Are you a Stanford student interested in ETL and MS&E 472? If so, check out our FAQ!

Never Miss an Opportunity to be Fabulous

Tina Seelig, Stanford University April 17, 2019

I never use slides in my class, except on the first day when I describe what we’ll cover over the ten-week quarter. The final slide always lists my commitments to the class, and what I expect of the students. The last point is, “never miss an opportunity to be fabulous.” I promise to deliver my very best in each class, and expect the same from them. I also tell the students that I have no problem giving everyone an “A,” but that the bar is set very high… This is the first and last time I mention this.

I’m no longer surprised by the stickiness of this message. In fact, several years ago I arrived at class a few minutes early and found one of my students sitting outside listening to her new iPod nano. I hadn’t seen one before and asked to take a look. She handed it to me and turned it over. The back was engraved with the words, “Never miss an opportunity to be fabulous!” Instead of adding her name or contact information, she chose this message, which she wanted to remember every day. She certainly didn’t do this for me; she did it for herself.

I now know that most of us are just waiting to get this instruction. We’re hungry for permission to do our very best, to hit the ball out of the park and to shine our brightest. Unfortunately, in most situations this doesn’t happen. We’re encouraged to “satisfice.” That is, we’re subtly or not so subtly encouraged to do the least amount we can to satisfy the requirements. For example, teachers give assignments and clearly state what’s required to get specific grades. And, the classic question posed to a teacher is, “Will this be on the exam?” They have learned through years of reinforcement that all they need to do is meet the minimum requirement to get the grade they want.

Practice: Are there places in your life — school, work, or home — where there are very specific objectives? What would happen if you, and those around you, exceeded those expectations?

It’s easy to meet expectations, knowing exactly what you will get in return. But amazing things happen when you remove the cap. In fact, I believe there’s a huge pent-up drive in each of us to blow off the cap. Like a soda bottle that’s been shaken, individuals who remove perceived limits achieve remarkable results.

In our LEAP! podcast, Steve Garrity, discusses this directly. He tells his colleagues that every day they each make tiny choices. If they choose wisely then, just like adding money to an investment account, the effects of these small changes are compounded, yielding tremendous results over time.

Consider the difference between someone who meets a predefined goal versus someone who does 1 percent better each day, pushing just a tiny bit further than expected:

If your goal is defined by a value of 1.0, then:

1.0 x 1.0 x 1.0 . . . (365 times) = 1.0. Nothing changes for you over a year.

If you do only 1 percent better each day, then:

1.01 x 1.01 x 1.01 . . . (365 times ) = 37.78 at the end of year! Wow!

In the beginning a 1 percent improvement is imperceptible. After seven days, the result is only 1.07. It isn’t until this pattern of improvement is in place for seventy days (a little over two months) that you get to 2.0 times better. And at seven hundred days (less than two years), you are over a thousand times better than when you started. If, on the other hand, you do 1 percent worse each day, at the end of the year the result is a tiny 0.02. Therefore, in one year, the difference between someone who does 1 percent better and 1 percent worse each day is almost two thousand times!

This happens in all aspects of our lives. Kevin Weil, former head of product at Instagram, provided a great analogy when he spoke at Stanford. He is an ultra-marathon runner, which means that he frequently runs 50 miles at a time. When I asked him how running influences his work, he reflected on the fact that over the course of a week of training it is rare to see any major improvement in his pace, even though he gets a little better each day. However, after a year, it is clearly evident that he has made significant strides in his performance. He applies this to his work, too, knowing that each day that he pushes himself just a little further, results in meaningful long-term results. Essentially, you get out of life what you put in, and the results are compounded daily.

Practice: What could you do 1% better each day? Consider anything from managing your money to managing your relationships.

Being fabulous comes in many flavors, but it all starts with removing the cap and being willing to reach for your true potential. This means going beyond minimum expectations and acknowledging that you are ultimately responsible for your actions and the resulting outcomes. Doing just 1% better each day leads to enormous positive results. Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, and you won’t always get a second chance to do your best.


Parts of this blog post are taken from “What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20” by Tina Seelig.