As we celebrate our special Golf Week series from January 7-11,we are republishing Lila Barton’s amazing story of how she met her mentor Condoleezza Rice while playing golf in August 2012. Yes – you read that correctly!

“You will make a difference in the world, but not immediately. Your first obligation is to find something you like doing, because if you like doing it, you’ll do it well.”

I enter the gymnasium just before 6:15am and find my Stanford golf team already gathered, ready to begin our morning exercises. Usually it’s quiet at this time of day; however, one individual is still in the middle of their routine.

As we ready ourselves for our workout session, Dr. Condoleezza Rice‘s incredible efforts become overwhelmingly evident; she moves from lifting weights to stretching and then completes her set on the VersaClimber – a beast of a machine that provides an experience akin to mountain climbing – leaving us in awe of her sheer determination and strength.

At 6:15 a.m., when I’m still foggy-eyed and drowsy, Dr. Rice always stops by to converse with me – one of the world’s most influential women! I remember asking her how she manages to fit in early morning workouts amidst her hectic schedule; an inspiring example for us all. She replied, “I never sacrifice my workout. And I try not to sacrifice too much sleep.”

Condoleezza Rice is back in the news, and many people are calling for her to return to Washington. It seems like a no-brainer that someone of her caliber would pursue political office– Vice President or even President– yet she has opted instead for an alternate route: returning home to Stanford University where she continues to influence young minds such as myself. We may never know whether Dr. Rice will ever answer these calls; what we do know is that wherever life takes her, it’s sure be inspiring and worthy of notice!

How It All Began

As a freshman, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Rice while at the Stanford golf course. When it was time to declare my major in sophomore year and I still didn’t have any clue on what to focus on for the next two years, I enrolled in “The History of Nuclear Weapons” class taught by David Holloway – which ended up being one of my most cherished classes during college! Fueled by my zeal to major in International Relations and Dr. Rice’s captivating lectures, I was determined to become her advisee. With that goal in mind, I quickly chose the program as my commitment and asked her for guidance soon after.

After dedicating the last four years to hearing Dr. Rice’s lectures, studying with her personally in regards to Middle Eastern knowledge, and relishing our time spent on the golf course; I’m motivated to pass along the mentor-like qualities of Condoleezza Rice. Not only have countless lessons been acquired through her refined and dignified attitude but I would be privileged if my peers could also gain insight from these experiences as well.

I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Rice recently, learning her ideas on career paths after graduation, how she navigates public opinion while retaining confidence and tenacity, as well as what success means to her. I was inspired by the immense wisdom that she shared; it can certainly be applied to anyone’s journey in life or professional direction. It exemplified Condoleezza Rice: a strong woman who is both committed and fun-loving all at once!

Lesson 1: Take things one step at a time

Completing my senior year at Stanford this past June, I’m often asked the dreaded question – “What are you going to do with your life?” To be honest, I haven’t quite figured it out yet. Thankfully, one more quarter in Italy will give me some extra time before having to answer that fateful inquiry. With four years under my belt in Silicon Valley, many people assume that making a million dollars within your first year is just part of the norm there; either from snagging the perfect job or jumping on board as an entrepreneur. However, such success doesn’t come easy!

On a beautiful and sunny afternoon in Dr. Rice’s office at Stanford, I was trembling with anxiety as I asked her how to design my life as a post-graduate. To my relief, she responded right away – reassuring me that everything would be alright.

“First of all,” she told me, “recognize that you have a long life ahead of you and things come in stages. You don’t have to try to do everything at once. When you’re just out of college, the most important thing is to find what’s going to be your first job. What is going to be the first set of experiences that will then set you up for either the next job or going on to graduate school.”

I’ve heard this guidance from her before. It was the very same advice I received during our initial meeting in her office my sophomore year of college. She continuously emphasizes to me – and other pupils- that one should take life bit by bit. Try not to worry about what’s ahead; focus on the current task you are presented with instead.

When I sought advice on how to jumpstart my career, Dr. Rice offered a brilliant perspective that never crossed my mind before — and it speaks volumes about her willingness to address even the smallest of weaknesses or problems. As many of us are looking for our first job right now, we tend to opt for positions related to our undergraduate studies as we invested four years focusing on one particular subject area. However, Dr. Rice’s suggestion proved invaluable in allowing me an alternate way at conquering this daunting task by showing me other routes available when applying for jobs amidst such a vast field locally and globally!

Lesson 2: Target your weaknesses. Manage your time.

According to Dr. Rice, the primary objective of a first job should be skill-building. In this era’s highly competitive job market, it is essential to stand out from the rest; by augmenting your areas of deficiency and grasping how to present yourself confidently, you can quickly gain an advantage over other applicants.

