“I Coulda Been A Condender!”
Marlon Brando from the movie – On The Waterfront (July 28, 1954)
By Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, May 10, 2017
The title is one of the most famous movie quotations of all time from On The Waterfront and was said by actor Marlon Brando. To most older folks the quote and explanation wouldn't even be necessary. In today’s Star War’s world, I doubt most of the younger folks have ever seen On The Waterfront. I believe that today’s movies rely more on full color, constant unbelievable graphics and images than they do on pure acting skills as in the past; but I digress.
Think about that quote for a moment. What is wrong with it or how could it have been even better. Is it something you would or should say? Brando played the part of a boxer and his desire was to be the champion of his time. So why did he stop at just becoming a “contender?” Why didn’t he say “I coulda been a champion?”
Are you setting your sights too low. In his book The Millionaire Real Estate Agent, Gary Keller relates the story about the Hunting Wolves of all things. From the book:
“Several years ago my son, John, and I were driving and listening to a book on tape. In the story, a shepherd’s son has come of age and goes out to spend his first summer alone tending the sheep in the hills above the village. One night, he awakens to the sound of a wolf howling nearby. The night is black and he is seized by fear, but he dutifully grabs his rifle and races out into the darkness to protect his livestock. Across the way he sees a wolf at the throat of one of the sheep. As he puts his rifle to his shoulder and takes aim, he remembers the advice of his father: ‘At night, it is very difficult to judge the distance to your target, and, more than likely, you’ll underestimate the distance and miss low. To have a better chance of hitting the target, aim high.’ The shepherd’s son adjusts his aim, raising the sights ever so slightly, and hits the mark.”
In the movie, Brando was apparently satisfied at just becoming a contender for the championship and not the championship itself; his sights were set to low.
I can personally relate to this story on both levels, aiming high and aiming low. When I entered the Coast Guard in 1965 I believe I was a good student and did not only what I was told to do (the military way), I did go the extra mile and read the material we were given; all of it. What struck me was that the promotion program was laid out in great detail as to what was required to advance or be promoted to the next pay grade, it also showed you what to do from day one to be eligible for the next promotion. I did not know in 1965 that I would decide to make the Coast Guard my career choice but I did know I wanted to make more money than the $78 a month they were going to pay me to do whatever it was that I was to do as a Seaman Apprentice or and E2 upon graduating from boot camp. I became very focused. My immediate obligation to the Coast Guard was for 4 years; that was the enlistment contract. I immediately set my goal on becoming a Second Class Petty Officer or an E5 by the time I finished my required 4 years. Given the required length of time between pay grades I felt that was the best that I could have done in just four years. The best part? I made it! That alone should have been a lesson for me.
I could give you many stories in regards to my promotions between September 1965 and September 1985 when I eventually retired. While interesting, at least to me, they would just clutter the message I hope to convey to everyone. During my twenty year career I set self-imposed ceilings on my promotions. First it was becoming an E5, or Second Class Petty Officer. Then it was becoming and E7 or Chief Petty Officer. But for some reason not an E8 Senior Chief Petty Officer or the ultimate enlisted pay grade E9 Master Chief Petty Officer. I was satisfied at becoming just a “contender” or a Chief Petty Officer.
I wish I could tell you that someone within the Coast Guard had taught me a valuable lesson about setting goals or aiming high but that did not happen. That was a lesson I learned on my own because not only was I promoted to Chief Petty Officer E7, I later was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer W-2 and later W3. I had thought I reached as far I could with my educational background but there was one more promotion that I could at least apply for and that was what was referred to as becoming a Limited Duty Direct Lieutenant (O3) skipping over the ranks of Ensign (O3) and Lieutenant Junior Grade (O2). Limited Duty simply meant that I would be assigned to duties requiring the rank of Lieutenant but strictly within my occupational specialty. To my surprise, I was selected as Lieutenant and eventually retired as a Lieutenant.
I am not telling you this story to brag on my promotions within the Coast Guard; on the contrary. I am telling you this because at various points during my career, I raised my sights just as the shepherd boy did with his rifle. Yet the lesson I learned was that I did not set my sights high enough from the moment I made the decision to make the Coast Guard a career. I had attended college but for only two years, I did not graduate. To become a Coast Guard Officer, most people had to have a college degree to do so. I didn’t, therefore making Lieutenant seemed out of the question. But when the program that enabled me to at least apply for the Lieutenant program became available I did and was accepted. I adjusted my “site” as the my career choices changed.
