A Silent Conversation
9 June 2018 I delivered a keynote speech in Detroit, MI, to General Motors’ Jumpstart program. It was an incredible opportunity to hone my craft and see if I had the moxie and charisma to captivate a large, diverse, and highly educated audience. I love ending any keynote speech I give by giving the attendees a chance to ask questions. The excitement of an open forum question and answer session is akin to driving around in Basra, Iraq in ’08-’09. You never know where the next round is coming from or when something was going to blow up.
At speaking engagements, I have a habit of positioning myself near an entrance, or where I can see the folks walk in, and they can see me. There, an important exchange occurs. In a ritual that dates back to mankind in our most primitive form, a silent parlay between strangers unfolds. A wordless conversation among the willfully deaf and dumb, eyes become the ears that listen to the nuanced physicality of the figure before them. In the absence of answers judgements are made.
That ritual occurred at least a couple of hundred times that day. Each set of eyes that fell upon me strained to hear as best they could as they made their way past and to their seats. For some, it was as if they were shining a bright flashlight into a darker hole. They couldn’t see all the way to the bottom and were eager to climb their way down to find out what was there. Others, more deliberate and calculated, might as well have had cameras. They were patiently taking stills to be contemplated at another time. A few, already certain of what their eyes heard, placed their bets. Was their money on black or red? Who was I and what was I all about?
Who was I?
My looks, I know, are unconventional. The chiseled, ski instructor jaw line I don’t have is shrouded beneath the bushy red beard that only a veteran can love. My large frame challenges the corners of my new suit and my shiny dome sits atop it all, the exclamation point at the end of the loud statement that everyone had yet to hear.
As all those eyes looked at me, wondering, I looked back at them, wondering. What was she expecting? The silver haired woman in the peach paint suit with glasses worn low on her nose. Who was I in her head? Friend or foe, brute or bourgeoisie, hero or hapless? The stylish young man wearing skinny jeans, the freshest trend in canvas footwear, and neatly trimmed hair. What thoughts filled his brain housing group as he passed me by? Did he peg me for a former Marine? The myriad folks that filled up the studio? What did they see and who was I going to be in their minds? Pugilist or provocateur? Was I going to deliver an impassioned speech that would fire them up or was I going to be another talking head lulling them into dreams of love lost and chances not taken?
Who was I? I had the answer. I was going to assume the stage the way a thunderstorm takes over a summer night. I was going to weave them a tail that would get their hearts racing and their minds reeling. As I closed my eyes in that last frozen moment before standing tall under the spotlight, it hit me. “We can choose who we are at the start of each day.”
Life is amazing. We are granted so many gifts. Especially true in this amazing Nation of ours, we enjoy a quality of life of which those that don’t live here can only dream! We have cars that park themselves. Let that sink in. Abdullah is still figuring out how to move his kid 50km over a ten-thousand foot ridge line in order to get some medical attention, and we are moaning that our parking assist function is not operating correctly. One of the greatest gifts we have is still free, requires zero training, needs no permission to use, and is in never ending supply. It is the gift of being able to choose to be who we want.
We all have goals. We all aspire to achieve things some believe to be impossible. We all want to become the best possible version of ourselves. At times, it can seem overwhelming, the breadth and width of our dream. The amount of work involved. The sheer volume of blood, sweat, and tears required. The nauseating number of sleepless, work-filled nights that lay in wait. The set backs and kicks to the crotch you know are waiting to greet you all too enthusiastically at every bend in the road. Taken as a whole, they can seem, at best, nearly impossible odds, at worst, simply unbeatable. Taken in small doses, they are tolerable, even palatable. And that is precisely why the gift of a clean slate is so valuable. You get to choose, everyday, who you are going to be. Had an off day? Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow doesn’t exist. All that matters is the living, breathing heartbeat of the moment. Focus, narrowly, on who you need to be today, to become one step closer to who you want to be down the road. Ovid’s maxim, “Add a little to a little and you have a great heap” still rings true. The choice is ours and ours alone to make.
I was awash in the spotlight and every pair of eyes were set upon me. In the blink of an eye I would be either confirming the audiences’ assumptions or surprising the hell out of them. I remained statue-like for the briefest of moments when those lights flashed on. I may have even looked like I had a good old fashioned case of stage fright. Assumptions were being confirmed or denied while I was caught up in the excitement of the thought that we have the power to choose, daily, to be whomever we wish.
With a big smile and a booming voice I put all those thoughts aside and dove into my speech. I had made a decision a long time ago that I was going to deliver and I knew who I needed to be that day. I like to think I exceeded their expectations and left them all a little closer to finding in their lives that which most excites them. What about you? Who are you choosing to be everyday and what are you doing to get there? Are you exceeding your own expectations? Are you exceeding the expectations of others? These are rhetorical questions to which you already know the answer. For my readers that aren’t quite getting the job done I have 3 things you can do to get yourself headed in the right direction.
#1 - Get into a Gym Full of Iron!
Chances are that if you have a hard time making a fresh start each morning you are also having a hard time showing up to the gym. Do you want to improve your ability to finish what you start? Go see a barbell. Do you want to develop incredible mental strength? Make an appointment with a pull up bar. Do you want to become a determined SOB? Swing a kettlebell a couple of thousand times. Success in a Gym Full of Iron translates directly into success in life because cold steel in hand develops in you the habit of completion.
#2 - Review our strategy for selecting and accomplishing goals!
Picking a goal that you want to achieve will give you the motivation needed to decide each day who you want to be. First, be honest with yourself about your goal. Once the goal is selected you start the commitment phase. When your commitment is in place it is time to start making the plan. This phase can make or break your success, so spend as much time and effort doing it as required. With a solid plan in place you can begin creating your steps and this is where things will really start to come together. Finally, you will check for progress. Read more about this process here, and remember, a goal cannot be achieved without the willingness to sacrifice.
#3 - Talk it over with a friend or your coach.
Talking about it makes it real! It goes from mere musings to the present tense, tangible, actionable, in your face, your life is passing you by so you better get your ass in gear moment in time. Doing so with someone whom you respect and whose opinion value brings with it a much needed dose of accountability, too.
242 years ago the most incredible generation of people the world has ever known won for us, our freedom. Because of that we have the power to choose, every day, to be who ever we want. What will you choose?