“You should look for a job that gives you skills that you don’t think you’ve fully developed. Perhaps writing is not your strong suit. Go ahead and take something that requires you to write. Have a job that allows you to make presentations. For the rest of your life, whether you rise to be the CEO of a company or the Secretary of State, you’re going to be making presentations to people and arguing a position.”

Dr. Rice has a remarkable talent for pinpointing her areas of need on the golf course, and she’s diligently worked to further these areas over the past four years. Just last fall when we were playing at Stanford, Dr. Rice made mentioned that she’d like to get better with bunker shots as well as low shots out of trouble spots such as trees – demonstrating how aware and diligent she is in her practice routines! Knowing that she needed to hone her basic game, my student and I went to our practice facility during her next session. We worked on tricky shots with the aim of reducing scores; after just one lesson, it was clear that this had been a successful venture as her sand game improved exponentially and even punching out from under trees became second nature! As well as applying this methodology in golfing, my student also transferred these techniques into music – enabling them to become incredibly proficient pianists and chamber musicians.

Once upon a time, Dr. Rice was destined to become a professional pianist…until she fell in love with international politics at college. She is an avid admirer of Brahms and has had the honor of performing alongside renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Her most impressive accomplishment? Performing for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace! Quite inspired by her achievements, I decided this past spring that it would be fitting to perform in the Stanford harp recital – what an incredible experience! I knew that consulting with Dr. Rice was the correct decision since she has demonstrated her incredible musical ability without it being her primary focus. Her advice echoed what I have seen from her on the links: break down any tricky sections and transform them into a strong suit of yours. Identifying and accepting your shortcomings requires an immense amount of dedication – something which Dr. Rice has in spades!

Her incredible discipline is obvious in her astounding ability to fit so much into a single day. When I peeked at her secretary’s schedule, my eyes widened in disbelief; between teaching students and playing golf, practicing music and keeping up with workouts, plus finding time for football games — all while still fitting sleep into the equation! Upon seeing my astonishment she simply chuckled before describing herself as “a pretty good juggler”. She ascribes this talent to her former figure skating days.

“Having been an athlete helped me. I was a figure skater, so I had to be on the ice at 5 o’clock in the morning. I would skate and then I would go to school. I had to find time to do my homework assignments during school because after school I’d go practice the piano. And if it was a competitive season I’d go back to the rink.”

Years of figure skating and piano lessons taught her how to efficiently manage time, something that she still practices today. Her prowess in this skill comes from her commitment to careful planning every day.

“I do manage my time. If I have a concert coming up, I absolutely know that I’m going to have to find a couple of hours a day to practice, even if it means that I won’t play golf.”

She explained that becoming a master of time management was not an instant occurrence, but rather it took hard work and dedication. Her capability to effectively utilize her time has allowed her countless successes; as well as the chance to influence so many others.

Lesson 3: Broaden your dreams. Narrow your focus.

With her ambition and dedication, Dr. Rice was able to influence over a billion lives! As I transition into my post-college life, it’s become apparent that many of my peers aspire for the same impact – to make an influential change in this world. Thus, I asked Dr. Rice what advice she had on how one could discover their field of greatest effectiveness. She stated simply that it begins with taking smaller measures such as engaging within your own community; even those small steps can lead you toward inspiring transformation across the globe.

“You’ll have plenty of opportunities to make a difference. And you can make a difference by working at a Boys & Girls Club. You’re not going to make a difference being secretary of state for quite a long time in your career, so don’t focus on whether or not what you’re doing in your first job is making a difference to the world. If you’re fortunate, your skills and your talents and what you’re passionate about come together.”

When discussing the idea of making an impact and defining success, I posed to her one question – how did she manage to meld together her abilities, interests and passions so perfectly? Additionally, what short-term goals did she set for herself in order to ensure that she achieved long-term objectives?

“I never had long-term goals for my career. It was focusing on shorter and intermediate goals. People make the mistake of focusing on what’s out in the future, rather than what is before you to keep giving you good options, to keep you on track for having been successful at whatever it is that you’ve done.”

She detailed her journey to success, which began with a degree in international politics. After graduating, she secured a job at Stanford and people soon discovered that she was an impressive instructor; before too long, her first book had been published. She propounded the thought that success does not come at once but rather is achieved through multiple stages of accomplishment.

“So I was making little steps towards success, and that’s the way it is. You just take little steps, achieve what you can, accomplish what you’re asked to accomplish and before you know it you’ve built a successful career.”

Lesson 4: Developing personal confidence at the piano bench.

Despite the public’s opinion, Dr. Rice was able to trust her intuition and make changes when necessary. As she wrote in her memoir No Higher Honor, it is crucial for individuals to stay focused on their responsibilities even while under intense scrutiny from society. Ultimately, we must accept that not everyone will agree with us no matter what decision we make–and that’s okay!

