll. It makes you question your purpose and ability leading to the darkest of days. It can even turn dreams into nightmares.

A close childhood friend of mine passed away last year. In our last conversation he mentioned he had always been impressed by my drive and added that 25 would be our year to shine. Tragically, he never made it to 25 but his words left a lasting impression. We all face adversity, it’s how you respond to that adversity that defines who you are.

No matter how many times you fail, never give up.

This March, on my 25th birthday, I had the most important epiphany of my life and committed to the most important decision of my life. Suddenly, it all made sense. I no longer felt the nagging pain of disappointment. Like everything in life, this was just another sign. Our next move depends on how we interpret that sign. I refused to be defined by my failure but instead used it to improve. Each rejection has forced me to re-evaluate my approach and alter how I market myself. Every new application I sent out was better than the last, each interview question prepared more carefully than it’s predecessor. Each rejection has made me better and I realized I was not in the midst of 39 months of failure, I was in the midst of 39 months of improvement.

You see the epiphany I had was that nobody can crush your dreams but yourself. I have read these words time and time again but never saw them as clearly as I did that day in March. The day I decided nothing could stop me.

No matter how many signs point to “no”, never give up.

Today I resigned from my position at the University of Connecticut. I have nothing but the utmost respect for my colleagues at a University I have grown to love, but I am overdue for my next adventure. After 25 years I am finally moving to Los Angeles to chase my dream. I don’t expect it to be easy, but that is not what I am looking for. I have always found I perform better when challenged and this will be the ultimate challenge. I am not fearful of what is to come but rather excited to finally discover what I am truly capable of. Over the years I have been asked many times what exactly I am looking for in California. I’m not looking for anything, I’m looking for everything.

To my late friend, 25 is our year to shine and I promise nothing will ever stand in my way, especially myself.

To my friends and family, thank you for the unwavering support and encouragement. I could never accurately express my appreciation.

In my lifetime I have cliff jumped into the clear waters of the Adriatic Sea, swam in the Blue Grotto, viewed picturesque Italian sunsets in Tuscany, partied late into the night at New York City’s finest clubs and witnessed my childhood idols, the UConn Huskies, win two National Championships. I have worked the sidelines of an NFL game, played pick up basketball at Madison Square Garden and stood on the field at Fenway Park. I have traveled all over this beautiful country from the mountains in Montana to the warm waters of Maui, crossed the bridges of Pittsburgh to the rolling hills of New England. But you know what?

This is the first time I feel truly alive.

It is now time for me to follow my dream. When your time comes, I encourage you to do the same.

And always remember, never give up.


If anyone has any leads on housing in the Orange/Riverside County area please contact me at matthew.ouimette@gmail.com!