Jan Scruggs
Memorial founder

Jan Scruggs

Founder and president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.


Never give up

Q: In honor of recent graduates: When you finished your schooling, did you know what you wanted to do in life? How long did it take to find a job or profession that "fit" you? Are you still in your original field?

The question here is pretty straightforward. Many young people graduate from college and do not have a clue about exactly what they really want to do in life.

I think there is often a process of trial and error as one eventually finds what they enjoy and are good at. The two attributes can fit -- but not always. Most people would like to be great musicians or play professional baseball. Let's stipulate that some of our interests may be best explored as hobbies as opposed to a profession.

A young person needs to explore the world of work. There are not unlimited opportunities awaiting. Maybe a recent grad could find himself working as a server in a restaurant. Yet this is not a wasted life experience. A person learns something humbling about managing time, multitasking and dealing with sometimes surly people -- including one's bumbling supervisor.

I was interested in being a great success at something after graduating from college. I went to work at the Department of Labor. Had I stayed there, I would today be sitting on a beach with a generous federal pension and health care for life. I felt bored to death and dreaded arriving each day to work in such a slow-moving organization. No regrets.

In 1981, I left the security of the federal government. I had a dream for a national Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I had to do this. Placing these names on Washington's Mall became was an personal obsession. This was my mission above all else in life.

I later became a lawyer and a motivational speaker. Yet the only thing that I really ever had a passion for was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The wall has become a place to educate young people and is a well known American icon. A staff of 12 people manages diverse missions ranging from commemoration ceremonies at times like Veterans Day to raising funding for an Education Center on the Mall. ( See www.vvmf.org)

My advice to graduates is multifaceted:

1. Have a flexible five-year plan for where you want to be and what you want to be.
2. Keep an open mind about career choices that come your way.
3. Money is not everything. Being a teacher, fireman or a soldier may not make you rich, but you will still have a good life and do something for which you have passion.
4. Challenge yourself and always take courses for professional development.
5. Be a networker.
6. Go the extra mile with every assignment you are given in the workplace.
7. Steer clear of mediocrity and of those who get by through practicing it.
8. Never give up on your dream.

For years, I used to eat at a certain restaurant. I was served by an always bedraggled-looking waitress in her mid 30s. She always looked so tired.

Last year I saw her again. She was quite perky and finally looked rested. She told me that she had put herself through college while a single mother. She had just graduated from college and was starting in the fall as an elementary school teacher.

No one gave her a break, but she never gave up. I was so happy for her. She will touch many lives. Who better than a person like this to be with children?

It is hard to beat a person who never gives up.
-- Babe Ruth

By Jan Scruggs  |  June 21, 2010; 6:32 PM ET  | Category:  Careers and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I read Mr. Scrugg's book about the Vietnam Memorial from the United States Information Service library in Kolkata, a year or two before I came to the US.

It made a deep impression on me. The very first place I saw on my very first visit to Washington DC was the Vietnam Memorial.

I have been back several times since, most recently this last Memorial Day when I drove round and round but couldn't find parking. I did notice however the creeping militarization of the National Mall in Washington DC with monuments to all too many wars.

An outsider would have to be forgiven for thinking that s/he had discovered a state defined by war, not democracy.

Siddhartha Banerjee
Oxford, Pennsylvania

Posted by: siddharthaban | June 23, 2010 1:26 PM
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