Run Your Own Race

Posted In: First Jobs
Posted On: 1/2/2017

I had the great privilege to give the keynote speech at the December graduation for the University of Colorado’s Leeds’ Business School.  I shared my thoughts about the blessing of a college education and that every job, no matter how small, will contribute to each graduate’s unique journey.

The key message I had for the graduates was inspired by a small passage in Cheryl Strayed’s book, Tiny Beautiful Things.  It’s a powerful concept that each one of us can incorporate into our daily lives.  Here’s an excerpt from my keynote about Running Your Own Race. - Jane

first jobs, life after college graduation, jane miller, CU Leeds graduation

It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others and as a result not feel great about who we are. There will always be someone who is smarter, more talented, more athletic or has more money. Someone who seems to have something that you don’t have.  Something that you want.

That’s why it’s important to run your own race.

For me, I learned about running my own race when I started in marketing at Frito-Lay, the first job that started me on the trajectory that would be a thirty-year career in the food industry. Well, I was a bit of an ugly duckling in the Frito world because I was from Peoria, IL, grew up dirt poor, had a Russian degree undergraduate and an MBA from SMU.  All of my peers had degrees from schools like Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Chicago and it seemed that all of them had fabulous internships and had traveled the world.  Me, I worked at the Hickory Farms kiosk in the local mall during college and had never been anyplace besides Peoria and Dallas.  

Was I intimidated?  You bet! 

But I had two things going for me that most of my peers didn’t...

The first was a really strong work ethic and the knowledge from my upbringing that I should not expect things to come easy. 

The second thing I had going for me was this: I had learned that everyone should be treated equally. That the janitor should get the same level of respect as the CEO. This partially came from seeing my mom struggle in low paying jobs, but it also came from my experience working my night time and weekend job at Lord & Taylor. The ladies who were buying ties from me treated me like I was no one. Didn't they know that someday I would be a famous executive?

My best example of the importance of treating everyone equally came as I was interviewing for my first job after getting my MBA. My dream job was to start at Frito-Lay in marketing. I had a grueling schedule of eight interviews in one day. I came out of the day confident that I had put my best foot forward and that I had a great shot at the job. But unfortunately, I got the call that I did not make the cut. I was upset, but I went to my Plan B, which was an entry level job in banking.

About nine months into my bank job, I was starting to feel like Plan B was not such a good plan after all. When out of the blue, I got a call from the human resources department at Frito. It turns out that the year before, I had aced seven of the eight interviews, but the most senior guy didn’t like me, so I didn’t get the job. Once the senior guy left the company, the others at Frito contacted SMU to find out where the girl with the Russian Major landed!  They didn’t remember my name, but they remembered my Russian degree. Since I was the only person in the history of SMU to go on to get an MBA with a Russian Degree, they found me pretty quickly. And so my dream job came to be. But it wouldn’t have happened if I had just focused on impressing the most senior guy and hadn’t treated every person I interviewed with respect.

From my earliest career experiences to now, I have relied on my two strengths: working hard and treating everyone the way that I want to be treated. 

Sure, it’s hard to not compare myself to others even after all of these years. But I do know for certain that my greatest career successes have come when I focused on “me” not “them.”

If you focus on running your own race, you will win.