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How to Ignite Your Dreams: an inspiring tale

Oct 17, 2021

I’ll admit I came late to the game and am just getting around to listening to Barack Obama’s memoir A Promised Land. What I’m about to write is not about his politics or his policies. You may think he’s the best thing to happen to our country since fiber optic internet or the incarnation of the anti-Christ, but that’s irrelevant to what I want to say.

    What struck me most was not his beliefs or his ability to maneuver through defenses on a basketball court. It was his inner qualities and his unrelenting drive to succeed, and it got me thinking how they can be a blueprint for you to achieve those goals which, at first glance, might seem unlikely to attain.

    Obama’s success in politics came the hard way. He didn’t come from wealth or from a family whose political lineage stretched back to the Constitutional Convention. It wasn’t even clear he’d choose this career path until he well out of college. But when he made the decision that a run for office was the path to achieve what he wanted, he kept laser focused on that dream until he made it real.

   The secret sauce to his success started with his mindset.

   I want to focus on one race in particular, his run for United States senator, that best illustrates what was involved in that mindset.  At that point, he had been a state senator in the Illinois legislature. It was a position that had scratched at that itch he had to make a difference in the lives of his constituents. After winning a hard-fought race for his first term, he worked hard to make himself known in his district, was popular and won his next races easily.  He could have spent the rest of his work life as a state senator, probably one-day rising to a senior position in the legislature. But he wanted to do more, for the state as a whole, and to have a say in national issues that weren’t the purview of a state office holder.

   But his election to a statewide office was no shoo in. How he did it, reflects the qualities someone needs for success and why it doesn’t hurt to take a closer look at what they are:

  • Passion – Obama knew what he wanted, deeply knew what he wanted, and that passion was the foundation he needed to get through a campaign. It's what convinced one of Illinois’ most prominent political directors, David Axelrod, to become his campaign adviser and, in turn, inspire others to volunteer to help. It’s what enabled him to make countless calls to strangers asking for campaign contributions. It’s what kept him going in the face of criticism. Some people call this spark fire. I like the word I heard my mother say whenever she commented on what it took for someone’s success….chuuck. I can’t give it a formal definition but I’d akin it to the fire in the belly that enables you – or actually impels you – not to give up when the odds are stacked against you.
  • The desire to do the work – Running for office is hard work and something Obama didn’t have to take on. He already had plenty on his plate—three part time jobs, a wife and small children. But because he had a goal in mind, he was willing to do whatever it took to get it done. It meant many sleepless nights, time away from his family, financial sacrifice and hours and hours of work honing positions on issues. It also meant mastering new skills such as debating and delivering speeches in a powerful voice that would move and inspire his audiences.

    Whenever you take on a new challenge, be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. You may not have to go to the lengths Obama did, but it’s also not as easy as saying something like, “I’ve spent a weekend learning Reiki, and on Monday I’m opening my practice and will get lots of business.” There’s work involved and being willing to put in the sweat and make the temporary sacrifices in other areas of your life will increase your chances of success.

  • Create your village – Obama didn’t do it alone. He had to rely on others to do the things he couldn’t do: schedule events, operate campaign offices, man phone banks, raise money and a host of other tasks that were either out of his skill set or his time availability to do.

   You might not need an army to help you reach your goal. Depending on what you’re going after, maybe one person is all you need. But before you start out, map out what it’s going to take and recruit the allies who will support you along the way. You’ll be glad you did, especially for those times you’ll need a sympathetic ear to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing.

  • Own your mistakes and learn from them – Obama made plenty of mistakes during his campaign. For instance, early on, he bored audiences with detailed policy addresses that put them to sleep. But instead of getting discouraged, he learned how to boil down what he wanted to say in easy to understand, bite sized bits.

    It’s inevitable that you will take a wrong turn or two on the road to your goal. It may make you frustrated or even get to the point that you want to quit. One of my favorite quotes that addresses this is from Thomas Edison, who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He never gave up and his 10,001st attempt gave us the light bulb. Keep your focus, learn from your mistakes and remember your passion as you press on your journey.

  • Know what to do with the unexpected – All of the planning and work that Obama did early in his campaign gave him the foundation to take advantage of lucky breaks that came his way. A speech he gave went viral and brought him national attention. A scandal forced his main challenger to drop out making his election a shoo in by the time he was named to be the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Without his learning from the gaffes he made along the way, he would have been incapable of making the most from those incidents.     

    You will find that your own diligence to your cause will pay off in unexpected ways as well: help from an unlikely source, good reviews that attract attention or a surprise funding source. Knowing how to identify these things so you can use them will help you create the success you deserve.

    Obama’s hard work and persistence in the face of adversity paid off; he won his Senate race. Your goal may not be that lofty but the tools that worked for him can work for you too. You’ll never know unless you make the choice to act on your dream. And there’s no better time to start than now.



 

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