What Drives a Person?
Four simple words that seem to form a simple question, and yet, I’ve not come up with an answer. Now, I don’t mean “what drives me”? No, not at all. I am speaking in the general sense. I’ve found what drives me. I think. It’s a constant question that, depending on where I am in life, has different answers. When I was a preteen I immigrated to the US and like most immigrants, only spoke my native language, which in my case happened to be Spanish. As I entered the second grade I quickly realized that I was not like the rest of the kids. Sure, there were other Hispanic kids, but I felt like an outcast and knew that the language barrier was causing this to be so. I grew up in Miami, the most multicultural of multicultural places, and yet I felt alone. I did have some kind friends that helped me early on and we maintained our friendship into high school.
As a teen my drive changed a bit. I had a core group of friends and we all had similar aspirations. For the most part, we wanted to attend a good college and land that dream job. When I think about it, that’s probably what most people “want” or are told they should aspire for, isn’t it? Isn’t that part of the American Dream? Your parents and every adult would tell you to “go to college so that you can have a good job and be able to provide for your family”. Family? I was 16!
Anyway, I actually enjoyed learning. I still do. School… not so much. Still, my drive as a teen in high school was to have decent grades and SAT/ACT scores so that I could get into a good school. I was able to do that. Once I got to college I realized that I was easily bored. I enjoyed the Later Renaissance art course I took at some point in my sophomore year, but not much else was exciting. I ended up leaving college and joining the Army. While in the Service I did complete my Bachelor’s degree, but once I entered the Army, the reason that drove me changed yet again.
I was relatively young when I enlisted. I shipped off to Basic Training just 2 months after my 20th birthday. Just as when I left home to go to college, I left home when I joined the Army and looking to start anew. Like most organizations, the Army has its bureaucracy and overall individuals that you won’t like. You can’t avoid that in life. There are rules and if you belong to a team, an agency, a military service, or whatever, you will undoubtedly have to follow some set of rules. I realized that early on, which made my life in the Army a breeze. You don’t have to believe the hype, just pretend you do. Don’t get it confused, I formed some of the strongest bonds with people I served with. I met my wife while we were both in the Army. Faking it has nothing to do with not enjoying it or believing in the cause (though that’s debatable), but more to do with not buying into the fake motivation or to allow myself to be disillusioned by leaders that let me down. The Army, after all, was just an organization and, like any organization, it is made up of people who had their own flaws, beliefs and values before entering the military.
I excelled in the Army. I consider myself of average intelligence, but I was a quick learner. I grew up playing sports, so the physical aspect of it didn’t bother me. I always looked forward to that much more than sitting in an office. When I joined the Army and for most of my 20s and early 30s, I was focused on becoming the best Soldier I could be and that became my motivational force. That meant knowing my job better than anyone, being more physically fit, better trained and prepared, and excelling in leadership roles. I had found my calling and I was going to make the Army a 30 year career.
I didn’t choose to do so because I was a Super Patriotic American. I enjoyed what I did and who I was doing it with. It’s as simple as that. And I was good. I was near the top or at the top of all of my leadership and training classes. I excelled individually and as part of the team. Everything we do is because of the teams around us. I was not such a fool that I didn’t acknowledge that fact. I did my part to help my team members so that they could strengthen the rest of the team. And in turn, because I was in leadership roles, it strengthened me. I never took all the credit. In fact, I usually deferred most of the credit to my team. No man or woman is an island. We fail and succeed – for the most part – because of those individuals around us. Our teams. Our support system… or lack thereof. I’ve been fortunate to have great ones for most of my professional life. And my personal support system, my family, has been even more important, supporting me along the way. So, yes, promotions came easy and quick. Early success was like a drug and I was hooked. I think that early success is what drove me to continue to grow more than anything. Just like in law school, when you start with a cohort, I had other “new” Soldiers in my career field that had started their Army career concurrent to mine and I was determined to be at the top of that class as well.
Then, one day, 11 years into my Army adventure, I told my oldest son I might be going to Iraq in 6 months and his response was “You’re leaving again?”
It’s not that I was deployed a lot – I only had one deployment – but we had been separated multiple times. Between being away from home for training and deployment, he had had enough. It became an easy decision for me, though I didn’t think it would be after having poured all of my efforts into this career. This career that had given so much to me had also taken away from me. Time. Time that I’ll never get back with my family and it was at that moment that I decided it was time to hang em’ up. My military career had come to an end in an instant. I have no regrets. I don’t regret joining and I don’t regret having left before achieving that 30 year career goal.
