The Underachiever

The following text is taken from the introduction of my new book “The Power of Ownership” available June 1, 2013* on

This book is about a guy who was an underachiever for most of his early life. He had no plan, no direction, no inspiration, and no motivation. He was an average student getting mostly Cs with a few Bs and some Ds throughout school. He almost didn’t graduate with his 1956 class because his grade in English was so low. He began his career with a weak educational foundation at best. But he liked people and wanted to be liked by everyone and always wondered what more he could do in life.

After high school he knew he needed to learn something, so he began taking night classes in the adult education program at Wayne State University (WSU), located in Detroit. He was sure he would not be able to gain entry to a matriculating schedule in the regular college. After a year or so, he did gain entry. He didn’t know what to study, and a counselor told him he needed to have a focus, so he picked public relations. He did not know why he picked this or even what public relations was. He was very lucky to have made this selection, and it was the right one for him.

The program at WSU meant he had to take freshman English, and he must have a B in the class to pass. He wondered how he could do this as he almost failed high school English and this was college. He took the class and began reading and writing as assigned. The fear of needing a B to pass was a great motivator.

On one paper that semester, his professor wrote, “This is excellent work, even moving; you have a flair for writing.” Not me, he thought. But he got that B in the class and with new confidence, took the next class. He still had no direction.

I carried on in night school. I knew I wanted more—always more, more knowledge, more involvement. I got into the journalism department and its advertising/public relations section. I received passing grades—even some good grades and took the next course, then the next. Of course I did not know how to type. So I went to work every Saturday for several months and taught myself—with the help of an instructional book—to become a decent typist.

All my life I have thought I was five years behind where I should be. But I always wanted more; that was the key… more. Not money, just knowledge and involvement. And I taught myself that it can be done if you keep pushing and reaching and asking “Why not me?”

I did not finish my degree program at WSU, but I came close and continued to get more responsibility at work. At that time, in the ‘60s, the economy was really good, and it was easy to get a better job.

I had a series of jobs between 1956 and 1975, most of them in the public relations or communication field, almost always advancing. But I wanted more and asked questions and listened and processed the answers. And I always tried to do the best job that had ever been done.

If I were to point to one thing that I did that helped me in the long run, it is that I listened and did what others suggested or told me to do… to get more… and I pushed myself to grow.

Even in organizations I joined, I always tried to do a great job leading to becoming president or the head of that organization. Just being on a board was not enough; I wanted to do the best I could and eventually to become its leader. I wanted more. As an example, in 1968–69 I was president of the Farmington Area Jaycees in Farmington Hills, Michigan and was named the Outstanding Local President in our population division in Michigan. Our chapter also won many achievement awards for community programs during my year.

I had never met any important people like state representatives or senators, council persons, mayors, and certainly not a governor. I had never presented to a large group or campaigned for anything before being active in the Jaycees. My Jaycee involvement gave me that opportunity and added to my ever-growing experiences.

My wife, Barbara, and I and our children, Karen, Beth, and Craig lived in Farmington Hills, Michigan. I was also active in the Larkshire Elementary School PTA, the Farmington Area Soccer Club (over five hundred youth soccer players) and the community itself—a suburban community of Detroit with a population of over eighty thousand. Yes, I became president of the PTA and Soccer Club, and we accomplished a lot, like getting new soccer fields for the community. I also coached a soccer team for eleven years—a sport I never played—first at the club level and then at the select or travel level, and the team did well in league and tournament play. I even got my coach’s license.

I was appointed by the Farmington Hills mayor to the Parks & Recreation Commission. In that position, the Commission led the initiative to add active parks which had specific ball fields and courts and passive parks with nature trails and walk ways in Farmington Hills, where before we had one tiny park. We had to go to voters to gain tax dollars to support these efforts. We were successful. I met a lot of great people too and learned from them and began building what became a significant network.

I still had no real direction, but I kept taking what came my way. I was always wanting more, not more in a greedy sense but more knowledge and involvement.   I actually believe that wanting more might be the first plan of my career. And, that plan became what I would later recognize as owning my career and later my business.

No one suggested that finishing my degree would be good. So I didn’t. I was a very good public relations professional and was able to find employment and continue to get more responsibility in my career, and my family needed my time more than ever.

The following pages will show how my desire to always want more and to push myself to do the very best always helped me to build a strong career. Plus, I listened and learned from others what to do and what not to do. When I began my business, John Bailey & Associates Public Relations (JB&A), in 1996, that desire became a mantra that drove me, even possessed me—it became an unrelenting quest for excellence.

I will also talk about many important clients both companies and organizations I worked with over my forty-plus years working at public relations agencies. Some of their stories merit a book in themselves. I will look at the important people I came in contact with over my nearly six decades in the business world. And I will talk about the community I love and always will love: Detroit, Michigan, United States of America.

I will share the life experiences and lessons learned that made up for a weak education and helped me become an important leader in my profession and achieve Hall of Fame recognition from my Public Relations of America, Detroit Chapter and even gain recognition from the forty-third President of the United States, George W. Bush.

I will share with you all the things that led me to success which can help lead you to success as well…adapted to your specific situation and career. The only thing you have to do is decide what you want and do the hard work to achieve success. You can do it. You own yourself and therefore your career and have the opportunity to make your career the best that it can be, and that is the theme of this book.

When I began my career, we had the typewriter. When it ended, we had the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, texting, etc., etc., etc. What will it be like in another fifty-six years when the retirees are saying, “All we had was the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, texting, etc.”?

* Tentative. Subject to change.

2 thoughts on “The Underachiever

  1. Blair Conklin

    I would love to read this book in the near future. John is a great guy who has provided me with great knowledge and wisdom! Looking for it in stores soon


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