In a previous post, I spoke to the underwhelming statistic that .7 percent, or only one student out of one hundred, can claim fluency of a language they were taught in an American high school or college. It was also found that the majority of Americans who are fluent in another language learned it outside of school; which makes sense when you consider that true fluency can only really come when you’re forced to use it and figure it out. This usually requires what’s known as “immersion,” or the opportunity to live in the country where the language is spoken.
I happen to be one of the .7 percent Americans whose high school training in foreign language would be a part of their career. This wasn’t on purpose though.
It happened on a fateful day on the Trading Floor at Bloomberg in New York twenty-five years ago. A colleague was heard screaming from the top of his lungs across the floor, “Anyone here speak Spanish? The Central Bank of Mexico is on the line. I don’t understand this guy, but it sounds like he wants to buy through Bloomberg.” With 120 professionals on the floor, all of them college-educated, not one raised their hand. My boss ran over to me and said, “Your last name is Garcia. Don’t you speak Spanish?” Nope. Born and bred in America. I took three years of Spanish in high school and hadn’t uttered a word of it in ten years. Learning this prompted my boss to say, “Well, that’s more than anyone else around here. Pick up line one. Congratulations Chuck, you’re now in charge of Latin American Sales. Oh, and good luck.”
I bumbled my way embarrassingly through that call, understanding just enough to send the guy a brochure. I swore then that I would never be embarrassed like this again. However, I was just promoted! This is what it felt like to get a battle-field promotion. I was the only man left standing. I was immediately an army of one—in charge of a continent that stretched as far south as Argentina and Chile. I was not only unprepared for this, I was unqualified. I subsequently hired a tutor, and obsessively worked on Spanish for months until I took my first trip south of the border. The rest was history—I did great, and I capitalized on an amazing opportunity. I certainly wasn’t a victim of circumstance, but it sure felt that way at the time.
Carpe diem, which means “seize the day,” is a maxim used anywhere from in high-school counselor offices to spontaneous body tattoos and motivational posters you stare at while at the dentist’s office. Though it may seem a somewhat trite or cliché phrase, there’s a reason it’s so popular. The Latin phrase originally comes from a line from an ode of the poet and philosopher, Horace, stating, “Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero,” meaning, “Seize the day while trusting little what tomorrow might bring.”
When applying this phrase to life, it’s often a justification to do something wild, different, and/or exciting. It’s the rationalization of, “this opportunity may not come around again, so I’m going to take it now!” As a result, people eat crazy delicacies, jump out of planes, travel to unexpected places, and more. What if this phrase motivated more than personal exploration?
What if you approached your career with an attitude of seizing/taking/leveraging unexpected opportunities and moments that come up at your job? It’s easy to let them pass you by. These opportunities are often uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and can sometimes feel like “not the right time/fit.” But what if, when in a situation similar to that of mine at Bloomberg that I shared with you, the next time you were called to step in or step up, you answered the call—no matter how unqualified you felt?
I’ll tell you this, there’s no better teacher or motivator than being immersed in a situation where you need to quickly adapt. Be willing to jump at opportunities to be an interim director, to lead a meeting, coach associates, take over an account, try a new position, etc. These opportunities don’t come around often, so make them count when they do.
Learn more about how to be better prepared to “seize the day” in your career next time an opportunity presents itself by visiting, www.chuckgarcia.com.
 Bryan Caplan, “The Numbers Speak: Foreign Language Requirements Are a Waste of Time and Money,” Library of Economics and Liberty, (2012): http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/08/the_marginal_pr.html.