On Take Your Success, I regularly interview top-performing college students to understand how they’re successful, so you can recreate the success in your life. Take what’s helpful, dismiss what’s not!
Graham Bowling and I are friends, I’m not going to try to hide it. We met at Miami University and also spent a week together with a group in the South Pacific island of Fiji.
Graham and I meet weekly now, and I’m always inspired by his ideas and actions. So, I knew I had to interview him for Take Your Success because he’s such a cool and talented guy—who will hopefully inspire you, too.
But, Graham and I didn’t always get along. (I hope he’s ok with me sharing this story.)
While we were in Fiji a couple of years ago, after our patience waned from the brutal sun, long bus ride on a rocky road, and then sickening boat ride, Graham and my nerves were struck. I knew if something else went wrong, then I would explode. And I guess Graham felt the same.
After we got off the boat, another guy, Graham, and I found out there were three beds in our place—two twin beds and a king-size bed. I was arguing with Graham that I deserve the king-size bed because I’m bigger. Graham didn’t exactly agree with my reasoning.
I had my shirt off, because we were on a hot island, as we raced to the room. After I made no compromise and demanded the bed, Graham threw this foot-long metal key in the middle of my back. It left a solid imprint because it made contact with bare skin. I was so pissed off. Then, as we got in the room, I pushed Graham down on the twin bed and yelled, “That’s where you’re sleeping!”
I guess being on a paradise island can really bring out the worst in people. Who knew?
We laugh about this story now.
Quick bio: Graham Bowling, just graduated at Miami University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Business Management and a focus in Entrepreneurship.
Brian: When did you start your lawn business and can you tell us about it?
Graham: I started my lawn service business at the age of 12 with my dad in the spring of 2006. Over the years we have remained small with an average of 25 customers a season. We value our customers greatly. We spend time truly getting to know them. While I am away at school, I employ high school students to manage the lawns. Learning the startup process early in life has allowed me to become familiar with both success and it’s highly important and largely disregarded counterpart: failure.
Brian: What has been the biggest learning experience from working in an entrepreneurial activity as a teenager?
Graham: I learned from an early age that I have the power to create my own life and future. I could work as much or as little as I needed and enjoyed being my own boss. Managing my business gave me confidence in all areas of my life and a desire to continue learning about entrepreneurship during my undergraduate career.
Brian: You’re a very busy and productive guy, but you also make time to build your friendships. What mindset or strategies have helped you balance college?
Graham: Honestly, sometimes there is not much balance. But this is something I always strive to achieve. With relationships, I always seek to listen and then speak. I find that most people strongly desire to be heard. They need an outlet for their ideas, feelings, joys, and frustrations. When you listen well, this communicates to your peers that you truly care for them. They will remember this and value your relationship highly. As issues arise, I make sure to help my friends in need regardless of my commitments to homework or personal projects. I value friendships more than my work.
To balance schoolwork, I take full advantage of Saturdays. I am a firm believer that one can have a ton of fun each night of the weekend but still get up by 10 or 11am to head to the library. I never once studied on a Friday or Saturday night during my entire undergraduate career and achieved an overall 3.76 GPA. On Saturdays, I consistently put in 4-6 back-to-back hours of work in the quiet university library. This allows me to stay on top of work and often to keep ahead. I hate feeling like I am drowning in work by Wednesday morning and having a solid study session on Saturday mitigates this mid-week overwhelming feeling.
Brian: It’s amazing to me that you have meetings with the president of the university and major donors as a Student Trustee. Please share with us your responsibilities in that position.
Graham: As a Student Trustee to the Miami University Board of Trustees, I serve as one of two student representatives of the 16,000+ undergraduate student body. Five times per year, the trustees meet on the Oxford campus for three days to discuss and decide on university policy, student safety, financial obligations, new and existing construction, faculty recommendations, athletics, and the future direction of the university as a whole. We meet regularly with members of the administration including the president and his various vice-presidents. As a Student Trustee, I provide a formal board report as well as a report to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee. I am also welcome to sit in the Finance and Audit Committee meetings. When I am not in meetings, I am often invited to special university events and dinners.
