Thoughts on Success – Jerod Coker

The Don Quijote Honors College will publish worthwhile and interesting opinions related to intellectual development. The first in this series comes from the highly successful Jerod Coker, who provides advice on the basis for obtaining success.

Jerod Coker graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and is a recipient of the Marshall Scholarship. He will be studying at the London School of Economics in the Fall.

Jerod Coker graduated in May with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and is a recipient of the Marshall Scholarship. He will be studying at the London School of Economics in the Fall.

I was asked in an interview recently how I achieved my level of success—which, in the grand scheme of things is quite modest—while at OU. I told the interviewer that I would have to think about it for a few minutes, and the question went to the back of my mind to brew. A few minutes later I was telling her about what I would do if I could have any job in the world (I’d be a rock star, by the way) when two ways I had achieved success hit me: 1) my friends and 2) the ability to delay gratification. Of course, these two things feed off one another.

The first point seems obvious, but merits more discussion. People are attracted to others that are like them; we see this when musicians hang out with other musicians, nerds hang out with other nerds, and jocks hang out with other jocks. (Unfortunately we also still have a lot of racial self-segregation, but that is another article altogether.) High-achieving go-getters also tend to hang out with other high-achieving go-getters. For me, having extremely impressive friends made a certain level of success seem par for the course; that is, the people I hang out with all have 4.0’s and hard majors (physics, math, so on) and kick ass outside of class with equal fervor (at non-profits, as researchers, etc.). With friends like this, it’s hard to pat myself on the back for getting an A in Intro to Biology.

I would encourage you to look at the people you surround yourself with, because while it is obvious that high-achievers are attracted to other high-achievers, it is also the case that the people around you have a huge influence on you (whether you realize it or not). I’ve caught myself mimicking the funny little ticks, coffee habits, and misused idioms of my best friends on many occasions. My freshman year, for example, I spent many nights drinking and playing video games. I did nothing outside of class. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I started to do a bit more by volunteering at Second Wind coffee shop, where I first started getting introduced to some seriously impressive people.

Finally, by junior year I was extremely involved at places like Second Wind, the Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, the Society of Fellows, Ethics Bowl, and many others. In fact, there is nothing on my resume that is from my freshman or sophomore year—no clubs, no campus awards, no volunteer work. This change is highly correlated with changing my friend group from the guys who lived on my floor in Adams (mostly stoners and/or stereotypical frat guys) to a group of very impressive people from the Honors College. Take a good look at those around you and make sure they are the type of people that you not only want to be around, but that you want to be like. You will inevitably pick up many of their traits.

Now, on to the second point, which is actually intrinsically related to the first: the ability to postpone gratification. I think if you could divide up “successful” people and “unsuccessful” people (however you want to define them) you will notice one thing: Successful people can delay gratification, and unsuccessful people cannot. This is robust to pretty much any definition of success. Professional athletes, famous authors, rock stars, rock star lawyers, wealthy businesspeople, scholarship-laden students, are all able to postpone gratification. That is, when the choice between what they want to do and what they should do comes, they choose what they should do. “I want to get drunk and play Call of Duty, but I should study for my chemistry test tomorrow.” What would you do?

As I stated previously, these two methods are intimately related. If your friends are good at putting down the PS3 controller (or mouse; I don’t want to discriminate against PC gamers) and going to their meetings, you are likely to emulate them—and you’ll probably be going to the same meeting. If your friends blow off class to smoke pot, you’re more likely to view this as acceptable.

So, figure out what success means to you, surround yourself with people who will help you achieve that goal, and make the hard choice by delaying gratification. Call of Duty can wait until after the semester is over. Anyway, the point of this was to give my answer to the interview question in a more thorough way; you probably wouldn’t read the weekend version of The Daily anyway. I’ve had enough stream-of-consciousness rambling.

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