“Today’s headlines and history’s judgment are rarely the same. If you are too attentive to the former, you will most certainly not do the hard work of securing the latter.”

Being the Secretary of State during such a tumultuous period, I wondered how Dr. Rice made decisions under intense public pressure and when it was appropriate to take into account different opinions. She answered that one mustn’t be overly focused on what others think, but rather realize when it’s time to implement an alternate strategy if your current plan isn’t working out as intended. To ensure this is done correctly she confers with those closest to her for guidance and advice.

“You can’t constantly be looking back or over your shoulder. People would often ask, what is Plan B? I would say that Plan B is to make Plan A work. But you can’t be stubborn if what you’ve chosen to do isn’t working. You have to think about whether or not it’s time to make a change.”

After discussing her assurance as secretary of state, I was eager to dig deeper and understand the source of Dr. Rice’s personal self-assurance. It is immediately obvious that she exudes an empowering confidence that others can’t help but be uplifted by.

“In terms of personal confidence, that’s something you gain over time. You gain it from a successful concert, from a successful tournament, from giving a good presentation in class or to your boss, and it builds up. Confidence comes from learning how to do something, having some expectation that you’re going to do it well, and knowing that if you make a mistake you’re going to recover.”

Despite the fear of failure that Dr. Rice initially grappled with, she has discovered various methods to persevere and prevent herself from being discouraged. During our conversation, she shared a story about switching up her fingerings on a piano piece only hours before performing it publicly — despite the associated risks in doing so!

“I wasn’t confident going into it because I hadn’t practiced it enough. Some of it is preparation. Practicing it. It actually went okay. But I had to have the confidence to say, ‘Alright, this isn’t working. I’m going to make this change even if it’s a bit risky, but I’ve been able to do that before.’ You have to draw on other times you’ve been able to do it. If the golf shot works five times and not the sixth, you have to stop and say it worked five times. It’s going to work the seventh.”

Although I had discussed with Dr. Rice how to find a job, set goals and plan for the future, as well as manage my time and confidence – I still wanted to know her secret behind sustaining such energy in times of emotional distress. She has displayed an immense amount of resilience throughout facing difficult situations over the years but never seemed overwhelmed or fatigued. Realizing that she must have some kind of tactic in order to recharge herself after serving others seemed like an answer!

Lesson 5: Make time for yourself.

Allowing ourselves the opportunity to recuperate is a challenging task that many of us struggle with. Whether you enjoy going on a run, practicing yoga, or simply curling up with an intriguing book; we all have something that grants our minds and bodies respite from daily life. For Dr. Rice particularly, Sundays are her day for rejuvenation – allowing her mind and body to reset before facing another week!

“I would go to church at 11. I’m Presbyterian, so we were done at noon. I’d come home and from noon until 7 o’clock, I’d tried to play the piano, watch the football game or play golf and see my friends, and then at 7 o’clock, I would call back in. I knew if I didn’t have that separation, I would constantly be on the treadmill and that’s bad for you mentally. It makes you less sharp.”

In college, I faced this issue head-on along with my close friends. Thus, I sought the wisdom of Dr. Rice on how to maintain a harmonious balance between work and play in one’s life. She stated that while it may not be achievable all the time, prioritizing it helps significantly.

“If you don’t, you’re cheating yourself. But it’s hard to learn. It takes discipline.”

Taking a break for her is almost unimaginable when sitting in silence, as she can’t help but go back to whatever was occupying her time before. It becomes necessary that she partakes in an activity that commands all of her attention and keeps it from wandering away.

“If I just try to sit, then my mind doesn’t turn off. I need to focus on something, like the piano or golf. Something that makes you focus on something else.”

I’m a firm believer that those of us who set aside time for ourselves is best positioned to succeed. Even if it’s just a few moments every day, these precious minutes allow you to relax and rejuvenate and be ready for whatever hurdles come your way throughout the day. Taking proper care of yourself should never be underestimated!

Through this article, I want to show a different perspective on Condoleezza Rice and illustrate how many can benefit from her inspiring example. Her faith in the US and its citizens, as well as her passion for freedom around the world, are just some of the extraordinary qualities that make her an incredible role model with whom all people should be familiar. Behind-the-scenes efforts play a significant part in what she does every day—which is why she continues to captivate my attention (and many other young women like me) with admiration and respect!

I’m enamored with her memoir’s final words; they give a stunning glimpse into how she perceives the world.

“As secretary of state, I was always aware of the constraints of the world as it is and resolved to practice the art of the possible. But I also tried not to lose sight of the world as it could be and insisted on a path toward the end. This is the long-term work of diplomacy. History will judge how well we did. I can live with that, and I am grateful for the chance to have tried.”

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