Potential Choices

“Our potential is one thing. What we choose to do with it is quite another.” – Angela Duckworth, author of Grit 

This week I had the honor of presenting scholarships on behalf of the Society of American Military Engineers to two members of the graduating class of 2017. I have been very encouraged over the past couple weeks as I have talked to middle school and high school students and learned what they are passionate about and what they want to do after high school.

As I was sitting in the audience listening to the other scholarships be given out (many of them to these same two individuals), a quote popped into my head from Angela Duckworth’s book Grit. “Potential is one thing. What we choose to do with it is quite another.” In the opening pages, she offers the above quote as the “fundamental insight that would guide [her] future work…” I offered it to the graduating class, myself, and anybody listening as a call to action.

I remember eight years ago being in their shoes and having people tell me that I had potential. And that potential would have gone to waste if I had not been willing to put in the work necessary to realize a portion of that potential at the end of college: graduating with an engineering degree and commissioning into the Air Force.

This quote has been burning a fire in me since the first day I read it. Because at any given moment in life, I have an unknown amount of potential. If I choose not to improve each day, I am choosing not to live my life to its fullest potential. And that is when I am reminded of the quote from Pastor Steven Furtick: “The pain of falling short is nothing compared to the shame of stopping short… Most of us have far more in us than we are currently using.”

One of my biggest motivators is the thought of reaching the end of my life and having God show me what I could have done – the people I could have helped – if I had lived in my purpose and to my fullest potential. And that drives me. So to anybody out there that comes across this writing, regardless of your age, I leave you with this: Potential is one thing. What you choose to do with it is quite another. You can wake up every morning determined to make improvements in the pursuit of your potential, or you can let that potential and all the good that could have come from it dry up, like a raisin in the sun. Make it a great life, or not. The choice is yours.

– David A. Brown-Dawson, 2 June 2017

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Step Back to Move Forward

2017 is flying by. A lot is happening and in the next few months even more will take place. It’s normal to get caught up in the grind or lose focus at times on your goals and objectives. When that happens, it is important to take a step back, revisit your purpose for doing what you are doing, take a deep breath, and then move forward. That is what the last week has been for me. At first I was disappointed that I wasn’t moving forward, I wasn’t shipping. Then I stopped, realized I just needed to refocus, and took some time to do just that. And now: forward with focus.

I’m thankful for modern technology and being able to lean on the wisdom of some of the people that I have met through podcasts and their books. This week, it has been John Maxwell, Simon Sinek, and Jim Collins.

In his discussion on the EntreLeadership Podcast, John Maxwell describes his day with legendary coach John Wooden. Hearing a legendary teacher speak about another legendary teacher who he looks up to was fascinating. Hearing how he meticulously prepared for his meeting with Coach Wooden was both impressive and educational. In addition, one of the questions he asks people he meets (and the way he was introduced to Coach Wooden) was “who do you know that I should know?” That simple question can change lives and speaks to the heart of this project; we never know how our lives may change because of the people we meet.

I have been a Simon Sinek fan from the first time I watched his “Start with Why” TEDTalk a few years ago. His perspective and willingness to understand and challenge common approaches to leadership (and life) have been inspiring. I have gained so much from his interviews and speeches; I believe he is one of the premier leadership gurus of this time.

I purchased Jim Collins’ Good to Great and read it a few months ago. I remember listening to him read via his audiobook and having the actual book open in front of me to underline those lessons and values that popped out. It has stayed close as I have been working on my projects as a guide; there are numerous underlined sentences and notes that I have written in the margins.

The bottom line is this: life is all about the people you meet. Sometimes you meet them in person, and I do hope to meet each of these three gentlemen in person. Sometimes you meet them through the words they have written or the speeches they have delivered. And sometimes you meet them through interviews and impromptu conversations they have been a part of.  This week, these three gentlemen deposited knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration in me when I needed it most. And I am very appreciative.

If you have met these three men (four including Coach Wooden) in person or via another avenue, then you probably share my sentiment. If not, I hope you take some time to do so; they may change your life.

One final question from me to you:

Who do you know that I should know?

 

In Service,

David A. Brown-Dawson, 27 May 2017

Catching Up. Catch up. Ketchup.

“There is so much good work to be done and purpose to pursue that I do feel like I am chasing my goals and dreams. It’s time to catch up.” -David A. Brown-Dawson

Catching up. The past few weeks have been a blur. Let me correct that- the past few weeks have been eventful yet clear. “A blur” implies that time sped by with no real focus. That could not be further from the truth. I have traveled around this island and up to Tokyo with my sister, I have traveled to and around Bangkok with my buddy, and I have solo-journeyed through Siem Reap and Hanoi, meeting caring and vibrant people all along the way. I have had a meeting about an initiative with friends and I have had a conversation with a man who has become a mentor. And through all of it, I have been itching to share these events and encounters with the hope that my stories may help someone, or at the very least bring them some laughter and a smile.

