Be Proud – And Stay Focused

FocusWhat are the proud moments you cherish with your family and your children? How do we each recall these and remember them? I thoroughly enjoy writing my own articles which are sent out to my regular subscribers by email each week, read by a variety of people on and a few other organizations I regularly write articles for submission. This week is special as this blog was written by one of my sons, describing an event we all attended as a family for an achievement by one of my other sons. As always please feel free to forward and share this article as it may inspire others or at least the way they think.

Your car goes where your eyes go

“That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny”

– Enzo, The Art of Racing in the Rain

How many of us know what we want to be when we grow up?

For those who do, how many take tangible steps to get closer to that goal?

Of this select group, how many people actually fulfill their dream?

Seriously, think about it. I bet you know one, maybe two people who can say they’ve fulfilled a longtime dream. Whether we lose interest, lack confidence, gain perspective, or succumb to peer pressure, most of us stop pursuing our most ambitious goals before we ever really start. We settle for the practical, the tried-and-true, the more reasonable path.

We dream big, but don’t take action. Not because we can’t, but because we fear it won’t happen. It can’t happen, not for us. Dreaming is for little kids, fairy tales, and trust fund ivy leaguers.

It happens all the time. We reject ourselves before we apply.

The Top 1%

Last week my brother Neil graduated from flight school to become a Naval Aviator. A freakin’ pilot. In the Navy. Flying F-18s.

I couldn’t be more proud.

The officer at his winging ceremony called Neil and his fellow graduates the “top 1%” of what our country has to offer the military. Crazy stuff, to know my brother is in that class.

Neil’s wings

Neil’s wings

In the past I would have listened to such a comment and thought, “Wow, those guys must be superhuman. Where do they make these machine-men who endure years of military schooling, testing, and bend-but-don’t break training, in order to successfully earn the right to fly a military jet?”

But now I don’t see it that way.

Having grown up two years apart from a newly minted Navy Pilot, I know you don’t have to be superhuman to get those wings. In fact, innate ability plays only a small role in achieving any goal. The key piece of the puzzle is knowing where you’re going.

Your car goes where your eyes go

I recently finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain, a fictional story I’d highly recommend to anyone. Even if you don’t like fiction, give it a shot. It’s short and you’ll breeze through it. Plus, you’ll learn a lot about life.

The narrator, a dog named Enzo, loves Formula 1 race car driving. He uses racing analogies to describe what he experiences around him, which mostly deals with the ups and downs of his owner’s life. I won’t ruin the book, but let’s just say persistence in the face of adversity is a key theme.

One of the recurring mantras repeated throughout the book is “your car goes where your eyes go.” In racing, if you’re only focused on what’s happening immediately around your car, you lose the ability to anticipate what’s ahead. Only by looking ahead to the next turn, and trusting your training and ability to get you there, can you optimally position yourself to win the race.

In other words, we end up where we see ourselves going. The future we see is the future we create. It’s the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy, and it doesn’t just apply to race car driving.

When Neil was really young, maybe 7 or 8 years old, he said he wanted to be a pilot in the Navy. Not only that, but he knew how he was going to do it. He would apply to the United States Naval Academy, get in, graduate, do well enough to go to flight school, then graduate with good enough grades to fly jets.

He didn’t just write it down, or quietly draw a picture for art class. He said the words. I remember it.

You know how almost every kid wants to play pro football, baseball, or basketball? The reaction is always the same, “Okay dude, that’s great. But what’s your Plan B?” Well, that’s kind of the reaction I had when I heard Neil’s grand scheme. It’s not that I didn’t think it could happen, and I definitely didn’t want to discourage him. I just knew the odds were long, and I didn’t want to see him put all his hopes into one path. Because, you know… what if it didn’t work out?

Good thing he was looking farther down the track.

Don’t give them a reason to not accept you

But it’s not enough to know where you’re going. You also have to believe you will get there.

Almost everything I’ve ever accomplished happened because I knew it would. I didn’t hope, I didn’t wish – I had full confidence things would work out in my favor.

Prime example – getting into Wisconsin’s School of Business as an undergrad.

One of my deciding factors in enrolling at UW was the strength of the undergraduate business program. The school had a great curriculum, deep in several respectable majors, yet flexible enough so students could take classes in other departments. It also had a strong alumni network, and a great reputation. I liked that. But so did a lot of other students. Due to the school’s popularity on campus, you had to be on top of your game academically to gain admittance after your sophomore year. (Back then, you had to have junior standing before officially declaring a Business major).

Everyone knew the school was hard to get into, and we all handled this knowledge differently. I distinctly remember several conversations on my dorm floor freshman year, with other kids also declared as “Pre-Business.” They would try to figure out how to cut corners and game the system so they could make it seem like they were good candidates for the school, without actually working as hard. I would nod my head in silence.

Inevitably, the conversation always swung to the same question, “What will you do if you don’t get in? What’s your back-up plan?”

I always had the same response, “I’m going to get in.” I was dead serious.

Without fail, I’d get laughs, shrugs, and the always popular, “Ohh, okaaaay dude. You and everybody else.”

