The Truth about Chasing Down a Dream

For several weeks, orders were unusually low. Our growth seemed to be stalled. I was getting nervous. I was starting to think our business had plateaued. Then, on a quiet Friday afternoon, I opened an e-mail that changed everything. It was the largest order we had ever received and it came from a customer we had been pursuing for months. It was a great day.

Some days, everything seems to go your way. All of your hard work pays off. You are on top of the world. You get that big order. You land that new customer. You reach a new milestone in your business or in your training. You make giant strides towards your goal. Your dream is becoming a reality. These are the best days.

The truth is, when you are chasing a dream, a vast majority of days will not be like this. A good day is an exception. If you are a leader, an entrepreneur, if you are trying to better yourself or challenge the status quo, most days will be difficult and progress will be slow. You will be frustrated and want to quit.

This is normal.

The problem is we expect success to be easy because we are exposed to successes all around us. It seems like everyone on the news and on social media is winning. Everyone is beautiful, thin, young and wealthy. Everyone is reaching their dreams with hardly any effort. No one else seems to be struggling as much as you are.

This is all a lie.

Chasing down a dream is hard and everyone who sets difficult goals will struggle. Most days will be tough and growth will be slow. Only those with grit and determination will achieve their goals. The key is to stay motivated during those long days when progress is slow.

To overcome the frustration and worry, try these five things to keep you motivated:

Take time and reflect on how far you’ve come. Change your perspective. Instead of looking at how far away your goal is or how successful others are, look at yourself. Where were you six months ago or a year ago? How far have you come? How much progress have you made towards your goal? Often times, seeing your progress helps to change your outlook.

Celebrate milestones. One of the best ways to accomplish a big goal is to break it down into smaller goals. This is something that Jon Acuff recommends in his book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. He says to “cut your goal in half” and then celebrate hitting these milestones. This will give you a chance to regroup and refocus towards the next milestone.

Ignore the noise and focus on your own work. It’s easy to get discouraged by seeing others succeed or by listening to naysayers. I once had a potential partner tell me that starting a company in this industry was “impossible.” Comments like this can derail your motivation. It’s far better to ignore the noise and focus on taking action to get you to the next level.

Embrace the suck. This is a common military expression that is perfect when you are facing tough times. It simply means that you should consciously accept the hard times because, although unpleasant, they are necessary and unavoidable. In other words, this isn’t easy but let’s deal with it. Tough times aren’t fun but they make you better and stronger. So, don’t fight it, embrace it.

Start fresh daily. Every day is a new day to start fresh. I often tell my team, “we have money in the bank and air in our lungs, it’s a good day, let’s get after it.” Regardless of what happened yesterday, last week or last month, today could be the day that you get a breakthrough. You can’t create good luck but you can work hard and be prepared when the opportunities arrive.

When you’re chasing a dream, a vast majority of days will be tough and progress will always seem slower than you expect. With hard work, grit and determination, you can reach your goals. These five techniques can help you stay motivated as you continue on your journey.

{Photo Credit: Mari Armstrong}

How a Crappy Cup of Coffee Helped Me Find My Purpose in Life and How to Find Yours

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Winter in Northern Ohio is tough and the people who live through these winters are even tougher.  It was then and there where I realized my calling, when I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain.

As general manager of an industrial business, I was responsible for the manufacturing plant I was visiting in Ohio that winter. I was 35 years old and only 8 years out of the Navy. I was young and aggressive but still trying to figure out what I was going to do in my civilian life.

I had fulfilled my dream to serve as a submarine Naval Officer and now I was a civilian, working for a large multi-national company. I never really thought of life after the military. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next in my career.

In my first general manager role, three years earlier, I implemented monthly “all employee” meetings. I thought it was important to communicate how the business was doing and what the priorities were each month. I also loved interacting with the manufacturing plant personnel.

In my current role, I had responsibility for two manufacturing plants. I had come to the Ohio plant, in the middle of winter, to meet with employees.  It was 2AM and I was scheduled to talk to the 3rd shift team.

We had a room reserved right outside the production line on the second floor. The building was old, dark and drafty. It was cold and I was tired. I found a greasy old coffee pot with hot coffee right outside our meeting room. I poured myself a hot, black coffee into a small Styrofoam cup and went into the meeting.

Our QA manager was presenting the quality numbers first and I sat in the back of the room and listened. I was thinking about what I was going to say. This business was losing money. We had to turn it around. I wasn’t sure how I was going to create a sense of urgency without inciting panic.

As I sat, thought and listened, I looked down at my coffee. It was the worst cup of coffee I had ever seen in my life (worse than anything I had seen in the Navy). There were unknown things floating in it. There was a sheen of oil on the surface. I could see coffee grounds on the bottom of the cup. It was dreadful. But I drank it anyway.

It was then when I realized my purpose in life.

With an engineering degree, two master’s degrees, military service and years of leadership experience, I could be anywhere doing anything. I imagined I could be working at amazing companies doing incredible things anywhere in the world. I didn’t have to be in Ohio, in the winter, in an old drafty manufacturing plant, in the middle of the night, drinking the worst cup of coffee I had ever seen. I didn’t have to be in charge of a business losing money that needed a turnaround.

But I realized at that moment, there was nowhere else I would rather be.

Despite the challenges (or maybe because of them), I wanted to be with these employees. I wanted to share what I knew about the state of the business. I wanted to work with them to craft a plan to turn the business around and make a profit. I wanted to lead these people and this business. I wanted to be here and nowhere else in the world. I wanted to make a difference.

“The grand invitation is to embrace the reality of your life and to figure out what to do with it.” Chip Edens

That crappy cup of coffee told me that I had found my life’s purpose. I knew that, despite the tough circumstances, I was built for this. I wanted to be here.

Have you found your life’s purpose? Most people haven’t. If you have, fantastic! If not, here are some signs to look for.

You love it. When you’re doing what you were born to do, time goes by fast. You look up and hours have passed because you are so focused on your work. You are “in the zone” when you are doing purposeful work. You look forward to it. These are the activities you “can’t wait” to get started. It’s your passion.

 You are great at it. You are doing your life’s work when you discover you are really good at something. You are recognized, promoted or even awarded for your work. You are identified as an expert or an opinion leader in your field. You are great at something when people seek you out to understand how you are doing it.

You are paid for it. One of the greatest compliments you can receive is when people pay you to do something. If your skills are adding so much value to someone that they are willing to compensate you for it, you are doing something important. Passion without a paycheck is simply a hobby. Your life’s purpose should also pay the bills.

The world needs it. In some way, your work is making a difference. You are doing something that has meaning. It has impact. You are changing the world in some specific way that has meaning to you and others.

Find Your Purpose

15 years later, I’m still leading manufacturing businesses. I’m still working in manufacturing plants and drinking suspect coffee. And I couldn’t be happier. I found my calling. I found my life’s purpose. I love what I do.

How about you? Have you discovered what you were designed to do? Have you found your life’s purpose?