I knew taking a vacation would be nice, but getting back to work would be difficult. And I was right. It took me about a week to feel like I was back in it and contributing again. It took me two weeks to get back on my meal prep and workout plan. However, this vacation gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate the projects that I am working on and make sure that my heart and mind are in the right place. It also showed me how passionate I am about these projects and that I am: on the right track, willing to be rejected, excited to spread the idea, amazed by God’s timing, ready to move forward.

My brother on this island gave me a gift. He may or may not realize its impact on me. This book spoke to my soul, my insecurities, my core. And as I turned the pages, I knew it was time. Time to ship. Consistently. Frequently. Always ship. And then reality set in and I almost fell back into the trap. I keep that book close to me, to call on in times of doubt and inaction. I literally shipped a copy to my brother and got another copy for a close friend. I don’t know if it will have the same effect on them as it has on me. I hope it does.

It’s interesting because a conversation with my dad led me to the same conclusion. It was reinforcement of what the book talked about. Or maybe the book was reinforcing what my parents have been praying for in my life. Either way, I am glad for both the insight and call to action from the book, and the wisdom, love, and call to action that my dad shared with me during our conversation. My action, or lack thereof, is what has me feeling the need to catch up.

Catching up. In the summer of 2008, I was preparing for my senior year in high school as the student body president, trying to decide which colleges I would apply to, practicing with my team for the upcoming football season, and attending various leadership events. One of those events was California Boys State. This week-long experience was an experiment in civics and leadership. It was an incredible experience in which I had the privilege to interact with guys who were leaders in their own schools and who have already accomplished some extraordinary things. I had the chance to speak with one of these friends last week, for the first time in a few years. Just the fact that we could hold a conversation after years of limited communication was a positive. After listening to what he has been doing the last few years and where his heart is, I was encouraged (to say the least). It is just one example of catching up with people that I have not talked to in a while and being excited about where life is taking them.

Talking to someone you were once close with after an extended period of no direct communication is enlightening. I mean, we can still see the major events from social media but that’s only a portion of the person. Even when I post the pictures from my trip across SE Asia, I am not going to post a picture (nor do I think you would want me to) of the day I got food poisoning as I was leaving Cambodia and was down for my first 24 hours in Vietnam. See, we post pictures and people conclude that everything is perfect because that is what we allow them to see. When we have authentic conversations, we get to hear the heart of the person we are speaking with; we have a better opportunity of hearing what it is they care about, what they want to do, what they are concerned about. I think it’s important to take some time each week to catch up with someone. That’s one of my goals. To catch up.

Catching up. Catch up. Ketchup. I couldn’t write a piece so closely tied to ketchup without spending a few lines on my favorite condiment. While BBQ sauce has been gaining ground and sesame seed dressing is a recent addition to the top five, ketchup is still out in front. I actually have a shirt that reads, “I put ketchup on my ketchup”. I was ecstatic when Whataburger released that spicy ketchup when I was in college. I had a friend tell me that if food is seasoned well it does not need a condiment. And while that may be true, even the best-seasoned French fries will be dipped into ketchup (or maybe BBQ sauce) if I get my hands on them.

-David A. Brown-Dawson

Happy Tears – 10 Reasons

I wrote this article in the days following President Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016. In light of his time as President and Commander-in-Chief coming to an end, punctuated with his Farewell Address, I figured I’d share my thoughts from a few months ago. While there were a few edits that I wanted to make as I reread the words, I chose to leave the words as I originally wrote them. Here it is:


I shed tears watching President Obama address the nation at the Democratic National Convention. These were happy tears. And here’s why:

