Our dog, Simon, has an interesting trait.
He likes to carry things on our daily walks. It could be a stick, football, or even a frozen head of cabbage. Invariably as we walk he will drop his baggage and explore.
As we continue our walk and when I notice that Simon has forgotten something, I will remind him, “Simon, where’s your football?” We could be a couple hundred yards away from where he last dropped it but he will first look around as if something is wrong and then charge off in the direction of the football. A few minutes later, he will come running up to me with the football in his mouth just to show me, “See, I didn’t forget.”
This quality that drives Simon to relentlessly search for something that he forgot is the same type of quality that people have who are driven to accomplish something. They just can’t let it go.
You have heard of the solo rock climber Alex Honnold. He was the first person to free-solo climb El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, which means he did it alone and without ropes. Can you imagine? One misstep, one wrong hand hold or one moment unfocused and it’s curtains. There’s no second chance, no rope that will save you, no nets below. How did he do it?
For several months he practiced climbing El Capitan with ropes while noting on paper every foothold and hand hold and then put them to memory. When it came time to actually climb the rock solo, he knew exactly where to put his hands and feet for each foot that he climbed. To prepare to this extent, you have to be driven to do it.
The same can be said of Minnesota’s Gable Steveson, who won the NCAA heavyweight wrestling championship. Then there is UConn's Paige Bueckers, who was the first college basketball freshman to win the women’s Naismith Player of the Year award. As you probably know, she attended Hopkins High School.
It’s not just athletes that are driven, you can find people in every aspect of life from preachers to politicians, from business leaders to bikers, from social workers to scientists. People who succeed at the upper levels of success are driven to do it.
I really haven’t known too many people who have achieved the upper levels of success like a Thomas Edison or a Helen Keller, but I have known many “ordinary” people who would not make the cover of "Time" or "People Magazine" but exhibited the same qualities as a Harriet Tubman or Cesar Chavez.
My former boss at the Red Owl store where I worked for many years in my hometown was driven to have a good store. He put in the time and effort. He expected the best from his employees but was fair and honest. His goal was to have a good store for the local people in town and he did. He taught me what it means to have a good work ethic.
Another former boss, Dr. Ed Pino, had a goal in mind to change teacher in-service training. He was relentless in his efforts. He would hire the best of the best to deliver quality in-service to teachers throughout the United States and offered a money back refund to anyone who was disappointed. Even though his staff came from all parts of the country, he was constantly on the phone reminding them to do this and to do that. Even until his final waking hours he was giving me instructions on how to make our organization even better.
Dr. Don Glines, one of most successful change agents in education, now in his 90s, calls me at least once a week and asks me how I am doing with Project Graduate and if I have found any educator(s) who are willing to create an entirely different kind of school so we can graduate 100% of our young people. You might say every time he calls me he gives me a kick in the seat of the pants to get busy.
Locally, there have been and continue to be many examples of people who are driven. I am thinking of former Chairman Roger Jourdain, who worked tirelessly to maintain the sovereignty of the Red Lake Nation. I am also thinking about business leaders like the Luekens, Naylors, Batchelders, Welles, Stittsworths, Thorsons, Johannesons and so many more leaders who know what it means to be driven towards a goal as does the BSU men's hockey team coach, Tom Serratore, who knocked off No. 1 Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament.
If you belong to a fraternal organization like Eagles, Lions, Rotary or Toastmasters, all of the original founders had to be driven to accomplish what they desired, which was to deliver helping hands to the community.
So, what does it take to be driven? You need a goal and a plan to get there. You have to be focused and present. Can you imagine what would have happened to Alex Honnold on that mountain if he had not been focused? It’s important to have some support from people around you. You have to have faith in yourself that you can do the job. Most of all, you need a mindset to win and succeed. What if you don’t succeed? There is always a Plan B and even a Plan C.
Yes, but what if you still don’t make it? Edison failed 10,000 times before perfecting the incandescent electric light bulb. When asked why he failed so much, he said, “I have not failed. Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
People who are driven don’t give up. They may change directions but their goal remains the same. Just like my dog, Simon, he never forgets what he set out to do. How about you?
Riddle: Why couldn’t they play cards on the ark? (Answer: Because Noah sat on the deck.) People who are driven are not known for sitting.
What if Minnesota created a law that said every community had to have a goal of a 100% graduation rate? Would that get people’s attention? Would that make a difference? You can bet our graduation rate would rise.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.