Dan Newton – The Man Behind the Jersey

Life is all about the people we meet.

As an incoming freshman at Elk Grove High School, I remember seeing some upperclassmen wearing these cool baseball jerseys. I found out they were members of the Associated Student Body (ASB) team. It was at that moment I decided I wanted to wear one of those jersey. I wanted to wear that jersey because of the dedication, energy, and excellence that I saw from those who were wearing the jersey. I wanted to wear that jersey because those who wore it led by serving. And, I wanted to wear that jersey because they looked cool. I found out through my friends the man behind the jerseys – our student government adviser – was Mr. Dan Newton. I later learned first-hand that he was also the force behind the dedication, energy, and excellence.

One of my earliest encounters with Mr. Newton was when I ran for the Athletic Chair on ASB leading into my junior year. I lost. However, Mr. Newton called me in and discussed an open position as a School Board Representative. That second chance enabled me to spend my junior year working with a great team of juniors and seniors. My buddy Elliott and I were the sole guys on a team of twenty-four. Being a School Board Rep meant preparing speeches with my teammate Jamie by working with students, teachers, and our principal then delivering those speeches in front of the school board and community leaders. The public speaking and interaction with leaders of the community were priceless. So too were the incredible relationships that I formed both at Elk Grove and across the state of California with other young high school leaders.

Mr. Newton allowed us to make our own decisions as young leaders, which meant that there would inevitably be mistakes. I would like to say everything was perfect during my senior year as student body president, but I made my share of mistakes. We had an amazing team. We would discuss the choices and then the mistakes, and he would offer insight, wisdom, and ways to improve. Newt-Dogg never wanted us to fear trying something new or making a mistake. If we were putting forth our best effort, we had his complete support.

One of the best decisions we made as a leadership team was to purchase and implement the “Wisdom Minute” as part of the morning announcements. It was a short story with a quote and always ended with, “Make it a great day, or not. The choice is yours.” Mr. Newton brought the idea to our team then left it up to us to decide whether we wanted to move forward with it. We eventually decided to go for it and though at times it seemed cheesy, the Wisdom Minute became a fun and encouraging staple to our morning announcement. He presented us with an opportunity and then allowed us to make an adult decision.

Thank you, Mr. Newton, for your dedication, encouragement, life lessons, energy, and commitment to excellence. Please know that your spirit of selfless service lives on in the lives of your students who are spread out across the country and around the world. And thank you for the opportunity to learn from you and grow as a leader.

In Service,

David A. Brown-Dawson, 27 September 2017

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What Would You Do?

Life is all about the people we meet. Over the past few years an idea has been growing in my heart. It took time and friends to develop it into a tangible plan of action. It began with a simple idea: if I could do anything in the world, and money wasn’t a concern, what would I do? After reflecting, the answer was clear. I would get together with a group of friends, select issues from our communities, and work to solve them. (I would also be an astronaut; we’ll save that for another time.) Initially, it sounded a bit far-fetched and so I did not move forward with it. The passion behind this desire grew inside me and inside some friends while the divisiveness grew across our varying communities, it was clear that this initiative could wait no longer. Sitting on the sidelines is no longer an option. The first step to achieving this dream of working with friends, selecting issues that we are passionate about, and working towards tangible actions and solutions is simple: Assemble our team.

In the coming weeks, we will be introducing you to The DICE Initiative, or DICEi. We are a group of young leaders dedicated to collaborating and acting to improve our communities. At the heart of this team is service and the idea that we can do so much more together than we can separately. It’s not a new idea, but it is one that we as a society tend to disregard at times. It is exciting to see how the people I have met thus far in my life have led me to this point. And I am ecstatic when I envision the many new people I will meet, interact with, collaborate with, and hopefully help in the coming months and years.

I am unsure how far we will go with this initiative, and I am energized by the possibilities. I understand this will take time. The hope is our team will grow organically as we build authentic relationships with the many young leaders who we connect with and who join DICEi. This may not be the perfect solution, which is okay. It will improve as we move forward. I believe we can affect positive change by bringing leaders from diverse communities and professions together that may not have otherwise connected with each other. This diversity of knowledge and experience, focused through a unity of purpose will enable us to have meaningful collaborations and lasting improvements.

