Originally posted by Best Selling Author and Life Founder Orrin Woodward.
God bless, Scott Johnson
The American Dream
When I was a young, growing up in the
small town of Columbiaville, Michigan, I loved watching and competing in
sports. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat taught me so many
lessons that I applied to life. In fact, I believe the lessons I
learned from watching, playing, and modeling my favorite athletes helped
form who I am today. Furthermore, because of my sports heroes, I became
an avid reader of sports biographies, learning many of their secrets to
I had no idea how instrumental the
hundreds of books read of my sports heroes would affect me. In truth, it
wasn’t until I began teaching leadership for a profession that I
realized what an impact my early reading had on my life. The numerous
stories of young men who dreamed, struggled, and persevered until they
had their victory, taught me that anything is possible in life if one is
willing to work hard enough and endure through the expected setbacks.
Perhaps I was naive and should have
known better, but my meritocratic world-view was shaped by my playing,
watching and reading about competitive sports – one of the last
remaining bastions of a performance based meritocracy. In other words,
in the competitive arena of sports, no points are given because of your
previous record, your family’s background, or your ability to talk
smack. Each game has pre-defined rules, an impartial referee, and
competitors who begin equal with the right to become unequal based upon
their performance as individuals and as teams.
In high school, I suffered from severe
low self-esteem, constantly viewing others as better than myself. In
many ways they were better, however, I carried it to the extreme,
typically defeating myself before the competition even began. It’s hard
to hide from the scoreboard, especially when you are a runner and
wrestler. All eyes are upon you and you cannot blame anyone else for a
lackluster performance. The scoreboard provides the facts for both
victories or defeats.
Although starting late in both
endeavors (junior year), I rapidly improved through hard work, great
coaching, and experience, ultimately receiving several awards – most
improved wrestler my senior year (losing 5-2 to the national record
holder for pins in a high school career), All-Genesee County in
Cross-Country, and anchoring the 2 mile relay in track that set the
school record. I say all of this, not to relive high school sports, but
to share a key principle learned. It’s only through the willingness to
endure painful experiences, persistent practices, and constructive
feedback that a person can separate himself from the crowd. Simply put,
meritocracy demands performance.
With my foundational principles formed
along with a Manufacturing Systems Engineering degree from GMI-EMI (now
Kettering), I boldly entered into my professional career. I believed
through the application of the same principles that had helped me
achieve success in competitive sports, that I would quickly rise to the
top at GM. However, nothing could have been further from the truth.
It’s not that my career didn’t start
well enough. For in less than three years of working full time, I was
awarded four patents, was in the process of winning a national technical
benchmarking award and received a 19% raise. Additionally, my division
committed to covering all my tuition expenses for the #2 nationally
ranked MBA program though University of Michigan. I was living the life I
had dreamed, being on the fast-track at General Motors and developing a
tight relationship with the Director of Engineering of our
multi-billion dollar Delphi division.
So What Went Wrong?
One of the most painful moments in a
person’s life is when he realizes there is no port of call for his ship
of dreams. In other words, even people who work hard, waiting for their
ship to come in, will find they waited their life away. The old plan of
working hard, getting good grades, going to college, and getting a good
job with benefits is DEAD! In fact, it’s rotting corpse has been buried
My personal realization of this fact
came when Laurie was pregnant with our first child. Naively, I went to
my boss and explained to him my dilemma. Laurie was working as an
accountant, but we both wanted her to be a stay-at-home mother to raise
our family. I asked my boss what I needed to do in order to be promoted
to 8th level and receive a company car. I knew it would take this level
of income to fulfill the plan of having Laurie home.
One can imagine my shock when I was
told that I was only 25, and no matter how hard I worked, or what I
accomplished, I would not be promoted until at least 30 years of age.
Moreover, our division had over 100 extra 8th levels already so being
promoted at 30 was a long shot. Talk about a bubble being burst! This
was a blow below the belt that I was completely not expecting. I felt
like a rat in the proverbial rat race, running around the maze as fast
as I could with dead ends everywhere I looked. I vowed to get out of the
rat race, no matter how difficult or painful.