Thursday, February 26, 2009

Its The Pursuit Of Our Goals That Shapes Our Lives

A couple days ago, I mentioned that I had tried out for the Blue Angels three years in a row - each time to come up short. I told the story to highlight a point, but in the past couple days since that blog, I've gotten some feedback asking for more on the story.

So now, I will share my Blue Angel experience for a couple reasons. First, it was series of events that shaped who I have become, and how I look at failure. Second, by sharing the story, I hope to help others look at failure and commitment a bit differently.

As we all know from watching their amazing feats for years, the Blue Angels are a very elite flying team. But, just like everyone else, they are ordinary men and women with extraordinary focus and commitment to a shared vision. And in my opinion, they are the one of the best examples of pure Teamwork that exists. Which is why I wanted so badly to be on the team.

This might come as a surprise to you, but "Flying Skills" are not used as prerequisites to becoming a member of the team (although there is minimum flight times). In fact, the team prides itself in the fact that everything they do is actually just "basic" maneuvers that all Naval Aviators perform regularly (although not quite as close to each other - or the ground for that matter).

The Blue Angels truly live by the mantra that I try to teach to all my clients about hiring - "Hire for motivation and attitude, you can teach everything else."

As it turns out, my first real memory of Airplanes is my Granddad taking me to the Willow Grove Air Show. And no surprise here, the Blue Angels were the highlight of the day. It was nice to watch the other planes fly and to walk around the static display aircraft, but all I really wanted was to watch the Blue Angels. And to say that I was left in awe - is an understatement.

That was over 35 years ago. And I can still see the image in the mind like it was yesterday. It was a gift that I have cherished from my Grandfather to this day - and love that I was able to do the same with my children as well a few years back.

To boot, my other Grandfather, my Pop-pop, was given a "souvenir" Blue Angels Polo Shirt from NAS Pensacola when I first graduated from Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS). Although just the first step in a two year long training pipeline to wings, it was moment he was very proud of. My Mom-mom used to joke about how he wouldn't let that silly shirt sit in the dresser. As soon as she washed it, folded it and put it away, he would take it out and wear it again (sometimes even two to three days in a row). And as if just knowing that he loved that shirt that much wasn't enough, when my Pop-pop passed away in 1995, he was buried in the Blue Angel Polo Shirt that he was so proud to wear.

I give you this background, because I want you to know, that not only was I trying to become a Blue Angel, in some ways, I felt it was my destiny.

So, in 1995, I tried out for the Blue Angels for the first time. The process is both fun and very stressful. It revolves around attending Air Shows and meeting the team - both as a group and on a one-on-one basis. You get to sit in on their pre-flight briefs. And mingle with them at post-flight parties. But as fun as the parties are, when you want it as bad as I did, it was more work than anything else.

Well, I didn't make the team that first year. And needless to say, I was devastated. In many respects, it was my first real taste of "failure" in my life. The first thing that I really wanted - and didn't get. And it was a very hard pill to swallow. But one of the toughest parts is that they give you NO feedback on what you did right or wrong - it's up to you to "guess" at it.

In my heart, I knew what the problem was - what was missing. But I didn't want to believe it,- so I did nothing about it and tried again one year later.

The second year was a bit tougher for me. I had just gotten married and wasn't as committed to being on the team as I was the year before - and I'm sure it showed. It's a tough process when you are completely committed, but an agonizing one if you have any doubts at all. And again, for the second year in a row, I didn't get the call.

In the months that followed, I was able to do a lot of soul searching and in 1997, I committed myself completely to being on the team - or so I thought. And this year, I thought I even had an ace in the hole - my new boss, CDR "Hounddog" McClain (now RADM McClain), was an Ex-Blue Angel. He not only gave me great advice, but he also gave me a glowing endorsement. I thought for sure, I would get "the call" this time. But for the third and final year, the phone didn't ring.

So, in spite of all my desires, I would have to face the fact that I would never be a Blue Angel.

That was nearly 12 years ago.

For most of those years, I blamed the system and the members of the team for not giving me a chance. And it has just been in just the past 3-4 years, that I've really faced the truth, and accepted my responsibility for not making the team.

You see, the one thing I didn't tell you above is that while going through this process, I didn't yet have my Bachloer's Degree finished. Now, it's important to note that there is no "written" requirement for a Blue Angel to have a Bachelor's Degree, 99.9% of all pilots in the Navy did. And since I happened to have been part of that .1% not in the mainstream, I was not ever really considered in the running to be a member of the team. If they can choose from "anyone", why would they choose someone who doesn't represent the whole.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that if I had the degree, I would have made the team. But since I didn't have it, I know in my heart there was never any real chance. For years, I blamed others for not telling me and I thought it was unfair since there wasn't a "rule". But I knew. I didn't need for anyone to tell me. I had to accept responsibility that my inaction caused my current circumstance.

After accepting responsibility for my inaction, I then had to look back and come to grips with the fact that I didn't do my best. I didn't do "everything" I could have done to reach my dream. That's a hard realization for anyone to face. And I knew that if I didn't learn from it, it would all be in vane. So I had a choice to make - Was I going to dwell on the negative and live with regret, or was I going to make it a lesson that would shape the rest of my life.

I chose the later. I chose to take the lesson of "real commitment" and sink my teeth into creating the life that I want for myself and my family.

I still struggle with reaching the goals I set - just like everyone else. But I can promise you this - when it comes to creating a dream, I will do everything I can to make sure that I leave nothing undone. That doesn't mean they are going to happen - but it won't be without me giving 100%

So, I ask YOU, are you giving everything you have to your goals? Take a couple minutes today and think about it. And recommit yourself to the dreams you have. And share with me your Blue Angels story, I would love to hear it.


  1. Wow JJ - 1) to have gone out 3x in a a feat in itself - YEAH FOR YOU!

    2) to be in the position to even STRIVE for that...another amazing feat!

    3) to cowboy up and admit that you've been blaming others...HUGE!

    I respect this alot! And truthfully, the most priceless part is that you have those moments with your grandfather...those will go to your children, your children's children and beyond!

    You can't truthfully set results goals - only EFFORT goals and ACTION goals. Sometimes the results TRULY are up to someone else!

    Now...what's next?? What's worthy of that same effort?

    Carrie Wilkerson
    The Barefoot Executive

  2. Thanks for the comments. As I wrote this blog, I began to look at the whole process differently. I now look at my blog as much as a way to help others understand the power they have within themselves. But also as a way for me to capture some of the most powerful moments in my life and share them with those that care most about me.