Last Wednesday I walked into my senior capstone class not entirely sure what the plan for class was. Elaine mentioned that we were going to have a speaker but didn’t give us much of an intro other than him being ‘a speaker’ and that we will find out the rest once he arrives. What walked in the door I truly couldn’t have anticipated, as he was a green-haired man who captured our attention to say the least. Our visitor, Stu McGowan, then asked us to shut off our devices for the remainder of his talk– I knew this was either going to be the most painstakingly-long hour of class, or the most valuable. Soon after he began speaking I was confident it would be the latter.
It came as no surprise that his talk was unconventional; he took us through his ‘professional’ journey up until this point, consisting of highlights like working at a gold mine in Alaska, traveling across Europe when it really wasn’t normal to do so, starting his own video production company, and a business venture from which he wound up restoring and owning more than 70 of Burlington’s most colorful houses. In addition to sharing a brilliant, wacky, inspiring and commendable life journey thus far, he included personal anecdotes that were perhaps the most insightful. Even though his path is in stark contrast to mine thus far, a lot of what he said deeply resonated with me and where I’m at currently.
I realize that everyone may not be fortunate enough to come into contact with this green-haired bestower of wisdom, so here are some of the biggest takeaways I gathered:
- Make sh** happen. This was probably the most common, recurring theme in Stu’s life. He didn’t know what he wanted when he started school, so he got up, got out and figured it out. He crafted his own major, pioneered his own business in an industry that most people didn’t perceive as legitimate, and made sh** happen. Another memorable quote from him was, “if you don’t get what you want, f*** it!” stressing the important reality that time spent unhappy is still… time spent. Instead of wasting away in a job or life that isn’t what you want, get up, challenge yourself, fail and fail a few more times until you inevitably get it right. As my grandma always said when I refused to eat spinach, “you’ll never know until you try!!”
- A resume is almost never the way in the door. A big piece of Stu’s whole ‘journey’ that I’ve neglected to mention is his social mission, and not to use an overly cliched statement, I’ll do it anyway: doing good is good for you. Everything that Stu set out to do was driven by his mission of doing good for others, and many of the major accomplishments in his life were the direct result of him doing good. Stu explained that having a social mission opens doors to opportunities and people that you wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise. No matter what it is, set your sights on something that you’re excited about and the right people will notice.
- Creativity is invaluable. How unheard of to call such an eccentric person ‘creative,’ right? Deeper than his green-hair, the entire reason that Stu was successful throughout his unconventional, unpredictable life was creativity. How does an average joe living in Burlington’s Old North End wind up owning more than 70 houses? Creativity. Creativity in his financing, creativity in his labor force, creativity throughout his entire approach. Stu’s situation proves that if there’s a problem, there can be solution, only if you’re willing to work for it. Creativity as a problem solving mechanism is an underappreciated skill that will only continue to grow as a competitive advantage against others.
Besides providing us with an entertaining story, Stu helped me to feel at ease as I look on to the future and my career. Life does have a funny way of working itself out, but the eventual goal comes a lot quicker to those willing to put in the time and effort to actively carve out the lives they envision for themselves.