I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
And, as the man across from me continued talking, I became incensed.
It was 1997 and I was 21 years old, about to graduate college with a degree in print journalism.
I wanted to apply for a prestigious fellowship with one of the biggest newspapers in the country - The Arizona Republic.
"You have to realize," the Dean of our Journalism department told me, "this fellowship goes to kids from Harvard, Stanford, USC ... not kids from here. Don't waste your time applying."
I was at the University of St. Thomas, a small school based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The Power of "No"
As he prattled on, telling me all the reasons why I couldn't or wouldn't have a shot to win that fellowship, I decided to prove him wrong.
I walked out of his office, put together my application without his help and mailed it in.
And, sure enough, the kids who received that prestigious fellowship in 1997 were from Harvard, Stanford, USC ... and the University of St. Thomas.
When I showed up in Phoenix that summer, my classmates thought I would be from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands ... that's how obscure my little Minnesota college was.
“Remember: People who tell you it cannot be done almost always are unsuccessful people, are strictly average or mediocre at best in terms of accomplishment," says David Schwartz in his book The Magic of Thinking Big.
"The opinions of these people can be poison. Develop a defense against people who want to convince you that you can’t do it. Accept negative advice only as a challenge to prove that you can do it.”
The Real Secret to Success
The true secret to success is ignoring those who tell you something cannot be done.
Russell Wilson, one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, recalled how, growing up, he was told he was too undersized to make it at the top levels of the game.
"My dad used to always tell me, ‘Russ, why not you?'" Wilson said. "And what that meant was believe in yourself, believe in the talent God has given you, even though you are 5 foot 11, and you can go a long way."
Currently the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson is a Super Bowl Champion and 3-time Pro Bowl selection.
What Success Looks Like
I have to admit, it was fun to see the look on that school administrator's face when word came back that I'd won the fellowship.
Later in my career, I'd continue to run into "experts" and authority figures who told me certain things couldn't be done or that I couldn't land a certain job, etc.
Thankfully, I used their words not as a verdict on my fate, but rather as fuel to fire up my efforts to prove them wrong.
Did I always succeed?
Of course not.
But I never let others dictate my goals or dampen my sense of what I believed I could accomplish professionally.
It's not always an easy lesson to learn, but it's one you must understand and implement if you want to become successful in your personal or professional journey.