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A Boy Named Sparky

I recently received a letter from Jonathon, a rather distraught job seeker who had spent several months in a non-productive job search campaign. He is a highly experienced, degreed Chemical Engineer who had been a project manager for a major industrial products company. His letter indicated that he had had numerous interviews but always failed to be the selected candidate. He had started to doubt his own skills and was filled with remorse and self-pity. The entire tone of his letter was to blame everyone but himself for his failure to achieve his goals.

Failure is the constant companion to everyone who succeeds and Murphy’s Law applies to each of us at one time or another. As I responded to his letter, I was reminded of a quote attributed to Tom Hopkins. “I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed. And the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I fail and keep trying!”

As I have told many clients in the past, when what you are doing consistently results in failure, change what you are doing. Look for new and better methods. Seek the advice of mentors, family, and friends. But above all, persist. Persistence is the magic talisman that makes the difference between success and failure. Often it is the dogged determination to succeed that results in the achievement of our goals. Many of the people we respect and admire in business, politics, sports, and entertainment are people who never gave up. My formula for a successful job search when you are out of work is quite simple: develop and maintain a strong belief in yourself and your mission, set realistic and obtainable goals, organize yourself and develop a 40-hour week plan of action, and relentlessly work your plan until you have achieved your objective.

Let me share a history lesson that may give all serious job seekers cause for reflection. It is a story told by the late Earl Nightingale, writer and publisher of inspirational and motivational material, about a boy named Sparky.

For Sparky, school was all but impossible. He failed every subject in the eighth grade. He flunked physics in high school, getting a grade of zero. Sparky also flunked Latin, algebra, and English. He didn't do much better in sports. Although he did manage to make the school's golf team, he promptly lost the only important match of the season. There was a consolation match; he lost that too. Throughout his youth, Sparky was awkward, socially. He was not actually disliked by the other students; no one cared that much. He was astonished if a classmate ever said hello to him outside of school hours.

There's no way to tell how he might have done at dating. Sparky never once asked a girl to go out in high school. He was too afraid of being turned down. Sparky was a loser. He, his classmates...everyone knew it. So he rolled with it. Sparky had made up his mind early in life that if things were meant to work out they would. Otherwise, he would content himself with what appeared to be his inevitable mediocrity. However, one thing was important to Sparky -- drawing. He was proud of his artwork. Of course, no one else appreciated it. In his senior year of high school, he submitted some cartoons to the editors of the yearbook. The cartoons were turned down. Despite this particular rejection, Sparky was so convinced of his ability that he decided to become a professional artist.

After completing high school, he wrote a letter to Walt Disney Studios. He was told to send some samples of his artwork, and the subject for a cartoon was suggested. Sparky drew the proposed cartoon. He spent a great deal of time on it and on all the other drawings he submitted. Finally, the reply came from Disney Studios. He had been rejected once again. Another loss for the loser.

So Sparky decided to write his own autobiography in cartoons. He described his childhood self -- a little boy loser and chronic underachiever. The cartoon character would soon become famous worldwide. For Sparky, the boy who had such lack of success in school and whose work was rejected again and again, was Charles Schulz. He created the "Peanuts" comic strip and the little cartoon character whose kite would never fly, who never succeeded in kicking a football, and who never got a date with the little red-haired girl -- Charlie Brown.

- Lawrence Alter

Author Lawrence Alter is president of L.D.A. Enterprises, Ltd.; a Minneapolis based outplacement and career management firm. He is a recognized expert in career growth techniques. Call (952) 697-3663 or send ideas and questions to: LDA@EmploymentClinic.com