Last fall I received an email from my Alma mater, Vanderbilt University, asking if I would be interested in interviewing prospective students from the area. Vandy had never asked me to do anything before, so I agreed.

Nothing happened for months. Then, in the middle of January, the emails came fast and furious. In all, I ended up interviewing about a dozen Monmouth County-based high school seniors.

Here’s the thing. They were all very nice and very, very smart. Great students, good kids. But there was something missing in most of these kids….

Passion? Excitement? Curiousity? Yes. Yes. And Yes.

I feel bad for these young men and women. They work so hard to do the things that are expected: get good grades, take on activities, participate, build the resume. I totally get it. These things are necessary to go on to the next important milestone, college. But with all this running and doing and achieving, they never really get the chance to develop a unique self, and more importantly, to be able to tell the story of one’s self.

I have a good friend who is President of a successful private school. His conversations with college admissions officers confirmed my suspicion. In today’s world, it is simply not enough to be a smart kid, an academic achiever. There are lots of smart kids for the top schools to choose from. The question really is, “what makes you special?”

If you ask 100 high school seniors this question, you will probably get 99 blank stares. [Full disclosure: I met one of the 1% during this process, and he is astounding. Fascinating young man, lit up with possibility. I had to cut our conversation short because I had another meeting, which was a huge disappointment. To me, anyway]. This is not to say that these 99 young men and women are not special and unique, because they are. They just never thought about what makes them special or the story they can share.

Don’t think you have a story to tell? You most certainly do. Think about the last time you had an animated conversation. One you wish wouldn’t end, about a topic so exciting the words couldn’t come out fast enough. This is you. This is your story.

Businesses need stories, too. Stories help clients and customers understand what makes you different, creates an emotional context, and expresses passion. Charity Water. Harley Davidson. Augusta National. Whole Foods. Green Bay Packers. Dyson. Life Is Good. Christian Louboutin. Chris Craft. Notre Dame. The Stone Pony. They all have stories.

So What’s Your Story?

– Bob Gagliano

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