“Remember, before you can be great, you’ve got to be good. Before you can be good, you’ve got to be bad. But before you can even be bad, you’ve got to try.”
~ Art Williams, Motivational speaker, best-selling author, and Founder of Primerica, a multibillion dollar company.
You are at the crossroads, where, as Robert Frost wrote, “two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both.” You must now decide what your direction is going to be and then proceed. In order to proceed through the dark forest of decision, you must often forge a path. It would be great if the road were paved before you. Occasionally, it is. Most times, however, you will have to chop your way through. Your tools will be your experience and training, certainly. But your greatest assets will derive from your tenacity, willingness to learn, and ability to adapt.
There are many paths available to you. Your mindset will open them up to you or leave them locked behind iron gates. As the old cliché declares, “If you think you can, you can.” The problem with clichés is that they lose power in the ears of the hearer each time they are repeated. But the words themselves continue to be as commanding as they ever were. Perhaps even more so as our world grows in accessibility to information, technology, networking, etc. What you think matters.
In 2006, a do-it-yourself dad decided to work on his old SUV. He put the car up on stands, removed the back wheel, and got to work. At the same time, his 19-year-old daughter, Charlotte, who was home from college on her Thanksgiving break, was hanging out with the family in the living room. It was a typical day, like any other. She glanced out the front window and chuckled at the sight of her father with the car taken apart in the driveway.
“There’s Dad working on the car again.” But as she looked closer, she noticed something unusual. Her father seemed to be struggling. Something wasn’t right. A second later, she saw that the stands that had been holding up her father’s SUV had collapsed. Her beloved father was trapped under the car. Then, in another blink of an eye, the fuel that had leaked from the car ignited in a flash, and the car was set ablaze. As she ran toward the front door toward her father, the distant sound of his screaming grew louder, and she had to face the alarming reality that her dad was in mortal danger.
She reached him in seconds as the flame crawled closer and closer to him. Soon, it had already caught the garage door on fire and would soon spread toward the house where her family, including her baby niece, were inside, completely oblivious to the pending danger. With the speed and strength of a superhero, she lifted the truck from her father’s chest, grabbed his legs, and pulled him to safety. Without hesitation, she hopped into the burning truck, which was missing a wheel due to her dad’s repair attempt, started the engine, and gunned it backward away from the house to keep the flames away from their home. But her heroism did not stop there. She ran inside the house and rescued her family. She wasn’t done. She reached for a garden hose and doused the flames creeping up her home’s walls.
Lest you think this young woman was a junior bodybuilder, the first thing people noticed about Charlotte Heffelmire, as she was interviewed by every television station and newscaster in the area, was her size. At 5’ 6” and 120 pounds, she seemed visually ill-equipped for such a task.
If you think this story is about love, bravery, or adrenaline alone, I want to caution you to look deeper. This was a story about belief and capacity.
If you asked Charlotte today to lift that truck, she couldn’t. Or could she? Interestingly, Charlotte lifted the truck once but failed to lift it high enough to move it off her father’s chest.
“I lifted it the first time, he said ‘OK, you almost got it,’
I finally managed to get it [higher], it was some crazy strength. I pulled him out.”
Charlotte has the same muscles, the same frame, and roughly the same chemical compounds in her body. What she needed was a reason to bring all of that ability to bear on a problem. Her capacity aligned with her belief, and suddenly, she had the strength of Wonder Woman. Once she was alerted to the danger, she was stimulated by the necessity of saving her father’s life. She needed to be a champion. So she became one.
I would be lying to you if I said making the transition from the military to Amazon was easy. It was far from it. The military might be tough, but at least it is very structured. The path from one rank to the next is quite clear. You have examples around you who are willing and able to tell you how to move forward. Corporate America is far more subjective and a lot less structured. Some people soar to the top. Others seem to languish in middle management.
The transition into business ownership is even more fraught with uncertainty. Some entrepreneurs, after wading through the “basic training” of starting a business, seem to have steady growth and tremendous success. Others watch the front door of their businesses, praying that it will swing open. When it doesn’t, they question their judgment.
What is the difference between those who transition and succeed vs. those who transition and fail? Several factors come into play. But chief among them is their belief. You must develop unshakeable faith. Allow nothing to sway you. This is not a skill; it’s a decision. Everything around you might be telling you to turn back. And perhaps you should. Perhaps your business plan is weak. Perhaps the market isn’t ready for your idea. Perhaps the job market is shrinking in your desired field. Perhaps you will hate being confined to a desk. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… But none of those reasons should stop you. In fact, they should not even slow you down. After you have done many hours of research, interviewed anyone who will stand still, investigated the nuances of the job or business, and completed the most thorough due diligence you can, you must take the step. Okay, I admit, it’s more like a leap. Okay, okay, it’s more like a lunge across a mile-long chasm, with a hundred-foot drop over a river filled with alligators.
The reality is that you have to take the lunge. The question isn’t whether you will succeed or fail. If I had not gotten the job at Amazon, I would have done something else. If I had gotten the job and hated it, I would have pivoted to another position within the company or found something else. I would have taken what I learned from my failure and applied it to my next steps. I was fortunate that my due diligence was sufficient to carry the day. But, no matter what happened, I would have counted it as a win because I made the move.
It is easy to get stuck when you face a transition. It happens to anyone who is facing a significant shift in their lives. Professional players in the NFL often struggle after retirement as their brains and bodies have to adjust to not being on the field at six in the morning, hitting and getting hit, making plays, and being at the center of the limelight. Doctors struggle with the concept of selling or closing their practices and no longer serving as the source of help and healing for a community. Teachers who have spent decades in front of the classroom feel lost when they have to step into an unfamiliar arena.
The important thing you must learn about your brain is that it is the most powerful goal-achieving machine ever created. The debate continues about how much of our brain’s capacity we use over our lifetime. The real answer hardly matters because all scientists agree that our brain’s capacity is far greater than any of us acknowledge. Because of that ability, we can accomplish much more than we could ever contrive in our minds.
But the proof is in the results. We are able to do things at some times that we are not able to do at others. It has been postulated that average people use about 30 percent of their brain’s potential power. By power, I mean the power to make the body do what it otherwise would not have thought possible.
You are now doing what many others have not dared to do. Changing your career means changing your life. There are no two ways about it. Everything will change: your schedule, your family life, your environment. And you will have to rise to meet the challenge. For others, remaining in a job they hate or have outgrown until retirement may be perfectly acceptable. They will join the millions of others who work just hard enough not to get fired, and their companies will continue to pay them just enough not to quit. But that is not what you are after. Your work, like mine, has to mean something. That is why you are taking this risk. It is the road less traveled.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”