An Elite Education

A few years ago, I started a job in a nonprofit. One of the organization’s illustrious volunteers was a local professor and author, respected not just within the cause but in the community at large. My coworkers admired her, put her on a pedestal.

After providing clerical support for her a couple of times, I called her up and invited her to coffee. She accepted, and remarked that no one from the agency had ever asked to meet with her socially. We met in her office, on my day off. Our conversation lasted many hours, galloping from the topic of the cause that brought us together to a general discussion of education to an aside about LSD. We enjoyed one another and kept in touch.

When I moved to another organization, I called upon my new friend for advice on an organizational problem. She offered to give a presentation for a small honorarium, though she commands high speaking fees. Later, she advised me on a family matter. I gave her a primer on Facebook and how she might use it to promote her book.

I am reminded of this story every time someone tells me they believe they cannot get a certain job because they don’t have a degree from an elite university. The dialogue always comes back to:

Job Seeker: “Well, you went to Stanford. You don’t get it.”
Me: “It just doesn’t work the way you think it does.”

Stalemate.

The paradox: the advantage I’ve used to make unusual connections and get great opportunities is something I got at Stanford. It’s not a piece of paper or academic knowledge, but a lesson: accomplished, successful people are human. In very many cases, they got where they are because they were more open, more willing to listen, and more willing to help “nobodies,” than ordinary achievers who don’t understand that one cannot hoard power and use it at the same time.

JUST ASK is a tactic anyone can adopt, regardless of credentials.

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