  1. Seeing the leader of our nation speak so optimistically yet realistically about the current status and future of our nation is refreshing. Being outside of the country, a lot of what I see with regards to the news is negative and disheartening. And I’ll be honest, the events of the past few weeks had me down. However, our overwhelming response to come together as a nation, to love, and to pray with each other during tough times convinces me that while some may use our differences to divide, it is our acceptance and celebration of our differences that make us THE UNITED States of America.
  2. Seeing an African-American man, the son of an African man and an American woman, in the highest office in America and the leader of the free world, is a powerful thing for me as a young African-American man to see. It is hard to put into words and I may not succeed, but I’ll try. Representation is very important. When I, as a young minority, see a minority (man or woman) in a position of authority and in the highest position of national service, suddenly nothing seems impossible. Nothing seems unreachable with hard work.
  3. While he may have been passing the political torch to Hillary Clinton, it felt like he was passing the torch of leadership and service off to me, and other young men and women like me. We are at a critical time in our country’s history. As he prepares to leave office it seems that he wants to ensure that just as he has tried to improve the nation and set up our generation for success, we are ready and willing to accept the immense task that lies ahead.
  4. The speech made me think of all the amazing people I have met, the great friends I have made, the teachers and coaches that I have learned from over the years. From all ethnicities and backgrounds. It made me reflect on just how blessed I have been throughout my life and how blessed I have been to have lived my life in the United States of America.
  5. He has had to endure a lot and has been in the spotlight over the last 12-plus years and he has been an upstanding citizen. I learned a long time ago not to put people on a pedestal; instead, take the character traits and actions that you admire while understanding that everyone is human. I believe he has chosen to hold himself to the highest standard because he understands how many people look up to him.
  6. He loves his children. My dad is my superman and to see the love that President Obama shows to his children and when speaking about them, reminds me of the love my dad has continually shown me and my siblings over the years.
  7. He loves and respects his beautiful, intelligent, and driven wife. The relationship between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (who has not aged a day in the last eight years!) is one of friendship, partnership, and love. Knowing that it has not been a perfect marriage, but it looks to be an enduring one- built on a firm foundation- is encouraging. I have seen this love in my own parents growing up and it is beautiful to see it reflected in the leadership of our country.
  8. President Barack Obama has helped forge a path in the road for young black men like me to believe that serving this country in any capacity and at every level is possible. I know he was not the first black senator (Senator Hiram Revels, 1870) or the first black man to be fit for the office of the presidency. Those who are around my age and children across the nation have grown up knowing that any position and every position can be held by a person depending on their character and merit and not the color of their skin. We are getting ever so close to truly realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream that we would “not be judged by the color of [our] skin, but by the content of [our] character”.
  9. In a time when many of the black men held in high regard are athletes and musical artists, men like President Obama, General Colin Powell, Lieutenant General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., Dr. Eric Thomas, and many others show that there are other ways for black men to contribute to society. I mean no disrespect to black athletes and musicians as I know that many of them do tremendous work within their communities. What I mean is that while it’s cool to see a black man known as arguably the most athletic person to step on the court, it is also cool to see a black man with abilities that extend beyond the court. Into the courtroom. And the operating room. And the board room.
  10. I have full confidence in this nation that I love and have dedicated my life to. While there is still work to be done to realize true social justice and true racial equality, we have come so far in the last few decades. We as the current young leaders have the capacity and responsibility to continue and complete the work that those before us started. The progress made shows the tenacity of America and what can be accomplished when we respect each other, listen to each other, and work together to make this a more perfect union.

My hope is that I was able to convey why I am so inspired by Barack Obama. He is my president. He is my Commander-in-Chief. And he looks like me. He looks like us. My heart is full. May God Bless the United States of America.

Signed,

A young man who firmly believes in his country and who truly believes that anything is possible.

David A. Brown-Dawson, 30 July 2016


 

May God continue to bless the United States of America.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 14 January 2017

Three Years In

Three Years In

Three years ago, I was graduating and commissioning from Texas Tech University. I knew where I was going to be stationed and part of what I would be doing until I came on active duty. However, even then I could not have imagined all the amazing people that I would meet, relationships I would form, and memories I would make. The last three years have been a period of decisions that led to growth, life lessons that led to maturity, and an abundance of experiences that have left me with cherished memories. In appreciation for the last three years and in anticipation for the next three years- where life will take me, who I will get to meet, who I will get to work with, and who I will be able to spend more time with- I would like to take some time to reflect.

I remember graduation day like it was yesterday, and my family and friends that came to Lubbock to celebrate with me. I remember getting emotional as I was taking it all in (I may have sweat a bit from my eyeballs). It was a truly humbling and encouraging experience. In addition to my immediate family, there were aunts and uncles, God-parents – people who knew me from the time I was a baby. I remember Chancellor Kent Hance’s “Dream No Little Dream” message and him saying “I looove Texas Tech!” I remember thinking about where the next couple weeks after graduation would take me- from Texas to California, to Florida for a football tournament, and then to Washington, D.C. to begin my internship with Congressman Sam Johnson. I was full of excitement and energy to continue my journey and see who I would meet next.

My time in DC was incredible, as I have alluded to previously. My time back home with my family was much-needed. And my experience living overseas has been an amazing. My time in the military has shown me just what can be accomplished when a group of people have a common mission and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. I have been blessed with leadership who passed along their wisdom and experience while imparting in me attributes of a well-rounded leader. I have had coworkers (enlisted, civilians, and officers) who have encouraged me and taught me more than they may know. And I have been blessed with family and friends that have looked out for me, prayed for me, and checked in on me when I needed it most.

All that to say this: the last three years have been a whirlwind of learning, growing, and improving. I know I have much more to improve upon, much more to learn, and much more growth ahead. With that will inevitably come mistakes and setbacks. I am encouraged by the strides I have made over the past few years, thanks in large part to the people I have been around. Thus, I am excited about the next three years of my life- the knowledge I will gain, the experiences I will have, and the people I will meet.

