One of my favorite poems is “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. The last lines of Frost’s famous work are, “Two roads diverged in the woods—and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made the difference.” We all choose between lots of roads in life. Sometimes the roads we choose are a result of fear—or the desire to avoid something. Other times the paths we decide to take are driven by passion and motivation.
While taking steps down one road to get away from something undesirable is still action—and better than doing nothing—real momentum in life starts when you clarify and begin taking steps with conviction towards something desirable. Action driven by the emotion of fear can be temporarily effective but draining. Action driven by the emotion of passion, on the other hand, is invigorating.
When we allow ourselves to clearly identify objectives that we want versus things we don’t want, we start to contemplate possibilities that may have never been considered before. When I think back on my background in advertising and my desire to live in New York City while working for an advertising firm, clear steps and the conviction to follow those steps would be exactly what it would take to make those dreams a reality.
In 1988, without one job interview scheduled, I decided not to sign the year end renewal on my apartment in Knoxville and bought a plane ticket to New York City for late January. My plan was to land a job there at an advertising agency in one week because that was all I could afford to take off work. Was that unrealistic? Absolutely. Did I completely understand how unrealistic? Not a clue. However, I knew what I wanted—the objective was clear. Within that first week I managed to set up meetings with 15 different ad agencies.
This creative or crazy strategy (depending on your point of view) had not popped in my head naturally. I had been reading a famous book called, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Although it is mostly a faith-based work and already decades old by that time, some of the concepts in the book really spoke to me in ways beyond any specific dogma. I was especially intrigued by Peale’s idea of “throwing your heart over the bar.” I interpreted that as being brave enough to take definitive action only on faith, a belief or a dream. That is, to do something physical– like buying a plane ticket or not renewing a lease—before there was any evidence (like a scheduled interview) to do it. By the time I boarded the plane to LaGuardia with my full calendar, the pages of this small pink paperback were dog-eared and covered with notes scribbled in the margins.
By the end of the first week of this impulsive endeavor to move to NYC, I was exhausted, and a bit defeated at receiving a lot of “we will get back to you” or “we aren’t looking for anyone right now” responses. I was losing hope. But finally, one of those fifteen meetings had led to a sixteenth. It was a follow-up interview with DDB/Needham Worldwide, the huge agency known for a wide array of well-known accounts, legendary advertising slogans and iconic ad industry titans.
My dream was within my grasp. One company had called me back for another conversation. What were the odds of that happening? Probably pretty bad. But, again, clearly not impossible. Because it did happen, and it resulted in a job offer in that same meeting.
I knew with great clarity what I wanted to achieve and chose to follow the road that would lead to it with conviction. When we identify what it is we really want—what we desire, our ability to have conviction in achieve those goals increases. It is pretty incredible the things we can achieve when we understand the power of directing our efforts toward a specific desire or outcome.