But I wasn’t kidding. I meant it. I truly knew it was going to happen.

Four semesters later, I got into the school without a shadow of a doubt. Many of the kids I remember having conversations with freshman year did not.

What happened here, and why does it matter? The difference between me and these kids was psychological, not academic. A lot of them were book-smart, but their mindset was way off. They were already thinking of themselves as fringe candidates, not as front-runners to get in. Ultimately, I knew the best way to set myself up for success was to go to class, work hard, and learn as much as possible. The grades would take care of themselves, but I had to do everything in my power to let that happen. My motto was, and still is for many things, don’t give them a reason to not accept you. I knew if I stayed focused, there was no reason to think I wasn’t getting in.

Looking back, this mindset meant everything. I wasn’t always an amazing student in high school, and I’m not naturally gifted. I had no reason to believe I would perform well enough for them to accept me, other than that was the future I wanted to create.

I realized you didn’t have to be a genius to get good grades in college. You just had to know you could do it.

Don’t give them a reason to not accept you.

So many people reject themselves without ever giving themselves a chance. They see a job they think they’re not qualified for, so they don’t apply. Or an apartment they really like is in high demand, so they don’t submit a rental application. Or they really want to take a dream vacation, but they don’t because they think their work will suffer. Instead of limiting ourselves by these invisible scripts, what if we chose not to accept anything less than what we want? Let others reject you, but don’t reject yourself!

Shoot, even getting hit by a car didn’t stop Neil from creating his future.

It’s never easy

Most people probably don’t know this, and I’m sure he rarely talks about it. But Neil’s dream almost ended on Halloween night in 2003. Crossing a dark winding road from a friends’ house, he was hit by a Chevy Tahoe going at least 30 mph. He richocheted off the truck, hit the pavement, and was eventually rushed to the hospital.

Neil suffered fractures to his skull and leg, among other injuries. All things considered, it could have been way, way worse. He stayed in the hospital for a little while, and was eventually released on crutches. His brain was fine, all his organs were in tact, and his leg would eventually heal.

But man, what a close call. And for someone with such high aspirations, we were all worried about how this would affect his long-term goals.

Getting into Annapolis isn’t easy for someone who hasn’t been hit by an SUV. You need outstanding grades, and must be nominated by a high-ranking government official. Importantly, you’re also required to pass a medical examination and physical fitness assessment. On top of that, there are numerous physical requirements needed to become a pilot, and there are plenty of stories about brilliant flight school candidates who couldn’t fulfill those requirements due to things like slightly faulty vision, or not being able to handle the G forces required to fly a jet.

Just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Proud of my bro

In fact, a difficult path is probably a pre-requisite for wanting something so badly. If your dream was easy to attain, you would have probably achieved it already. Things happen, people struggle, and life throws your curveballs. You have to deal with it and move forward. That’s why it’s so important to know you’ll make it. There’s no such thing as not getting there.

Neil recovered physically. He got good grades, was accepted to Annapolis, and was admitted to flight school upon graduation. I’m sure he knew it was going to happen all along.

Make it known

But maybe it’s not enough to want something. Maybe we need an extra push to force action and get us started. Something to hold us accountable to our goal. After all, we eventually need to take action at some point.

Maybe the best way to ensure you achieve a goal is to tell people about it.

We’re all susceptible to peer pressure, so this seems obvious. But think about how many times you haven’t taken action to commit, waiting for the “perfect moment.” You don’t overextend yourself by declaring your goal because… what if you fail?

But I’ve seen many examples where public commitment serves to light a fire underneath the goal setter. They want something badly, are nervous as hell they won’t achieve it, and don’t necessarily know where to start. But they start telling people about it anyway. The resulting external accountability feeds their intrinsic motivation, and they eventually get there.

Here are a few examples I’ve been thinking about lately:

  • Blogger, entrepreneur, and world dominator Chris Guillebeau made a public commitment to visit every country in the world before he turned 35 on April 7, 2013. It took him 11 years, but he finally did it, celebrating his 35th earlier this year in Norway.

And then there’s Neil declaring his dream to become a pilot in the Navy. The ultimate proof that anyone can set out to do something, and make it their reality.

Creating a dent in the world

Steve Jobs has a great quote (a paraphrased version of which has recently gone viral, thanks to Ashton Kutcher). He said,

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.

That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

What a powerful message. Anyone can do anything, be anything, create anything. Because everything around us was built and created by people just like us. You just have to be courageous enough to have a goal, confident enough to take action, and have enough belief in yourself to know you can shape your reality.

Just like Neil did.

To recap:

  • If you want something, know it’s going to happen. Your car goes where your eyes go.
  • Don’t give them a reason to not accept you. Do everything in your power to make your dream your reality.
  • It’s never easy. Don’t be discouraged by difficulties and setbacks. If it didn’t require effort, you probably wouldn’t want it so bad.
  • Make it known. Hold yourself accountable by letting others hold you accountable. Shout your goal out loud, and get started.

So what dent are you going to create in the world?



Here is the family all together at the ceremony

*You can read more blogs written by my son Bryan here.