Did you know that napkins can be used in a multitude of ways? Of course, as the parent of a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, I know that a stack of napkins usually provides enough entertainment for our kids when we are out dining at a restaurant.
It typically prevents Jackson from screaming…until his crayons fall to the floor. Then, chaos ensues.
For me, napkins have served a different purpose:
April 2007: Two weeks before graduation. As I sat at my desk in my room inside the four-bedroom apartment I shared with three other graduate assistants in Huntington, W.Va., I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.
Out of the four media relations GAs, I was the only one left. The other three had left Marshall early with jobs. I was getting married in less than two months and I didn’t know what the future held for me.
At the advice of my dad, anytime I was faced with a tough situation, I would take a sheet of paper and draw two columns: PROS on the left and CONS on the right. Such a list in this instance wouldn’t do me any good.
Instead, I listed what I wanted to accomplish in my career if I were to get a job in sports. At 24, a soon-to-be graduate (for the second time) and a soon-to-be newlywed, I thought it was best for me to dream.
So I scribbled some goals on the back of a napkin I had lying around.
Related: Read Chris' first contribution to AB, Seven Insights for Anyone Working in College Athletics
Before I continue, I will admit: I never thought I’d see that napkin again. However, I tucked it away in my drawer and it later was packed in a box as I moved from West Virginia back to Louisiana. It remained in a box (that I had forgotten about) until we moved to Texas in 2008.
I remember finding my “napkin goals” and — upon sharing them — being told that I wouldn’t reach my first goal by the age of 30. Was I dumb for even contemplating such a grandiose plan? Could I ever predict where I’d be when I turned 30 or was I setting myself up for failure?
But amidst my doubts, I thought to myself, "If I set my goals too low, I'll never feel like I truly accomplished anything."
I laid out a 20-year goal plan. Lofty? Yes. Attainable? When I was 24, I didn’t know, really. My goals were set in five-year increments, beginning at 30 (giving me six years from the time I wrote them to get to that “starting point.”) I don’t recall why I suggested five-year increments.
These goals, written down and openly shared with my peers, was my way of pushing myself. They served as a way of holding me accountable for what I wanted to accomplish. They still do.
By age 30, I aimed to be a communications director. And by 35, either assistant or associate AD for communications. I don’t recall what the 40-year-old benchmark represented, but I vividly remember the last goal on my list.
By the time I am 45-50, I want(ed) to be an athletic director at a Division I athletics program. How realistic is that? It probably isn’t, but it doesn’t mean I can’t strive for it.
I’ve proven to myself what I am capable of accomplishing. I reached my first two goals. Now, I’m pushing myself for more.
I still carry these napkin goals (in a wonderfully digital form on my iPhone) with me every day as a reminder for where I’ve been, where I am and where I want to go. I hold myself to a ridiculously high set of standards because I believe in what I can do and I only push myself to be the best I can be.
Plus, I know what it’s like to be told that you can’t reach your goals. Back in 2007, when I scribbled my goals on that napkin in my college apartment, they probably sounded pretty to silly to others. And maybe some would still consider them silly. But they're not to me. They're a guide for my career and a daily reminder: Dare to be great.
Chris Yandle is the assistant athletic director/communications at the University of Miami (FL.) He will also be speaking at this year's Athletic Business Conference & Expo. You can follow him on Twitter, @ChrisYandle.