Last May, I sat next to Forest Whitaker during a luncheon at the president’s house before the Commencement ceremony. I am often called upon to entertain various Miami alums and donors during sporting events, dinners, and speaking events. The Miami University Board of Trustees is a fantastic group of individuals who truly invest their time, talent, and treasure into the future success of this university. It is an honor to serve as a Student Trustee.
Brian: As your friend, it’s obvious to me that you enjoy traveling. Can you share why you make an effort to see the world as much as possible and how it will help you professionally?
Graham: I have the travel bug. It is an exhilarating experience and I often save my money diligently for months to be able to afford the trips that I take. I believe that I must actively pursue discomfort in life in order to grow and traveling provides these opportunities. As much as you plan your excursion, you are always faced with some level of ambiguity and this provides an incredible learning opportunity. I also love to experience new people and culture. Like an anthropologist, I seek to understand and learn as much as I can about each geographic location I visit.
From a professional standpoint, my travel experiences offer me the chance to talk about experiences with both diversity and risk-taking. I can explain what forces bolster the market economy in the South Pacific island of Fiji and what forces hinder the economy in the Caribbean nations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Travel allows me to become a global citizen in an ever-increasing globalized world. In my future career, I expect to travel extensively and conduct business with foreign partners. I am also interested in acquiring fluency in a second language, either Spanish or Mandarin. Language ability indicates my commitment to the global economy and will likely help me snag a job in the future!
Brian: You graduated a semester early. How did you do that? Do you recommend it for other college students?
Graham: I was able to graduate early because of my high school success. I took three AP courses and three dual-enrollment courses through Kenyon College and Findlay University. I came in with 25 hours of college credit. My high school courses prepared me for the rigor of college academics and for that I am grateful. During college, I stayed on top of my schedule and met with an academic advisor at least once per semester. I always tell younger students to take full advantage of the resources available to them at their institutions including advisors, career services, and writing center help. These services are fantastic and let’s face it…you are paying for it!
I recommend graduating early for a number of reasons. Personally, it allowed me to save a full semester of tuition and fees. I did not want to pay to take additional courses that would not count toward a degree. It also allowed me time to pursue additional experiences. I am currently interning for a venture fund in Cincinnati and would not have had the time if I were in class. All in all, the choice to graduate early is a personal one. As with most major choices, I suggest weighing the pros and cons and considering the opportunity cost of each viable outcome.
Brian: What are your future plans?
Graham: I am pursuing a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to teach the English language in Taiwan. Currently, I am a national finalist and should find out if I am offered a grant sometime in mid-April. This will take me out of the U.S. for 11 months starting in August. If this opportunity does not work out, I am considering the U.S. Peace Corps. I hope to live abroad for a year or two and learn a second language. Following my time abroad, I am interested in pursuing a stint with the U.S. Air Force. I want to work in the intelligence community and earn my MBA. Eventually, I hope to return to entrepreneurship and own my own business.
The two takeaways that struck me the most were Graham’s mindset of planning ahead by making sacrifices to accomplish his future goal, and his intentional decision to put friends before school.
He engages in many activities—starting the lawn business, studying for a high GPA, saving money so he can travel, being a Student Trustee, and working hard to graduate early—so he can develop skills to accomplish his long-term goal of owning his own business. He isn’t just doing these things for fun and going through the motions. It’s all directly or indirectly a part of him growing and building his skills, so one day, he does have the knowledge, connections, money, or whatever, to start a company.
Second, Graham is humble about putting his friends first, but he truly does do that on a consistent basis. He is a good example for balancing work and social life in school and after graduation. Graham works hard, but he has the awareness to know when friends need to take priority. This will surely help Graham be happier. Also, and this is not why he does it, but by giving his time to others, he builds this amazing support network around him that he can use when he is the one who needs assistance.
Those were my two biggest takeaways, but there is a lot of great content in there. So, please comment below with what stood out to you from Graham’s answers.