I welcome you to follow us on this journey to improve our communities and our world, one collaboration at a time. Lastly, I will pose the question to you: If you could do anything in the world, and money wasn’t a concern, what would you do?

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 8 September 2017

Rich, John, and a Tale of Two Acronyms

Life is all about the people we meet. During my first few weeks on active duty, I was told that I would be the new ADR OIC. I knew what OIC stood for (Officer-in-Charge), but had no idea what ADR was. (Airfield Damage Repair.) My buddy gave me some places to look for information and the names of two gentlemen who were ADR subject matter experts. After reading up on the basics of the process, I called one of the guys, Rich, and he told me to come on over and we would discuss it. Over the ensuing two hours, they proceeded to explain the entire process to me and answer all my questions, no matter how basic or outlandish. I walked out of the office feeling confident and excited about my new position.

Over the next year and a half in that position, I had the honor and opportunity to work with Navy Seabees, Marine combat engineers, and Japanese Air Self-Defense Force engineers. I am grateful for the foundation that was built during those first two hours with Rich and John. I made mistakes during the training scenarios but I have no doubt that many errors were avoided as a result of our conversation and their investment in me.

I shared this story at my going away celebration and I share it now because the experience left a lasting impact on me and reinforced some valuable lessons: one, I do not know everything. Two, I need to do my own research and put effort in to see if I can figure things out.  Three, if I am willing to admit that I do not know everything and ask questions, people will go above and beyond to help me. This is the approach that I take to learning and life. And this was the perfect lesson to begin my military career and set the foundation of my professional leadership and learning style. Time and time again over the last three years, this same process has played out with other teammates and they have stepped up to help me problem solve and produce the best product. It is amazing that people have been so willing to take time out of their days to invest in me, mentor me, and grow me as a young leader.

My goal is to pay it forward to others in a similar fashion.

Rich and John, thank you for taking time out to invest in me. And thank you for your service. I truly appreciate it.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 7 August 2017

Room for Improvement

The fear of failure often does more damage than failure itself.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to share my post regarding potential on Facebook. After doing so, my buddy Derik reached out to let me know what he thought of the post and to let me know there was a typo… in the first sentence. He even took a screenshot of it to help me out. First, I am very thankful to have friends that are willing to read what I am writing, reach out, and provide constructive criticism to help me improve. Admittedly, I was disappointed in the mistake and immediately went to the post to fix it. However, because it was in the first sentence, it showed up right below the title of the post as it was shared on Facebook (it’s still there, see for yourself). This experience was both humbling and encouraging.

Humbling: It served as a reminder that I have a lot of work to do on my writing and editing abilities.

Encouraging: It was a reminder that I have a lot of room for improvement and growth in my writing and editing abilities.

The ideas sound the same and they are definitely connected. At the heart of it is this: my writing journey is a process. And as such, I am going to make mistakes and fail as I continue to write (and I will continue to write). This mistake would not have been made, and I would not have faced the disappointment and embarrassment had I decided not to post anything. Same thing can be said about a basketball player missing a shot. They won’t face the disappointment of missing the shot if they decide not to shoot. However, they know three things. One, in order to score, they have to shoot and be willing to risk missing.  Two, missing is part of the game. Three, the way to become a better basketball player is to go to the court and start dribbling and shooting.

A quick aside: there is definitely value in watching game film- learning strategy, best practices, and what you can do better. But that means nothing if you never try and implement what you are learning by stepping on the court and practicing (dribbling and shooting). In that same line, I can read as many books and watch as many videos on writing and editing as I want. But I will not become a better writer if I do not actually write.

Here’s the point: life is all about perspective and choices. You can choose to view each grammatical error or mistake in life as a failure and beat yourself up over it. Or, you can recognize that mistakes are part of the process, learn from them, and implement what you learned in order to improve.

I hope you choose to pursue your potential and whatever you are passionate about, understanding that mistakes (and failure) are part of the process. Make it a great life, or not. The choice is yours.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 17 June 2017

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

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