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

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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

Parents

Love your parents. We are so busy growing up, we often forget they are also growing old.

-Unknown

Last week was Mother’s Day and although I did not post anything specifically about my mom, I had the opportunity to actually video chat with her for about 30 minutes. Since that conversation, I have been thinking a lot about my family and specifically about my parents. I remembered the above quote and it has been in my head and on my heart.

One of my most memorable times was the summer of 2014, when I was back home living with my parents and little sister, surrounded by all of my immediate family. I had just finished my congressional internship in Washington, D.C. and I was working as a quality assurance engineer as I waited to come on active duty. I distinctly remember late night conversations with my dad while cleaning out the garage in which we talked about our family history, his youth in West Africa, and his early years in America. I understood in those moments just how important that time with him was; I gained a better understanding of my dad and what he has been through. The more I learn about my dad, the more I realize he is human, and the more in awe of him and his story I become.

My mom and I shared some serious, some funny, and some seriously funny conversations while cooking in the kitchen and on days she would come home from a tough day and still be down to talk. It was during these times that I learned more about my mom and her experiences when she was at university in London and trying to figure things out as a young adult. I counted myself blessed for these moments of candor in which she passed on knowledge and wisdom, some of which I would only come to appreciate in the months after I had left for Japan. Upon leaving for Japan, my mom gave me a notebook in which she had written pieces of advice and motherly wisdom for my upcoming journey. People say “mothers know” and I truly believe that my mom knew that I would need some penned words of encouragement and love to draw on during my first few months overseas.

If your parents are no longer alive, I am sorry for your loss. If you still have your parents or a parent, call them as much as possible. Never forget that while you are working on your career and focused on building your life, they are getting older. Even as I say this, I know I need to be more diligent in heeding this piece of advice. Full disclosure: I have not called them since talking to her and my younger sister last weekend. I plan on talking to them this weekend though, count on it.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 19 May 2017

“Fill Me Up”… Go All In

Over the past couple weeks one song has been playing repeatedly in my head. “Fill Me Up” by Tasha Cobb (that may not be the original, but it is the first version I heard). That said, this weekend the song hit me in a major way.

“If you provide the fire, I’ll provide the sacrifice.” This line has been on my heart and mind all weekend. To me, it is a commitment from the writer that if God provides the opportunity, they will do whatever it takes to maximize the opportunity. This was a conviction for me- God is providing many opportunities, but am I taking advantage of them? Am I sacrificing my time, energy, comfort for my purpose? The obvious answer for me was no. The better response is “why not?”

Complacency, laziness, loss of perspective (focusing on short-term rather than long-term). These were some of my immediate answers.

I’ve been working, but I haven’t taken it to the next level. I haven’t been sacrificing. That changes now.

Whether you have a relationship with God or not, this song is about knowing what your purpose is and then working harder than you have ever worked before in line with that purpose. It’s about bringing everything you have to the table. And working. And working. Not stopping when you are tired, not stopping when you want to go out. It takes me back to when I was in college and listening to Dr. Eric Thomas. He said, “If you don’t have a 4.0, what you need to be doing is studying.” I took that message to heart and was completely dialed in that semester; I don’t think it was a coincidence that that was the one semester I achieved a 4.0.

My challenge to whoever is reading is this: take some time to determine what your purpose is. Decide what you are passionate about. Then go all in. Use every tool in your toolbox and get to work.

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

Mr. W and Forgotten History Fridays

I would like to introduce you to Mr. W and his AP US History class. I invite you to accompany him and his students on their journey to learn about history outside of their textbooks.

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“Who can tell me about the Slocum Massacre?” Mr. W asked to an eager classroom. His 11th grade students were now sitting up in their seats in anticipation of another “Forgotten History Friday”. The last few minutes of class each week had become a weekly tradition- a chance for the students to learn another piece of history that was not found in their textbooks. Some weeks the lessons were funny, other weeks inspiring. Today though, the students had a sense of dread as Mr. W asked the question, his ominous tone giving a hint of the lesson to come.

“Something bad?” Jenny asked, hesitantly. This garnered a low rumble of laughter from the class, though this was more reserved than normal and it was obvious no one had heard of this event. This did not surprise Mr. W. Unfortunately, he was used to this event being unknown or purposely forgotten over the years. He took a deep breath and started slowly, as this was one lesson he did not want his pupils to take lightly.

“Yes, Jennifer. You are correct. In the first decade of the 20th century, there grew a community of African-Americans in a city in East Texas, named Slocum.” At this last statement, a groan passed through the classroom, the loudest one coming from Max. He was the class president, class clown, and secretly one of Mr. W’s favorite students. His intelligence was matched by his heart and desire to learn. But, he had just interrupted Mr. W’s lesson which warranted him one of Mr. W’s notoriously harsh inquiries. “Care to explain, Maximus?”

