CHAPTER 25 of 59
Follow One Course Until Successful
“We all sit around in a circle and suppose, while the secret sits in the center and
knows.”– Robert Frost
In the 1920s when barnstorming was all the rage, a biplane pilot flew into town and was selling rides for a dollar each. A farmer in overalls immediately ran up and said, “I want a ride, but I don’t want to pay a dollar. Can we do business?”
The pilot replied, “I’ll take you up for free, under one condition: If you utter one word or let out so much as a peep, you owe me $10.”
The farmer agreed. “My lips are sealed,” he said before asking if his wife could also ride along for the same deal. The pilot gave the thumbs up.
The three took off. At an altitude of 50 feet, the pilot flipped the plane upside down and increased speed. Then he spun the plane into a right-handed roll, followed by a left-handed one. At full throttle, the pilot soared upward, climbing several thousand feet before stalling out and letting the plane plunge back to earth. At about 25 feet off the ground, the pilot broke the free fall of the nose-diving plane and stuck a perfect three-point landing.
The pilot turned to the farmer and said, “I can’t believe it! Wasn’t there one time when you wanted to say something?”
“Yep, the farmer said. “When the old lady fell out.”
The farmer had incredible FOCUS — that ability to “Follow One Course Until Successful.” Aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) also had it. He was dead set on becoming the first to fly solo across the Atlantic. Taking off from America, he knew exactly where his destiny lay. “Now, my anchor is Europe, on a continent I’ve never seen,” he said. “I’ll never think of turning back.”
Similarly, Babe Ruth (1895-1948) reduced his success to the essentials. Asked “how is it that you always come through in the clutch with thousands of fans screaming, with millions listening on the radio, the entire game on the line,” Ruth replied, “I don’t know. I just keep my eye on the ball.” He was Ruthlessly focused.
Ichiro Suzuki, who holds Major League Baseball’s single-season record for base hits with 262 and is the only player to collect 200 or more hits in 10 straight seasons, said of his success, “I’ve really got to focus on what I’m doing right now.”
Focus — that single-minded commitment to your goal — helps you achieve greatness. On Nov. 15, 1993, while most people were probably thinking about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, Dr. Tom Amberry, at age 72, sank 2,750 free throws without a miss at the Rossmore Athletic Club in Seal Beach, Calif. (I ran out and purchased his book to see if I could improve my driveway marksmanship — my best effort, after repeated attempts was 26, or 2,724 free throws shy of Amberry’s record.)
At the same time, when your focus fades, failure or even disaster can strike. At age 73 in 1978, after several years of walking the wire (“Life is being on the wire; everything else is just waiting.”), Karl Wallenda, the founder of The Flying Wallendas, fell to his death attempting to walk between two towers of the 10-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Some conjectured that he stopped focusing on walking the wire and instead thought about not falling.
I don’t think there’s any question that with the proper focus and concentration, you will get what you want or at least put yourself in the right frame of mind and position to get what you want. Part of it has to do with the Law of Attraction (you get what you focus on; you attract what you want).
Author Mark Twain suffered no intention deficit disorder. He knew exactly what he wanted. Growing up along the Mississippi River, he had dreamed of being a riverboat pilot. When he got the chance, he filled his mind and notebooks with information about the 2,300-mile-long river’s currents, rocks, shoals, sandbars, sunken ships, and other nautical hazards. After an 18-month apprenticeship, he earned his pilot’s license and was soon making as much money as the vice president of the United States. “Astonishing things can be done with the human memory if you will devote it faithfully to one particular line of business,” Twain wrote in Life on the Mississippi.
Albert Einstein displayed this singular vision. In 1915, his marriage to Mileva Maric was collapsing as World War I was ravaging Europe. Despite these calamities, he managed to formulate the general theory of relativity, one of history’s greatest scientific discoveries. “My boldest dreams have come true,” he exulted to a friend. Focusing on science was his great sanctuary.
In Man’s Search for Meaning in Life, Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl focused on one object to help get him through his hell on earth. “I always knew that my attitude was my choice,” he wrote. “I could choose to despair or to be hopeful. But to be hopeful, I needed to be focused on something I wanted. I focused on my wife’s hands. I wanted to hold them one more time. I wanted to think that we could embrace again and be heart to heart one more time. That kept me alive. Second by second by second.”
Limiting distractions aids focus. Early in his career at UCLA, Coach John Wooden did everything but drive the team bus. He even took a second job, working at a dairy from
6 a.m. to noon before coaching basketball in the afternoon. Despite his hard work, Wooden didn’t win a single NCAA championship his first 15 years in Westwood. He was chasing more than one rabbit, and catching neither. That all changed one day in 1963, when new athletic director J.D. Morgan entered his office and swept everything off Wooden’s desk. “John, you just take care of getting the team ready to play basketball, I’ll handle the rest,” he told him. Wooden went on to win a record 10 NCAA titles in the next 12 years.
You, too, can do great things with more FOCUS.
Take inventory of everything you do before selecting the goal or goals you most want to master. Draw up a plan for achieving them and chart your progress daily. Lindbergh checked his fuel gauges, Ruth his home run total, and Wooden his won-loss record.
Next, change your terminology. When John Steinbeck attended Stanford, he called himself a writer-in-training instead of a college student. Why don’t you try it? Think of a name that captures who you are and where you’re headed. Instead of calling yourself a poly-sci major, call yourself “a Congressperson-in-the-making!”
Also, find a few role models to help steer you in the right direction. Shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975) kept John Paul Getty’s How to be Rich on his yacht, the “Cristina.” For several years, a silly commercial for a credit card company has been asking, ‘What’s in your wallet?” Instead, ask, “What’s in my bookcase?”
Many times, however, only do-or-die measures will do. By cutting the cord tying you to your old lands and old ways — by scuttling your boats the way Caesar and Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) did in their successful conquests — you cut off all thoughts of retreat. In “How to Succeed in Life,” which appeared in the Pittsburgh Bulletin on Dec. 19, 1903, industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) captured this all- in approach best when he wrote, “Put all your eggs into one basket and then watch the basket.”
Author Malcolm Gladwell popularized the power of intense focusing in his 2008 book, Outliers, claiming that the key to success in any field is a matter of practicing a specific task for at least 10,000 hours. Microsoft founder Bill Gates exceeded this minimum 10,000-hour rule by gaining access to a high school computer in 1968 at age 13 and spending more than 10,000 hours programming on it. The Beatles also passed this tipping point by performing live in Hamburg, Germany more than 1,200 times, logging more than 10,000 hours of playing time from 1960 to 1964. This incessant performing made them sound like nobody else.
Ultimately, focusing is about finding your own voice, listening to it, and relentlessly responding to it with every fiber of your being. Which is that voice? Let this tale be a guide:
One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “The battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger. It is envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, and ego.
“The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.”
The grandson thought about the words he had heard, then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”
To be effective, be more selective. Once you find your purpose and passion, take action and limit distraction.
You See What You’re Focused On
Legendary investor Warren Buffet loves telling this tale:
A poor, humble, God-fearing tailor had spent his whole life scraping up enough money to finance a pilgrimage to the Vatican.
When the tailor returned from his holy visit, his friends eagerly gathered around him to hear his first-hand impressions.
“Did you see the Pope?” they asked him.
“What was he like?” they inquired, begging for details.
“He was a perfect 44-medium.”
(Related Lessons: CLUTTER, DISCIPLINE)