Guest Blog by ELP Student Michael Kovalcik – Computer Science – College of Engineering – Class of 2019
Opportunity is all around us
Most unsuccessful people will tell you that opportunity never comes their way. For a while, I believed this. I believed that you had to be lucky to succeed, but now I know the truth. Opportunities exist all around us, in every area of our lives, and it is our responsibility to seek them out.
Two years at The University of Michigan and all I had to show for it was a mediocre performance in a research lab. At the beginning of this year, I decided that I wanted more out of life. I was determined to seek out opportunities and to challenge myself. By the end of the school year I was a standout in my research lab and a leader of three student orgs. What changed? Only my attitude. My willingness to look for opportunities and create value in the lives of others.
You will never be ready so just start
In the beginning you will be overwhelmed, you won’t know what you are doing, and you will fail often. Those failures will eventually lead to success. Success will build confidence allowing you to step into a new arena and challenge yourself once again. You will not be ready for those new challenges. You will fail again, but with a little persistence you’ll get through. After a while you will be able to look back and see that you have mastered certain areas of your life.
Fall semester I decided that I would rush a professional fraternity. I was not a social person and I was terrified by the idea of walking into a room full of strangers. I faced my fears and for an hour and a half I made a fool out of myself. A week went by and I went to another event. This time things were a little less awkward and I didn’t feel too bad about it afterwards. Another week later and I actually found myself excited for the final event. I went in giddy with anticipation and I hit it off with every person in the room. I left knowing I was going to get a bid into the fraternity. All I had to do that night was fill out the application….
The next day I was devastated. How in the hell did I screw this up? I tried so hard. I wanted it so bad. I overcame social anxiety just for this fraternity and I couldn’t even remember to submit the application! In this, my darkest hour, it would have been so easy to give up. But my persistence and desire to grow weighed out. I picked myself back up, recharged myself with the enthusiasm that eventually led to the greatest turning point in my life.
“Success is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm” – Winston Churchill
I continued my search for opportunities and in a matter of weeks received an email with the subject line “You should probably delete this email.” Never one to turn down a challenge, I opened it up and inside was an invitation to the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program (ELP) kickoff event. Once again I found myself outside my comfort zone as I walked alone into a room full of 100+ aspiring entrepreneurs. The event started with a description of ELP. A program that seeks to find the handful of students among the masses that know they want something different than their friends at Facebook or Microsoft. A program that seeks to find the real entrepreneurs in the crowd. Those who are willing to walk the walk when it comes to challenging the status quo and making an impact. From the instant I heard the pitch I knew that this was what I was searching for.
Success demands persistent, aggressive and continuous action
I walked out of that first innovation challenge determined to make it into the next ELP cohort. There was only one problem; I had no experience in entrepreneurship or leadership. I knew I was in for an uphill climb competing against the best and brightest entrepreneurial minds at Michigan. Over the next two months I made it my duty to engage the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) and ELP at every opportunity. I started stopping by the CFE every time I was on North Campus. I read CFE blog posts and the list of scheduled events and made sure to attend every one. Not only did I attend, but I asked questions, I stayed late, I volunteered to be on stage, I did everything I could to make a memorable impression. In the end persistance paid off (as it always does) and I was accepted into ELP’s 2017 Cohort!
The quickest and surest way to succeed is by helping others
An opportunity, like knowledge, is worth nothing in and of itself. It is only worth what you make out of it. Now that I was in, now that I had access to the incredible network, mentors, and resources of the CFE I had to take action. I know no better way to succeed than to help others and let them carry you toward new heights. I immediately set to work seeking out ways to connect CFE and friends of CFE to other organizations that could add mutual value. The first connection resulted in a partnership between Adamy Valuation, a Grand Rapids based valuation firm that has worked with the CFE, and the Michigan Data Science Team, a club I had joined while concurrently applying for ELP. Leveraging my prior relationship with Susan Murphy’s mobile health research lab and my new connections to ELP, I was able to connect with JOOL Health, a local mobile health startup. I brought in JOOL’s head of product development as a speaker for our ELP class. I facilitated a partnership between JOOL and my research lab that culminated in the creation of new statistical methods and better user experience for JOOL. It was by helping my friends to succeed that they saw value in my efforts. They saw me as someone who would go out of his way to help their organization grow and better itself and in return they granted me opportunities to lead and add more value.
It is your responsibility to create the opportunities in your life
In just 8 months, I had transformed myself from a half committed CS student to a leader in three student organizations, an invaluable asset to my research lab and JOOL Health, and a key player in Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. They key lesson is that there is nothing special about what I did. It was my decision to look for opportunities, my willingness to persist through fear and failure with enthusiasm, and my desire to render useful service for my friends through aggressive action that ultimately led to my success. Life will never hand you success. It is your responsibility to do the things that will take you where you want to go in life.