“Take charge of your destiny.” “Make the right choices.” These phrases are often repeated to young people, especially college students, as they try to navigate through their 20s and undergraduate experiences. Oftentimes, this exerts a certain amount of pressure on them, and as a result, they rush through life in an attempt to fit in instead of living on their own terms.
Daniel Everett’s story was no different. After graduating high school, he hastily applied for the University of Northern Colorado where he failed his first semester and dropped out. But years later, he went back to school with a clearer vision and real determination to succeed. Everett has now graduated with a B.S. in Public Relations from Metropolitan State University of Denver and an MBA from CU Denver Business School. He is currently the Director of Administrative Management & Support Operations at the Denver Police Department. Everett recently caught up with the Business School to share his story and pass on some wisdom to current students and young adults.
If at first you don’t succeed…
As he reminisced about his first attempt at a four-year degree, Everett shared that his decision to attend college was motivated by peer pressure. “My friends were all going to college, and I felt left behind,” he said. With little motivation and no desire to get much out of school, his departure was unsurprising. Outside of school, Everett had a decent job. He worked at an airline company for a few years and accepted promotions until he hit a roadblock. Climbing further up the career ladder would require a degree. With a newfound purpose for his education, he resumed classes in 2008. “This time around, I was motivated to succeed because I had my own goals. I wanted to learn and could apply them to my work in real-time,” he said.
Graduating college boosted his confidence and opened new doors for him. “I was promoted twice within two years of graduating and was then hired for a position that paid double what I was making at the time. That investment in myself was worth every ounce of effort I put into my degree.” With this satisfaction in mind, Everett continued his education, completing his MBA at the CU Denver Business School.
Early days’ struggles
College students are pressured to determine their career path at such a young age. Even with good intentions and the best-laid plans, it can take many trials and years to find the right path. So, how do students course correct?
To that, Everett’s advice is to not sweat it unless a student is thinking about a very narrow or technical field. “I don’t have a degree in criminal justice, but I’m a director at the police department. As long as whatever you are studying has broad value for your later self, you will be fine.” Furthermore, he emphasizes the importance of seeking new knowledge and skills in a variety of areas. “Business is an excellent choice because you get to explore so many useful areas from communication and marketing to finance. The classes for my degree included a ton of writing and journalism courses. These courses made me a better writer; they gave me the ability to edit others’ work constructively and gave me a foundation in the investigative thought process.”
Personal motivation: the key to fulfillment and self-accomplishment
Personal motivation is extremely important because it serves as a fuel to keep going and do things with passion. Everett believes the reason for his failure was the lack of drive. As he asserted, “Finding motivation is extremely personal, and it’s very easy to be derailed by friends, family, or even society’s expectations.” But once he had his own goals, he noted that it was so much easier to succeed. “If I started something, I was going to finish it, because if I didn’t, I would let myself down.”
For people just starting in college, it may seem hard to find personal drive. Everett encourages students to take some time to discover what interests them and what they are capable of achieving. “If you have a hard time concentrating and understanding complex math principles, a career in data science may not be where you’re going to thrive. Aim for things that really interest you. Not your parents, you. Visualize what careers align with those interests and skills you have and consider steering toward them.”
Imposter Syndrome: the self-limiting inner voice
American drag queen and actor, RuPaul Charles said that our biggest villain is within ourselves. This “inner saboteur” is the little voice inside our head that tells us we’re not good enough to do something. Everett relates to this and states that one of his biggest mistakes was letting that inner voice talk him out of applying for the bigger roles or volunteering for projects that he knew would help his career. With experience and insights, he realized that this was a common feeling among people. “Once you start getting into a role, you quickly learn what is needed and use your experiences and education to make the best decisions. Do not let that fight or flight response talk you out of applying to roles, talking to the boss, or putting an idea forward for review.”
Career tips: advocating for yourself
Everett’s last piece of advice for the Business school community is to not be afraid to advocate for yourself. His personal experience exemplifies this. “My last boss retired right before the pandemic and I inherited most of her responsibilities. After a year of doing this, I made the case to my new boss that I needed to be promoted. It was hard for me to approach him about it because it felt weird for me to ask. I laid out all of the duties I had overseen, the projects I had initiated, and the cost savings I had found along with the positive outcomes I had achieved. I also provided a comparative example of a similar role at another agency. I knew my boss was extremely busy and I had been overlooked. By laying out my case with as much useful information, I made it hard to say no. I was promoted and got a raise without any pushback.”
Ultimately, through pitfalls and promotions alike, Everett takes pride in what he’s accomplished and values the self-motivation he found along the way. He closed with a reminder that we have within ourselves all the resolve we need to succeed: “Good bosses will help you and coach you, but even when you have a great boss who really looks out for you, the only person that knows every detail of the work you have contributed is you. It’s up to you to make the case for yourself.”