“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” Steve Jobs
Groundbreaking, trendsetting and leadership are often lonely excursions. Those who have the imagination, the courage and the perseverance to venture beyond the established societal boundaries are often misunderstood or even unpopular. Because if your philosophy, invention or ideologies were readily accepted or easily understood, then by definition, they would not be groundbreaking.
We should all take comfort in the fact that at some time in our lives we will all experience a form of failure. However, the most successful people find a way to persevere through hardship. Growth often comes through pain and struggle. Understanding your true pain threshold is the key to success. It has been stated many times that the measure of a person is not how many times they fall down, but how many times they stand back up.
In 1832, a young man fought in the Black Hawk War as a captain but was demoted to a private before the war ended. When he returned home, he was a failure as a businessman. He became an adequate lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, but never had the passion or ambition to make it his permanent vocation. Eventually, he turned to politics and was defeated in his first try for the state legislature. He was again defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress, defeated in his application to be Commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his efforts for the vice presidency in 1856, and finally defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. At about that time, he wrote a letter to a friend, “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.” That defeated, disparaged man was Abraham Lincoln. His tenacity culminated in becoming arguably the most revered and impactful president in this country’s history.
President Lincoln’s story is a testimony that without a persistence, a vision would remain merely a dream. It is my personal belief that persistence is what enhances talent. In my career, I have seen too many people who were blessed with intelligence or raw talent, or gifted with money, but squandered it with apathy or indolence. Talent requires cultivation. Leadership requires persistence.
During the writing of this book, it became clear to me that many of the traits I’ve admired the most in others are the common threads of leadership. It is true that leaders are not born; rather they earn this respected title by their inspiration, enthusiasm and dedication.
True leaders generously bestow their vision and motivation to everyone they touch. And in turn, that generosity is reciprocated, not necessarily to the leader themselves, but that inspiration transcends into a more thoughtful, gracious, broad-minded society, hence creating more leaders. It is a ripple effect that goes beyond measure. The greatest leaders have defined a purpose for themselves and embrace it daily. They create a better world by caring for others and are committed to touching as many lives as possible along the way. I call this the ripple effect of our actions.
When our personal influences emerge, we begin to see their impact and approach life from a leadership perspective. A leader who sees the world from the vantage point of others knows that when we are improving the lives of others, we have found our true calling. And to me that is what a leader is: someone who takes pleasure in seeing the best qualities in others unleashed.
Where there is a desire to learn, a teacher will appear.
If I were to think of my life as a class and share the things I have learned, I would reflect on those life lessons to form a vision for the future. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the great American civil rights leader, stated, “The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer has his eyes closed and a visionary has his eyes wide open.”
Leaders design their vision with a clear view ahead, sparked by passion and creativity and undergirded by vast goals that challenge them and demand their best. The students of today are the emerging leaders of tomorrow. Each with a virtual blank slate to create their own destiny.
Defining a purpose sets a path towards a successful future. When someone has an ability to consider what they would do if money were not an object, they discover their passion, determination, and purpose. This may evolve and transform as one goes forward and grows both professionally and personally, so it is important to re-examine our passion and purpose from time to time and never forget what brings happiness. Money is fleeting, but the passion and love for a true calling is eternal.
It is when we discover our passion, our potential can be unleashed. Success is not just measured by all the things we accomplish, it is also measured by living up to our full potential in life. There is a profound difference in living with potential and living up to one’s potential.
Throughout my life, I have often stopped and asked myself, “Am I simply living, or am I living up to my potential?” It is a key question and one we must all face throughout our lives if we want to evolve.
The slightest influence has the potential of changing someone’s life. I am reminded of my mother who was my first mentor. As a child, I was always given choices, encouraged to take chances, taught not to make promises I could not keep, and to attempt new things. If I wanted to try something, I was told to “Go for it!” And if I was fearful of failing, I was asked, “What’s the worst that can happen? You might fail, but you might not.”
You may be wondering what my childhood has to do with this book on leadership. Honestly, in my opinion it goes right to the heart of what defines leadership, which is encouragement. Encouragement to take chances. Encouragement to take risks. Encouragement to make choices. Encouragement to create one’s own legacy. Encouragement to risk failing. The person who never makes mistakes will never create anything new or exciting.
As an inventor, Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before inventing a long-lasting, commercially viable light bulb. When asked by a reporter how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.” Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. Every failure is a step closer to success.
My mother’s encouragement has been the foundation of my primary leadership philosophy – visions and values are not enough without encouragement and persistence. She never allowed me to withdraw because someone’s words were uncomfortable. She expected me to interact and face my challenges, just as she did when she made the choice to introduce me to the world at a very young age. Four decades later, the message she delivered to a little boy growing up in Waco, Texas still guides me, and her unqualified encouragement allows me to know I am never alone.
The future belongs to those who believe in themselves and others. As I celebrate my 30-year graduation from high school, I reflect on my goals as a young man and how they have evolved throughout the years. It’s been a pleasure to share these experiences and lessons with others as a life coach and educator.
This brings me back to the example of Dr. King, a visionary who had a dream bigger than the times in which he lived. He was a man who rentlessly taught compassion with a blindness toward color or creed. Maybe you have such a dream. If you truly believe in something, you should never feel pushed to achieve it because your vision will always pull you closer toward it.
Each of us has a unique gift. Your story, your mind and your voice are your gifts. Your life is your message to the world, so live it as you would want it to be told.