Last night my daughter came home from her school district's college night with a stack of brochures and recruiting material from various universities in our region. Setting aside, for a moment, concerns about the staggering cost of college and my daughter's worries about a potentially enormous student debt load (a concern she shares with an entire generation), what struck me most was how different her college experience will be than mine.
I was the first person on either side of my family to graduate with a bachelor's degree, having done so after finishing high school with a 1.5 GPA. I earned my degree while working during the day, and by accumulating a good portion of my credits through my local community college and via CLEP testing.
Earning a degree while working, raising a family, studying for CLEP tests - those weren't my biggest obstacles.
My biggest obstacle was a deeply ingrained belief that there was a certain type of person who went to college, and a certain type of person who didn't.
In my own mind I definitely fell on the wrong side of that line, and it took an enormous amount of mental effort and energy to convince myself otherwise.
One of my biggest inspirations has always been the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I used to drive around in my soon-to-be repossessed Ford Ranger, listening to specific songs, over and over.
If I turned the music up loud enough I found that I could drown out the voices of my own self-doubt.
I even avoided ever once discussing my degree plan with an admissions or guidance counselor. Guidance counselors were part of a system - a system I believed I didn't belong in - and I felt like any engagement with that system would reveal the folly of ever thinking I belonged.
So I made it harder on myself than it needed to be.
Eventually though, I turned the music up loud enough, used the lyrics of "Badlands" like a chant, and convinced myself that I had what it took to achieve my goal of a degree.
Given that experience, I should know by now that there is no un-crossable line that divides the "type" of person who succeeds from the "type" of person who doesn't.
But it's not that easy.
Sometimes, as a new business owner, I feel the exact same way I did as a young student. In my mind I'm back in the school cafeteria, alone, eating a grilled ham and cheese, assuming it will soon become evident that I just don't belong.
But you need to tackle the mental obstacles to success before you can confront the practical ones.
There are multiple high school dropouts who have been wildly successful, and multiple MBAs who have led Fortune 100 companies. These people share something in common that is far more powerful than their differing biographies:
An ability to conquer the belief that they did not belong.
And if you believe that having a wealth of natural talent, like high school dropout Aretha Franklin, or having a Harvard MBA, like Lindsey Mead Russell, is enough to make you feel like you belong, you are wrong.
Convincing yourself that there is no "type of person" who succeeds, and that instead success is a product of hard work, dedication, and being a decent person, is the first step to overcoming the biggest obstacle for so many people:
The feeling that you are on the wrong side of a line that doesn't actually exist.