#USCgrad, it’s you vs. you

Think of all the change you’ll see in your lifetime.

How will globalization, automation and disruption shape the future?

What will they mean for how you solve problems, seize opportunities and overcome obstacles?

Think back to the competition you faced before you could proudly post #IGotIntoUSC on Instagram or Snapchat just a few years ago.

Being invited to USC was no easy feat. And once you got here, you found yourself in the company of some seriously talented and tenacious Trojans.

Since then, you’ve competed for grades, for research projects and for internships.

And now you can proudly post #USCgrad in your social media feeds.

Congratulations!

Enjoy this moment.

Full stop.

Exhale.

Now the biggest competition of your life commences. Or continues.

For you see, it’s not the thousands of students graduating from colleges across the country this spring. Or the older Millennials a few years ahead of you. Or the people around the world who want all of the wonderful opportunities we enjoy here in the United States.

No, the biggest competition you’ll face in life isn’t any of those groups. It’s actually someone you know quite well. Someone who, hopefully, you got to know much better while you were a student.

Look no further than the selfies in your camera roll.

Because that person is you.

That’s right.

There’s only one real competitor you’ll face in life, and that’s you.

Ultimately, the only person you can control is you. Your thoughts. Your feelings. Your actions.

Here are three important questions to ask yourself frequently:

  • Are you getting better every day?
  • Are you beating the record you set last time?
  • Are you applying what you learned in school to become a lifelong learner?

Once you adopt this mindset, you can put the strategy to work by placing yourself in situations where you’ll compete against only yourself.

One thing you shouldn’t do, unless you absolutely can’t avoid it, is apply for stuff.

Don’t apply for jobs.

That’s right. Don’t apply for jobs.

Instead, build your network. Seek out the person who needs what you have to offer. Share how you can solve problems and add value. Put yourself in situations where the only person in contention is you. Raise your hand and ask for what you want.

When my employer was being acquired 3 years ago, I told my boss I wanted to be involved in the merger planning effort.

There was no position open. There was nothing to apply for.

But my incredible boss, Joe Bosch, opened a door for me. The next thing I knew, I was working on the merger planning team for a multi-billion-dollar acquisition, contributing to its ultimate success.

And when I joined the company in the first place, I didn’t apply for a job. The opportunity came up in a casual conversation with a professional acquaintance. As we chatted, he asked if I’d talk with him about a position on his team. Thank you, Jeff Torkelson, a fellow Annenberg alum.

The same principle applied after the merger. I had the good fortune to end up with an amazing boss. I had an opportunity to pivot from corporate communications to marketing analytics. I had the opportunity of a lifetime to learn and contribute in completely new ways.

“You are your own competitive advantage,” says Carla Harris in a riveting talk she gave on a college campus. “No one can be you like you can be you,” says this Wall Street banker and gospel singer.

Furthermore, people are drawn to those who authentic. “Most people are not comfortable in their own skin,” Harris says. “So when they see someone comfortable and confident, they will gravitate toward you. They want some of that.”

By competing against only yourself, you’ll often find yourself invited to do some very interesting things.

When the call came out last summer for people who wanted to be an alumni ambassador for USC Annenberg, I jumped at it.

My Annenberg experience helped me change careers from supply chain into corporate communications. As part of that, countless people were generous with their advice and encouragement. At the time, I felt like I had nothing to give back. That’s why it’s always a pleasure when I can pay it forward to others.

Little did I know that by being an active ambassador that I’d be nominated to join the Board of Governors for the USC Alumni Association. I’m over the moon to work with this team on making your alumni experience the best it can be.

It reminds me of some sage advice that an officer of my employer shared recently at a marketing leadership development program that I run in partnership with our talent management team.

When asked how he became a senior leader, he said simply this: “I tried to do the best I could in every job.”

He gave us a series of questions to ask ourselves:

  • Are you learning?
  • Are you having fun?
  • Do you love what you’re doing?
  • Are you making a difference?
  • Are you contributing to the organization?

Always come back to these questions. Come back to yourself.

Because as you go through life, you’ll see what your friends and fellow alums are doing in Snapchat and Instagram and the social networks of the future. You’ll compare your real and not-always-glamorous life to their carefully curated lives.

But as the actor Rob Lowe advised his college-bound son who was intimidated by the seeming success of his freshman peers, “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

Just compete against you. And you’ll be playing the game of your life.

Caroline Leach is a proud USC Annenberg Alumni Ambassador with an M.A. in Communications Management. She’s a Marketing VP at AT&T and a former Communications VP at DIRECTV. She blogs about social media savvy for corporate professionals at carolineleach.com. Opinions are her own.

Caroline Leach is a communications and marketing leader in the entertainment and technology industries.