Go confidently

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
"When you grow up, you can be whatever you want to be." I don't know if you've ever told your children that, or if you were told it as a child. That statement, however, has always triggered in me an odd feeling of doubt. Being a literal person, I doubted the validity of this statement to actually be true. No matter how hard I wanted it as child, after all, I never turned into a tree and my parents never moved us to Disney World - so why would the fact that I wanted to be something equal reality just because I finally "grew up"? I agree with the idea that you are most certainly arguing in your head with me now - "but if you want something bad enough, it just happens" - true, but not without caveats.

As parents, you look on your children and see all the possibilities of what they could do in this world: how could that face not change the world?, or, with her IQ she'll probably invent something that will save the human race. Maybe even win an Oscar or Super Bowl ring (or both). Sometimes we may even see our children accomplishing our own goals, our second chance at life (that's another commentary for another day).

Having big dreams is a noble pursuit - but having dreams that you actually want to go after means you need some sort of talent and desire in that field and are willing to work for it, often with a strategic plan and through many obstacles. Yes, we can do great and glorious things in this world, but only in light of understanding that talent, desire and hard work play important roles. Talent and desire have a relationship that peaks only when both are maximized through hard work.

As Americans, we are given freedoms and opportunities that much of the world does not have, as evidenced by the phenomenon we are still witnessing in the Arab spring uprisings in the Middle East and northern Africa. Even in America, though, we have some great examples of people who have overcome adversity or their circumstances in order to succeed, and also had the necessary mix of talent and desire.

President Lincoln was a very bright child, who unfortunately received only about a year of formal education. He became a self-educated man who wrote speeches that are still read today. Abraham Lincoln came from a poor, undistinguished family; he lost his businesses a couple times, lost his job, lost his election for state legislature, went bankrupt. Soon thereafter, he had a nervous breakdown, lost eight more elections, and was then elected in 1860 as the president of the United States, shocking many when he won over more prominent contenders. President Lincoln became the most powerful person during the Civil War. Throughout his life, he maintained his reputation as a man of integrity, adept at managing people and calming conflict. His personal heroes were the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. President Lincoln used his talent and desire to overcome his circumstances, and he is often considered the greatest president of the 19th century.

As a movie and sitcom producer, writer, actor and entrepreneur, Tyler Perry has always had a natural passion for making people laugh. He still, however, lived out of his car for six years before making his big break into the stage and movie business. Perry's success came after persevering despite his financial and personal challenges. In the same vein as President Lincoln, Perry pursued the area where he had talent and passion. He didn't go into pizza making or settle for something he didn't love - although with a drive like his, he may certainly have been successful or at least pulled a regular paycheck. Instead, he married his natural talent and desire with an incredible work ethic.

In 1979, Capt. Gail Harris became the first female Intelligence officer in a Navy aviation squadron. Growing up in the ghettoes of New Jersey, she was inspired by the intelligence officer in a climactic scene out of "Battle of Midway" and knew that's who she wanted to be. She joined the Navy and pursued that field, unaware of the federal law that prohibited women from going into combat. She was the first female or first African-American for every job assignment. She became the highest ranking African-American female in the U.S. Navy upon her retirement in December 2001.

These examples are of people who figured out what they were good at and what excited them, and then worked hard in that field. In contrast, it seems that many of us sometimes let the world overwhelm us with choices, making it difficult to identify our own talents and passions. The vagueness of the statement "you can do anything you want," while intending to encourage and offer hope, in actuality clouds the path with its vagueness. You see it in college students who on average change their college major three to five times, or in military members who have no idea where they excel or fail, because no one has ever given them direct and honest feedback. Because we are told we can do anything, we freeze and do nothing.

The issue raised here is far more philosophical than I can address in a 500 word commentary, but I see it as a valuable question for any human who is trying to hone in on his or her life's dreams and desires. As members of the U.S. Air Force, I challenge the idea that you can do anything. Instead, do something. Use your skills in your job, in your relationships, in the areas in which you are passionate. Read books like "StrengthFinders" or "Start with Why" to ignite that motivation within. Develop and utilize a strategic plan that prepares you to be ready for opportunity. If you want to inspire someone, be honest and concise and precise in your encouragement. Get specific on feedback. Capitalize on the talents and desires you've been given and couple them with hard work. "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams," wrote Thoreau. "Live the life you have imagined."