Most big accomplishments, achievements, success, or winning in the literal sense of the word, have a weeding out process. This took me years to realize and understand, but I am very thankful for it. If it wasn’t for the weeding out process of winning, I have no idea where I would personally be right now. It is pretty frightening to think about. If you understand this concept and are willing to put the work in to achieve that certain something, you are much more likely to find success. Although it will still be difficult, understanding this could even lessen your anxiety during the process.

I want to first explain this from personal experience, then go into more detail what I mean after. I was 21 years old and had just finished EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) School. My goal at the time was to get hired as a firefighter/paramedic one day, and EMT school was the first step I needed to take. Almost every fire department across the country (especially California) requires that you are at minimum an EMT, while many require you to be a licensed paramedic. In other words, I was in the very beginning stages of my journey of accomplishing my long term goal. As you are going through school, you start to learn the reality of your dream and the actual work it is going to take to get there.

To be honest, it was like an emotion roller coaster. One day you feel confident and the next you feel like there is no way that this is ever going to work. Besides, I was a heroin addict a very short time before that, sleeping in cars, floors, trailer parks and sometimes outside. I felt like a phony as I started to understand the competition I was up against. I had heard horror stories of people taking almost 15 years to get hired by a specific department. As I was told in the very beginning from a salty ol’ Fire Captain.. “welcome to the most competitive job market in the US.” There were even times in the beginning where I was laughed at by other people who would sarcastically tell me “good luck with that!”

Weeks after I obtained my EMT Certification, applications opened up for San Diego Fire Department, which was my “dream” department to be able to work at. There were times where San Diego Fire Department didn’t take applications for over 5 years (normally applications open up every 1-2 years) so I felt like it was perfect timing. I had done well in EMT School and felt all the motivation in the world surging through me, and like I had a real shot at this. To get hired, you first had to take a written exam and score a 90% or higher on the test to continue on in the process. A few months after applying, I got my test date and began studying up to 8 hrs a day. After barely sleeping the night before, the day finally came.

I arrived at the test location in downtown San Diego, and within an instant my motivation and belief in myself vanished. After getting in line, I looked around and saw hundreds of other people all waiting to take the same test.. for the same job. This was just the first test taking place.. that didn’t include the afternoon group of applicants, or the applicants that were going to be taking the test everyday for the rest of the week. If my math in my head was correct, there was around 5,000 applicants. As I stood there in disbelief, I overheard people around me talking about their firefighting and paramedic experience. I had none of that.. only had an EMT Certification. I will save you the rest of the details of that day, and tell you I didn’t pass the test. I ended up getting an 88% on the test and eventually got one of those letters basically saying “better luck next time.” I felt like I gave up mentally even before not passing that test. It came to the point where I obsessed so much about the numbers that it overtook me. My inner voice was telling me that I had zero shot in the world to ever be able to beat out thousands of people.

Years later (with a lot more experience and from the help of a Captain) my mindset completely changed, and I decided I was going to use the numbers that I thought were working against me to my advantage. Yes, you read that correctly. If the same amount of people applied, there would approximately be a .5% chance of getting selected give or take. Here is how my mindset shifted..

If 5,000 people apply..that means only 90% will actually show up to take the test. Okay, so there is 4,500 left..Out of those 4,500 people.. only about 25 % will pass the test to be able to move on the the interview portion.. So we are around the ballpark of 1,000 people left.. Out of that 1,000 people, about 90% will show up to the interview.. Ok so now we are around 900 people.. Out of those 900 people, only 50 % will show up to their interview having prepared a little bit.. down to about 450.. Out of those 450…only 25 % will be preparing for the interview like their life depended on it.. We are left in the ballpark of 100 people.. As I started processing all of this, the excitement and belief began to grow. From those 100 people, I made the conscious decision that NOT ONE of them was going to put in as much effort as I was. Period.

I was well aware that plenty of people were better than me, would make a better firefighter than me, and that would do better in the academy than me. I couldn’t completely control all of those factors, but that was ok. My interview preparation (which was a few years on and off) was how I was going to win. Nothing else mattered to me at that point. I began doing mock interviews up to 5 times a week, and would practice interviews by myself up to 12 hours a day. No, I am not exaggerating. I read countless articles online, I bought an interview program and a tape recorder. I would sit in my house, line up chairs in front of me (similar to how my interview panel would be) and go over common interview questions, pretending to scan my panel. I would practice in the mirror to make sure my facial expressions weren’t out of wack. I constantly recored myself to make sure there weren’t too many “umms.” I was working as a paramedic on an ambulance at the time, and in between emergency calls, I would practice my interview. I had written out about 50 possible questions I could get asked, along with answers. I went through it over and over. Rinse and repeat. After I felt I was dialed in on every question/answer, I would do it hundreds of more times. A few weeks before my actual interview, I had one of my last mock interviews scheduled. After completing that mock interview, the captain on that crew told me “There is nothing else we can tell you. You are to the point where if we tried to say something, it would actually make you worse. You are a better interviewer than I am now.”

Here’s the point. No matter what you are trying to achieve or job you are trying to obtain, use those large intimidating numbers to your advantage. Weeks before I actually interviewed, I realized I was truly only competing against 100 people, not 5,000. With effort, and I am talking RELENTLESS EFFORT.. to the point where it makes you uncomfortable.. you will eliminate 98% of your competition. If you make the decision that you will work harder than everyone else, then the only competitor you will have to worry about is yourself. Now go get it.

Stay Mission Driven everyone.

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