How To Reel In Your Dream, Even If You Didn’t Go To A Prestigious College, Or Any At All


Ben Stein, the actor, speechwriter and political pundit contributor on the TV show, Sunday Morning, spoke to our nation’s high school seniors trying to appease their fears.

Now, dreading whether they’ve gotten into the college of their choice Stein said, “As far as I can tell the men and women who have achieved the most in life in terms of getting to do what they wanted, live a comfortable life, and get recognition for it, did so pretty much without regard to where they went to college.”

This is not just wise counsel for 17 year olds, but those of us well out of college. You may still wonder if going to the “right school” would have made you more successful. Of course one can never say for sure, but for most people it’s not very likely.

Stein, who is nine years older than me – sixty-five, said, looking back on life from having seen so much of it, getting into that certain ultra-prestigious college really means very little in a lifetime. I agree.

It is far less important which grassy campus you sat on, or if you sat on one at all, than going after what you want with determination, desire, focus, hard work, consistency and not giving up. These typically fuel how far we get in life.

At 17, that’s a hard thing to realize. But, if you’re just a few years out of college or half way to the pearly gates, know that these are the qualities that make most people successful regardless of where, and often whether, they went on to higher education.

I didn’t get into the college of my choice and I highly doubt it would have mattered. After graduating college it took me a good 24 years of work and life experiences to answer my gnawing, huge-as-the-sky question, “What do I want to do with my life?”

I made a major change in my life nearing fifty. Having lost my job and searching for more meaningful work, I began interviewing people who have diabetes. It began a second career for me where today I write and speak about diabetes to educate and inspire other patients. I didn’t really know where I was going when I started, but I knew I was committed to a dream I’d long had of helping others.

I also had a partner whose love, support and encouragement kept me going. Too often we seem to diminish the importance of having someone in our corner.

Seven years later, I’ve had two books published and written what I hope and believe are thought-provoking articles, including a blog on my website. I speak to patients and health care professionals around the country. I’m part of a team of diabetes bloggers advising Roche pharmaceuticals on social media and I’m developing an innovative curriculum for professionals who work with diabetes patients to coach behavior change.

Some people look at me like how did she get to do all that? Well, I can tell you no one invited me to do it, I just started. And while there is no one way, I can share a few tips with you based on my personal quest.

1. Put Your Stake In the Ground
Decide what it is you’re going to do and commit to it. I decided not to look for another job in advertising when I lost mine but to help educate people with diabetes. At the time, I had no idea what that would look like or where it would take me. But once I embarked, I didn’t look back.

2. Fuel Your Passion With Your Talents
For decades I wanted to use my talents – writing, speaking, drawing and love of people – to educate. When you use your talents, the line between work and play often disappears.

3. Work with Determination, Focus and Flexibility
What enabled me to keep moving forward was waking up every day and working, even when I felt like going shopping. Allow yourself, however, to be flexible when you need to be and take a break when you need it. Breaks are invaluable to refresh and refocus you and help your brain make critical leaps when it’s working on a problem in the background.

4. Be Bold
I’m certain I have less fear than I used to because I’m already past the half-way mark in my life. If you’re there too, push the envelope a little and see what happens. Boldness got me to call a magazine and propose I write a column, self-publish my first book, “The ABC’s Of Loving Yourself With Diabetes” because I believed in it with a passion, call a training institute every month for six months to become a peer-mentor and create presentations that I deliver to hundreds of people. Much of what holds us back is ourselves.

5. Have a Plan and Keep Revising It
A plan gives you a road map so that you don’t have to spend every minute thinking what do I do next? Regularly check your plan. You’ll likely need to make some adjustments along the way as things happen. While writing what I thought would be my first diabetes book, my newly acquired book agent said, “I don’t think we’ll find a publisher for this.” I shelved two years of work and began writing another book that did get published, “50 Diabetes Myths That Can Ruin Your Life and the 50 Diabetes Truths That Can Save It.”

6. See Your Life “As a Contribution”
When you come from a sense of contribution in what you do rather than having to be perfect, rejection and failure become “learning experiences” – and sting less.

7. Ignore the “Naysayers”
I once heard this and I remind myself regularly – those who move ahead of the pack make others feel uncomfortable until they catch up. Holding onto this thought gives me two gifts: I get to hold onto my dream and look forward to the day “they” catch up.

8. Celebrate Success
Celebrate what you’re achieving as often as possible. Part of what keeps the wind in your sails, is seeing, and enjoying, the fact that you’re accomplishing what you set out to do.

9. Be Present and Future-oriented
Being in “flow” (doing something with such concentration that time seems to disappear) is just as, if not more, joyful than any accolade. Keeping your eye on future goals helps you keep moving toward them.

10. Protect Your Dream and Enlist Support
Share your dream with those who encourage you, not those who are threatened by you moving forward; they will sap your energy and make you doubt yourself. Find someone who can act as your cheerleader and who’ll see how incredible you are when you have forgotten.

I’m not particularly brighter than the next guy. I didn’t go to the right schools. I don’t come from money and I didn’t have any connections before I made them.

Also, I’ve noticed, except for the few who may “meet the right people” at an esteemed university, for most of us once we decide what we’re really committed to the right people seem to show up.

When I started my work in diabetes, I had many successes more quickly and easily than the 25 years I worked in my previous career. In the beginning of this work I often said to my husband, “The universe keeps dropping gifts at my feet.” He always countered with, “You’re doing a lot of hard work, and that’s what’s happening.”

I still think the universe comes to our aid when we’re in the right place, but now I’ll admit to the hard work too. For even though I didn’t go to the “right school” I did learn something worth gold along the way: Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

Do you have a success story? How you got the grit to accomplish what you have – right school, wrong school or no school? If so, I’d love to hear it.

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Becca Kantor
13 years ago

A very inspiring/ reassuring post, Riva–thanks! I graduated from college a few years ago, and I think the advice in this post is spot-on.

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