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of your life, count your blessings, and set some new goals. Appreciate each 24-hour opportunity you receive, and make the most of it. I wish you the best as we finish 2016 and enter 2017.

Merry Christmas and may God bless you.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 15 December 2016

Congressman Sam Johnson – A True American Patriot (Part 1)

In the fall of 2013 I was in my final undergraduate semester, finishing up Air Force ROTC, and working in Texas Tech University’s Office of Research and Commercialization led by then-Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington. This job afforded me the opportunity to see the great work that was being done across TTU’s campuses and learn about the various ways research is commercialized and tracked. I received an email about a program that Texas Tech offered- the President’s Congressional Internship. One of my co-workers Chelsea, had participated in the program a couple years before and told me how amazing it was. Knowing of my interest in public service and that I was heading toward commissioning, she suggested that I apply and if possible work for the Congressman she worked for- Congressman Sam Johnson.

With the help and encouragement of some people I will introduce later, things worked out very well and in the spring of 2014 I had the honor of interning in Washington, D.C. for Congressman Johnson of Texas. I could not have asked for a better man to serve under. Congressman Johnson is a retired Air Force colonel and pilot who flew in Vietnam and Korea. He was shot down over Vietnam (which resulted in a broken arm and back), spent over six years as a prisoner of war (enduring torture and spending over three years in solitary confinement), and returned home with honor (to his wife and three children). That in and of itself makes him a hero. The fact that he decided to continue serving after he was released, and then followed up his military service by faithfully serving his country as a United States Congressman is amazing.

Sam Johnson is a true American hero, and one of the reasons that I decided to start this project. I want to acknowledge the individuals who have had an immense impact on my life. Sam Johnson taught me that there are still humble patriots willing to do whatever it takes to leave their country and their world a better place. In his book, Captive Warriors, he discusses the political atmosphere surrounding that time frame and its impact on military readiness. Most importantly to me, he also discussed how his faith in God, his love for his family, and his belief in his country got him through the over three years of solitary confinement that he was forced to endure. Let me stop for a moment… over 36 months; over 1,050 days spent locked away from family, friends, wingmen, and under austere conditions. I could not have asked for a better man to have worked for during those crucial months between commissioning into the Air Force and entering active duty.

Prior to working for Congressman Johnson, I never fully understood or accepted when someone would say “Thank you for your service”. However, after my time in his office and reading his book, I recognized that they weren’t necessarily thanking me, they were thanking those men (like Congressman Johnson) and women on whose shoulders I stand.

Final Note

One of my first days on Kadena Air Base, I decided to pay the gym a visit. I was shocked and encouraged to see that the gym is named after one of the men Congressman Johnson served with during his time as a P.O.W.- Brigadier General James Robinson “Robbie” Risner. Congressman Johnson wrote of Gen. Risner in his book; of his devotion to his fellow warriors, of his leadership, of his loyalty.

Thank you Congressman Johnson for your continued service, your humble spirit, and your selfless sacrifice.

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 4 May 2016

The People We Meet – My Why

Life is all about the people we meet. Throughout my first quarter century of life, I have met many amazing people- some I have known since birth while others I only interacted with for a few minutes. I am convinced that I would not be where I am today if not for each of those individuals with whom I crossed paths. My early life experiences have reinforced how vital and valuable real relationships are and that you never know from where they will stem. In my research and reflection, I have found that many times people do not realize the true impact they have had on someone’s life until it is too late- the tradition is to thank them at their funeral. In the words of one artist “people never get their flowers while they can still smell them”. I want to change that.

This project is to show appreciation to those who have impacted my first 25 years of life and to show my gratitude to God for placing the right people in my life at the appropriate time, though I must admit I did not always realize this during some of those moments. This project will by its nature give you some insight into the people closest to me and possibly revealing personal weaknesses. At first I did not like this idea and it may well be the reason I have been putting this project off. However, I now realize that it is more important to acknowledge and show appreciation to the people who have helped me get to where I am (and by no means do I feel as if I have “made it”) than it is to worry about possibly divulging information (read: embarrassing stories) that may be used against me in the future.

In the ensuing posts I will tell you about some of the people that have left a lasting impact on me over the years. I challenge you in turn to share some of the people who have made those lasting impacts on your life. Perhaps the most important part of this project is a challenge as much for me as for you: write a letter to those people who have impacted you (your “impactors”) and tell them thank you. Lastly, I am truly curious as to what your thoughts are and what happens when you reach out to thank your impactors. If you feel so inclined, please share your experiences- after all, we are all experiencing this life together and perhaps we have some common impactors.

There’s a saying: be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Here’s my modified version: be kind and open, the people you meet may change your life forever.

I am humbled, honored, and excited that you have chosen to go on this journey with me. Shall we?

 

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 3 May 2016