Everything I do is for my family. Sure, promotions at work are nice, but promotions no longer provide the satisfaction that they once did when I was a young Soldier. I am grateful for the promotions. The money that comes along with them is nice. It allows us to live the type of life we want. Honestly, I don’t put in 80 hour weeks. I’ve never been that person and I will never be that person. I don’t live to work. I work to live. I think some people realize this a little too late in their lives. I’m fortunate that I get paid a ridiculous amount of money (in my opinion) for a job that does not require much effort – communicate, write some emails, assist with writing SOPs and advice on how to better structure internal controls – on a day to day basis. I have no problem working a few hours above my 40 hour week once or twice a week, if needed, because work is pretty low stress and because I enjoy the people we support.
I have come to a realization that there is only so far I am willing to climb on this career ladder. I know that this also places a ceiling on how much I can earn and I am more than ok with it. I don’t measure myself by how much money I make. I make more than enough and I get to enjoy it with those I love. I will not become a slave to my job just so I can make $138K. I’ve passed up invitations to go elsewhere and make more money. I know that this additional income comes with strings. Mainly: my time. I already gave up a lot of my time in my earlier career. I am not willing to give my time up to this new career because I’d rather be living and enjoying life.
I also understand that I am in a privileged and fortunate position. I can afford to turn down more money and lucrative positions. Others are not as fortunate and are working 2 and 3 jobs to get by. It’s not lost on me. Even when my wife and I were both in the Army we were not really affected by the recession. We had a steady income, free time and healthcare and other benefits that come with the military. We were/are not rich, but we were able to make some good financial decisions because we didn’t have to worry about paying for childbirth, a visit to the doctor, or any other thing that most Americans worry about.
For a long time now, I’ve focused my time and energy in sharing my story (my 3 year stint as an Army recruiter only reinforced this) with others and showing them the different possibilities out there. It doesn’t mean I convince individuals I speak with to join the Army. I share the little bit that I know about self-development and awareness and how to use that information in order to become a better person and professional so that you can find fulfillment in life. I share what’s worked for me and if that helps others, if I can help to guide someone along their path, that’s where I find true satisfaction. Not everyone takes the advice. The important part is to take action and find what works for you.
My motivating factor is not work. It is to help others. It is to live my life. To enjoy my family.
What’s my driving force now? It all revolves around family. My driving force is to watch my oldest son Anthony, now a college freshman, continue to develop into the man he is going to become. I was always hard on him – and continue to be – because of the potential I’ve always seen in him. I want him to fulfill that potential so that he can live a full life. I don’t want him to have regrets. My driving force is watching my youngest son, Javi, act crazy, and silly and see his personality flourish. He is so intelligent, but he’s also compassionate and has always cared for others. Always helped his classmates when he was done with his work. I guess that was that “team” concept I tried to instill in him. We are one race, one people. Let’s help each other out. Be kind to one another and understand our differences. I know, that’s a lot for a 10 year old to deal with, but that’s what I have taught him since he was young enough to understand those concepts. He’s got so much growing and learning left to do and I’m excited, and a bit scared, for what’s to come.
I’m excited for my kids. I’m also a little sad, because I know that it won’t be too long before they decide to move on and move out and start the next chapter of their lives. Without their mother or me. I hope that some of the lessons, the kindness and the tough love I sometimes gave helps them, even if in a miniscule way, become the best person they can.
What is my motivating force? Spending more time with my wife, Mhel. No longer are we separated due military training, deployment, or PCSing (moving from one military assignment to the next) 8 or 9 months apart.
As sad as the thought of my kids leaving makes me, it is also an exciting thought. I get to spend even more quality time with Mhel. We can get to know each other on an even deeper level and enjoy time. We always try to carve out “we time”, while trying to balance careers, kids and whatever life throws at us. That future where our kids are gone is still a few years away. I like to plan for the future, but live in the now. She is my now. What drives me is enjoying every moment that I have her in my life. No one can predict the future. I think if we could it would take the fun out of living life. Enjoying the possibilities with those I care about is what drives me and motivates me.
I know what drives me now and what has driven me in my previous phases, but still I am not sure, what drives – or hinders – others? Maybe the better question is “what keeps people from achieving their potential?”
Fear. While I am no psychologist, I’ve often wondered how someone with so much potential could let it all go to waste. At times it is easy to label that individual lazy, and sometimes, rightfully so. At other times the individual may be entitled or catered to. Maybe someone has always had an enabler – an individual to provide for them and their bad habits – instead of someone around to challenge them. One of the many things I am grateful for is having someone to push me to be better. There have been many individuals, from my stepfather, to past teammates, Soldiers and now my wife. She supports me when I take on new endeavors, but also challenges my thinking about others and helps me see things from a different perspective. She doesn’t shut me down, but she does provide constructive criticism and is always encouraging me. Again, I am lucky in that way. Not everyone has people in their lives that will challenge their ideas, while also encouraging them along the way. If there is no one there to encourage us, how are we to feel confident in ourselves? How do we overcome self-doubt without others believing in us? It is possible, but having supporters helps. In the same token, if there is no one there to challenge us, then how are we to grow? If no one is courageous enough to speak up then we will continue doing the same tired thing wondering why the results are not different.
