Sean Johnson

Build an Intentional Life.

Chapter One Introduction

How any college student can develop a compelling personal position and find the job of their dreams.

Every year, millions of Americans run out in December, or November, or if you’re like my mother, early January, and begin the process of Christmas shopping. The Christmas season has become one that’s filled more with anxiety and stress than joy and peace. Festive alcoholic beverages are consumed by the gallon, mainly to relieve the numbing pain associated with the gift-giving process.

Why do we put ourselves through such torture? Santa would be upset if he saw the pain we bring upon ourselves. I would submit there are two reasons. One, we genuinely want to get our loved ones gifts that they will appreciate. And two, we want them to appreciate that we tried to get them some¬thing they’d appreciate.

While this is often the goal, it is rarely the result. For most of us, the reason is because we hit the mall, head to some trendy, overpriced store with a name like “Organized Restoration Pottery & Fitch,” and pick out the same golf tie or spice rack that everyone else is buying. We know that it’s not original. They know it’s not original. Hell, they probably bought if for someone else. The good news is that they know exactly where to go to return it. These presents, while often perfectly nice, aren’t any different than the presents given last year. As a result, they end up in the closet or basement, and sold at a garage sale two years later.

Most people have great intentions, but just don’t know how to pick out a memorable, truly amazing gift. There’s no class on how to pick out a gift for someone, so we aimlessly buy what everyone says is trendy or cool. In most cases, the person receiving your gift will probably thank you, perhaps even send a card. But will they remember your gift? Doubtful.

The Friend Who Always Gets It Right

When I was in college, my friends and I started an annual Secret Santa event, mainly because we were poor and couldn’t afford to buy ramen noodles, much less presents for everyone in the group. We’d get together, place our gifts in the center of the floor, and go around opening the presents one by one. Most of us did the same thing everyone else does, picking out the same gifts from the same stores as everyone else. However, one of my friends always bought something amazing. The gift was well thought-out, personal, and genuine. We always knew which present was his, be¬cause it came in bright-red wrapping paper and had a white bow around it.

Each year, we’d each secretly hope our thoughtful friend drew our name. While we’d watch as our friends opened their respective gifts, we’d keep one eye one the center of the floor, staring at the gift with the red paper and the white bow. We all knew it was going to be remarkable, and we all wanted it to be ours.

A Secret Revealed

One Christmas we got together as usual, and as always his present was by far the best one given. After the ceremony, we headed out for a night on the town. After a couple of drinks, we cornered him and convinced him to spill the beans. What was his strategy? How was he able to be so successful at giving us exactly what we wanted every time? And what was with the bright red wrapping paper? It turned out his secret was pretty simple.
First, it really mattered to him that he gave us something we wanted, and he was willing to work harder to find the perfect gift. To him, it was a cool project.

Second, he paid attention. Every time he talked with one of us on the phone or via email, he wrote down anything interesting we mentioned. When that didn’t give him enough useful ammo, he utilized his network, calling our other friends and relatives to dig for tips.

Finally, once he found the perfect gift, he always wrapped it in bright red paper because he knew it stood out. It didn’t take long before everyone in our group knew what the bright red package meant, and we got excited for it. His wrapping paper was his image.

Since that evening, we’ve all become much better at gift giving. The mental games begin early in the year. Whenever we talk on the phone, we try to ask questions that might give us a clue to find the perfect gift. We keep detailed notes with any information that might be useful. We’ve created our own distinctive packaging as well. One friend always uses gold gift bags, another covers the top with bows. My wrapping of choice: the comics page from the newspaper.

In the process, we’ve become much better gift givers for everyone else. These days, we’re all known as that friend who always gets it right. Everyone finds us extremely annoying. Except when they get their own present from us.

Please Don’t Make Me Graduate

As a marketing major, I entered school with the same anxiety as everyone else. I was secretly hoping to spend 5 or 6 years in college, delaying the inevitable torture that would be the job search. The market that was present when my peers came into school had evaporated. I watched as my older friends either couldn’t find jobs or were left with jobs they didn’t want. The prospect of going down the same path didn’t excite me very much.

I had been elected as the president of the local chapter of the American Marketing Association. Our chapter had won a bunch of awards at the national conference, and was riding pretty high. As I took over, I wanted to make the chapter even better. I eventually decided on a rather lofty goal: to help every student in our chapter (about 50 kids) land a job or an internship. One problem: I didn’t have the slightest idea how to do it.

I spent the better part of my first summer at the local Barnes & Noble, pouring through books. I read books on finding a career, books on resume and cover letter design, books on marketing and advertising, books on branding, books on business etiquette. In addition, I interviewed people working in the human resources and marketing departments of a number of companies, picking their brains on the best way to get a job. After weeks of work, I ended up with pages of notes, a headache, and a very upset girlfriend.

What I was searching for was a framework to follow that anyone could use to get a leg up on his or her competition. Going through my notes for the twelve hundredth time, it finally hit me. The insights about branding and marketing were the same insights that my good friend taught us each Christmas during our Secret Santa exchange.

The secret was to become a Bright Red Package. The secret was to avoid the same approach that all of our peers were using. We needed to create positions that were distinctive. We needed to back up our claims with work that was distinctive and memorable. And we needed to let the right people know about it.

Becoming a Bright Red Package

This book will explain to you the system we developed for landing a great job. While the original goal of the system was to help young people find jobs out of college, the principles work just as well for someone who’s been laid off, is considering changing careers, or is just in a career rut.

This book is not a magic pill; the act of reading it is not going to make you instantly more attractive to employers. However, if you follow the steps contained in this book, I can promise you your efforts will be more successful. You will position yourself in such a way that employers look forward to meeting you. You will stand out from the slew of candidates who take the “shopping mall” approach to job-hunting.

By becoming a Bright Red Package, your life will become much more exciting. It worked for my friend, it worked for me, and it’s worked for the people who’ve used the system. It’s your turn.

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