I have now retired not only from the Coast Guard but also from the real estate industry where I retired in 2012. I was the Designated Broker and Team Leader (manager) during the last 12 years of my over 33 year real estate career. I did what was necessary to become a licensed real estate agent in 1980 enabling me to sell real estate, primarily residential real estate. I was shocked at what happened. The first weekend of being licensed, I was put on the front desk, assigned the duty of answering phone calls to the office. And then what? I had no idea. I had no training, I had no anticipation of what I was going to say. I knew nothing about selling real estate. It was like being a fireman with a hose but no water to extinguish the flames. I struggled for two years with becoming a successful real estate salesman. Two years! I made very few sales during that time; certainly not enough to live on.
It was on a whim that I signed up to take a Mike Ferry real estate seminar. Mike Ferry was obnoxious and full of himself. I remember him saying that if you didn’t expect to do well in real estate sales, you might as well go down the hall and sit in on Mary Kay sales event being held there. He said “I know what I’m doing; you don’t. So listen to what I am telling you and you will do just great!” What I learned during that presentation was this one lesson that is far more valuable than any “how to sell real estate tips.” That lesson was:
If it is to be, it is up to me! No one is going to do it for you!
That was the same lesson I unknowingly learned while in the Coast Guard. No one had encouraged me to enjoy the promotions I did, I just researched what it would take to be promoted and then attacked it. “If it was to be; it was up to me! No one was going to do it for me!” The problem within the Coast Guard was that my aim was only on the NEXT promotion and NOT on the BIG PICTURE – my eventual retirement from the Coast Guard and at what pay grade level. My focus was always on just the next one, and then the next one, and then the next one. It was not on the end game or the BIG PICTURE.
I have been fortunate to have read some really great books, especially lately, the last of which “From Autopilot to Authentic” by Brett Blair. Before that, Me We Be Do by Dr. Randall Bell. The two are very much related. I can relate to the story that Blair tells of his life. In a phrase, been there; done that!” In fact Blair’s story is what prompted me to write this Nugget while it was fresh in my mind. My advice to everyone reading this is very simple:
- Gary Keller – Aim High! But first you have to have a target or goal to aim at; set goals with a plan to achieve them.
- Randall Bell – become the best “me” you can become; then become the best friend you can become; then to “be” the best, you have to have clear written goals and manage your time; and then, follow your “do” or to-do lists to insure you do the things necessary to lead a happy and productive life
- Brett Blair – Conduct an analysis of your life as IT IS NOW and then imagine the type of life you WANT IT TO BE relating to your Spiritual, Physical Health, Relationships, Emotional, Intellectual/Professional and Financial but they MUST BE BALANCE WITH EACH OTHER!
All three of these men through their books are saying the same things but in different terms and they are all right on the money!
Here’s the deal. If you want these things to occur in your life, you must:
- Be aware that if it is to be; it is up to me; no one is going to do it for you – create a plan, be prepared to reset your sights on a moment’s notice
- Analyze your life as it is, picture the life you want it to become
- Set written goals, know when it is time to adjust them “on the fly” or as you go
- Aim High! Aim higher than you might think reachable. So what if you fall short, you probably still reached higher than you otherwise would have reached.
Here is a question that everyone should ask and answer.
What will your life look like when it is over?
If you don’t have a plan, if you don’t create a road map, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. To emphasize this point just read my favorite poem; it puts it all into perspective:
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
High in the Sierra Mountains lives an old man
Who from his hermitage looks down in pity
Upon other men of higher mental aspiration.
One day he rescued a little group of Swiss mountaineers
Lost in the mountains’ fastenesses
When told were they were they exclaimed in disbelief,
“But how did we get here?”
To which the old hermit replied,
“If that question ain’t got no answer attached to it,
I ain’t got none that fits.
If you is goin’ anywhere in particular
Up here, yu’d better figger fust how to get thar.
Cuz by jest goin’ afore ya know where yere agoin’
Ya can get to a powerful lotta places ya might not wanta be.”
Author Unknown, pity