While not having someone there to challenge you could possibly lead to lack of success or at the very least, not being forced to examining your mental models, I still think fear is a huge reason why some people don’t succeed. This fear may paralyze an individual and make it seem as though they are not driven. Fear of success, I believe, may be just as complicit as the fear of failure. Yes, it is scary to move away for a new job or leave one you’ve been in for years or start your own business. However, it is this fear of success that may stop some people from achieving the goals they set out to accomplish. Maybe they are scared that if they succeed in that new job then more will be expected of them. Maybe they are scared that – even though they received the promotion – they are not worthy and won’t do well. Maybe they are scared that continued success only places more expectations on them and they can’t – or don’t want to – deal with that kind of pressure.
I can understand the fear of failure. I can understand how this can easily paralyze someone from working through their goals. It is not an irrational fear. After all, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t fear… something. I can understand it because I have had those thoughts before: What happens if I don’t do well in this new position? Will I be demoted? What if the ecommerce business doesn’t work out? What if my website isn’t good enough? What if I don’t drive sales? Will moving to Cleveland be a mistake? Yea, those have popped through my head at some point in my life. However, I’ve always been of the mindset that opportunities don’t always come around twice, so if it’s something I want to pursue, I take it. It is that mindset that led me away from home to college, then to join the Army, then to leave the US and go to Korea – instead of switching assignments when I had the opportunity.
Now that same mindset has brought me to Cleveland. While not the sexiest of places, this is a place that I will learn to call home. I can live comfortably here, go watch sporting events in a recently “facelifted” downtown. I can afford to travel to the Bahamas, Hawaii or Spain because the cost of living is so low here. I have a world class hospital and medical care and one of the better VA Hospitals that my wife and I can attend. The schools and universities aren’t bad. My one fear about moving to Cleveland? That LeBron would leave one day. Seriously, the couple concerns I had were the harsh winters and the bad reputation that Cleveland has as, essentially, just being another Detroit. Yes, there are bad places here, but what city doesn’t have that?
I didn’t let my fear of 2 minor issues stop me from pursuing the opportunity that was presented to me in Cleveland. I still hear from people joking about me being in Cleveland. You know what’s not a joke? I don’t struggle here. I live a comfortable life. I think I know why.
I did not fear change. I did not fear the unknown. I did not fear a new beginning. All of the opportunities I mentioned above were all new or unknown challenges. Instead of staying in my comfort zone in Miami – around friends and family and places I’d known for years – I left to start fresh. Looking back now at how those I went to school with in Miami are faring, I know that leaving was the right choice. For as multicultural as Miami is, I had to expand my horizons beyond what that city had to offer. People around the world and around the country don’t have the same mindset as people in Miami. I wanted to experience something new and in order to do that I had to leave my comfort zone. Plus, damn Miami is expensive. I don’t want to pay $2,000 a month in rent for a terrible apartment in a not-so-safe neighborhood.
It is this constant need to want to escape my comfort zone that, in my opinion, has served me well. Once we stay in our comfort zone we are doomed to stop progressing. Even if I don’t continue to move upward in this corporate ladder, I will continue to learn. Continue to take on new projects in my current position. Continue to self-develop and help others do the same. That is how I stay relevant. That is how I stay out of my comfort zone. If we only stick to what we know and surround ourselves with people who agree with everything we say, we stop developing ideas worthy of discussion. How do we know if the idea we have is really great? If the plan we have is really solid? How do we know anything if all we have are “yes” people in our corner? No one challenging our views or providing a fresh perspective.
While fear – of change, failure and even success – may hold some back from achieving their full potential, I’ve harnessed the energy of those fears to continue to propel myself forward. To use a term from my running days when I did tempo runs, I put myself in a zone where the perceived effort I am exerting is “comfortably hard”. To take from my Army days, I became “comfortable being uncomfortable”. It took me a while to get there, but once I did, I found that this is where I make a lot of my gains. When put in the deep end you either have to sink or swim. I choose to always swim, regardless of how ugly it may look. OK, I think that is enough clichés for the day.
If you only take away one thing from this, I hope that it is that no matter what your fear, you won’t know if it is founded unless you take action. So, stop surrounding yourself with yes men and take action. Don’t just say you are going to do something. DO IT.
There is one other thing that keeps people from accomplishing anything: Laziness and complacency. If that is you, get off your ass and do something.