“No Sir, I’ll let you tell it. My apologies.” Max tried to hide his growing frustration by being overly polite.

“Well, don’t hold it in. If you have something to say, share it with the class.” Mr. W. replied, in a more encouraging tone.

“I don’t want to ruin your lesson but early 1900’s in Texas, a majority black community, and the title of the story is the town’s name, Slocum, Massacre. I mean, if I had to guess, I’d say something happened between the black people of Slocum and white people from another town and the black people- either all or most- were slaughtered by the white people. And because we’ve never heard of it, no one was probably ever actually punished for it. It was swept under the rug of atrocities that are no longer spoken of. And those families…” Max’s speech had quickened and at this, his voice was starting to rise. Rather than stop him, Mr. W decided to let him finish his thought. “…Those families probably left their homes, lost their belongings; lost their fathers, brothers, sisters, and mothers. Nobody ever paid reparations and I am willing to bet that no one can or will really say how many people were ACTUALLY killed during this horrendous event.”

The other students in Mr. W’s 11th grade AP US History class were in stunned silence, looking from Max to Mr. W and back to Max. This wasn’t the first time Mr. W had decided on a tough topic for “Forgotten History Friday” and over the course of the year, the students had become more willing to tackle the tough topics head on. This deduction from Max was yet another reason why Mr. W enjoyed having the young leader in his class.

Mr. W wanted Max’s words to sink in with his classmates, yet he knew those same students were waiting on his validation. With a sad, yet relieved look on his face, Mr. W. finally broke the silence. “Yes class, Maximus is correct on all accounts.” Chatter started immediately, as the students tried to process what they had just heard. Knowing that more questions would follow, Mr. W. tried to calm everyone down. “Alright class, would you like to know the full story?” A unanimous “yes” arose in response. Mr. W proceeded to explain the events that led up to July 29, 1910 in Slocum, Texas.

He described the largely African-American town 100 miles east of Waco, which even had some black-owned businesses. The opposing sentiments of adulation amongst the black community and disbelieving anger amongst the white community after Jack Johnson (an African-American) had defeated James Jeffries (a white man) in the heavy weight world championship. He told the class that that fight was a topic worthy of its own Friday. The lingering bad feelings after a white man tried to collect a disputed debt from a well-respected black citizen. The tipping point for a prominent white citizen coming when a black man was put in charge of gathering people for a road improvement project.

To ensure this stuck with his class, Mr. W quoted from an article discussing the incident, “Rumors spread, warning of threats against Anglo citizens and plans for race riots. White malcontents manipulated the local Anglo population and, on July 29, white hysteria transmogrified into bloodshed.” As he paused for a moment, he noticed the color had been drained from some of his students’ faces.

“Transmogrify?” Benjamin asked quietly, breaking the silence that had swept over the classroom.

“To transform in a surprising or magical matter.” Ade answered, even her normally chipper voice subdued.

“Nothing magical about this.” Geoffrey retorted, his carefree attitude evaporated like water on a hot summer day in West Texas.

Mr. W knew these were tough stories- egregious events- for teenagers to hear. But they were old enough and deserved to know that not everything about this beautiful country was pure and perfect. He went on to tell them about the two-day event in which, according to William Black, Sheriff at the time, “Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them, and so far as I was able to ascertain, without any real cause. I don’t know how many were in the mob, but there may have been as many as 200 or 300.”

He discussed the 150 African-American ministers that penned a letter to President Taft imploring him to act, and the response from the attorney general. He finished with the trial- no one was ever prosecuted or held accountable. Understanding he may have taken it a bit too far- some students looking sick to their stomachs- Mr. W. wanted to bring everything together before the dismissal bell released his students for the extended weekend.

“You may be wondering why I decided on telling you about this event in history this week. One, it’s history that has been buried and forgotten; unfortunately, some of the recent events have caused me to appreciate the famous quote, ‘those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.’ Two, I want you to understand the significance of this event. In other towns in that region black people make up on average 20 percent of the population; in Slocum, it’s around 7 percent. And lastly, I agree with what is inscribed on the bottom of the historical marker commemorating the event and those lives lost: ‘Only by shining a light on previous injustices can we learn from them and move toward a future of greater healing and reconciliation’. “

He paused, making eye contact with each one of his students. “We need to be aware of the horrendous events that have happened in our country over the years or we will be lulled into a false sense of security instead of continuing to work together to make this a more perfect union, obtaining true equality for all people.”

As if the school bell had decided to let Mr. W impart some final wisdom on his pupils, it rang right as the last syllable sounded. “Have a wonderful weekend, class! Do your own research. And don’t forget your history.” For once, Mr. W was sure this last statement would hold true.

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I hope that from this first episode you understand my purpose behind Forgotten History Fridays. Though the characters are my own creation, the Slocum Massacre is an actual historical event. Any thoughts or constructive feedback is welcome.

-David A. Brown-Dawson, 11 March 2017