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The power of planning: goals vs. desires

Randy Marshall, Ph.D.

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Planning is the master key that unlocks sound strategy and ultimately a realistic vision. The problem comes in defining what a goal is as the central part of the planning process. Many financial advisors operate with the wrong perspective, and there is a huge difference between a goal and a desire. The difference centers on what we can control and what we cannot. Marshall outlines a clear three-month plan that increases outward productivity and gives inner peace. Knowing the difference between a goal and a desire has saved careers and given many advisors a new lease on why they do what they do.

The toughest decision that I know in terms of life decisions is to try to figure out whether to let go or to hang on to something. The toughest decision I know, whether it’s a relationship, a project, or even a career path, is to know whether to let go of it or to hang on to it. The reason I believe that, as far as a life decision is concerned, is because there are two competing voices that everybody would have. One voice says, Where’s your faith? Keep on keeping on. Don’t quit. Persevere. Hang in there. And that’s a good voice. We’ve heard messages on that. There’s a kernel of truth in that message. But there’s another voice that says, loud and clear, Where’s your wisdom? If the horse is dead, get off the horse. If it’s not working here, go fish somewhere else. Faith versus wisdom. The toughest choice I know. That’s a life decision. And everybody faces it every single day.

There’s a second decision that is a business decision. Everyone knows perfectly well that in order to make it to the next level of your business, you’ve got to have three things. And after 22 years of working with 20,000 agents and advisors, I’ve come to the conclusion that the people who make it to the top of this industry encompass these three things. They have drive. Whatever it takes, I’ll do it. They have passion. At the heart of what you do, you love it. Not everything, the heart of it, you love it. And you have focus. The ability to say no. Say it kindly to remember you’ve said it and to follow through on it. Drive, passion, and focus. That’s what everyone needs.

But there is an enemy out there, and the enemy basically goes like this. It’s the enemy within us that has the three things that are the antidote to where we want to go. And that would be fear of the future, anxiety of the present, and guilt from the past. The anchors of my soul that continually mark me. We want drive, passion, and focus. But oftentimes fear, the core emotion in all of us, leads to a sense of stress or worry about paying the bills and getting the job done, the kids acting out and the car falling apart, etc. Life 101. There’s a sense of worry on everybody’s heart. And then there’s a sense of inability to focus. All of us want to be a river, like the Colorado that cuts deeply and forms the Grand Canyon. We don’t want to be a swamp. It covers a lot of territory, lacks depth, and is known for dead things.

How in the world do you answer those two questions? Let go or hang on. And have more drive, passion, and focus in your life than fear, anxiety, and guilt. How do you do that?

What I’d like to do in this presentation is to give you one principle. Not a baker’s dozen, not 13 principles that are difficult to remember because you’ve already heard a lot of speakers this week who have given you a lot of information, and probably outstanding information. But what I’d like to do is give you one principle that, I promise you, will radically change your life. It will turn your life right-side up at home and in the field. It is a principle that I’ve embraced for over two decades, and let me share this. You will have a speaker today giving you an idea that will actually work. What a novel concept. In fact, this has saved careers by the execution of this one principle. It has taken people that were about ready to leave this business and moved it to the next level when they have implemented this one principle. What is it?

Everyone wants peace on the inside and productivity on the outside. Do you concur with that? Absolutely. We want shalom, “peace.” We want things to fit together. But in this world, it’s a mess. It’s difficult to see it fitting together. You have ups and downs. You have all kinds of problems coming at you daily. The question is, How can you have the peace and the productivity? That’s where the one principle comes in that has radically changed my life. It’s changed my family’s life. I stand before you in giving this particular message, which is the last message I give on this topic. This is it. I’m retiring. This is it. So thanks for showing up.

I’m going to give you this principle because this principle goes down deep and stays down long in terms of its impact. So here we go.

When I was about to turn 50 years of age, I violated the three principles that I was told to embrace when I got married. I’m going to tell you those three principles really quickly. They’re radical. They’re true. They work. Here are the three principles I was told in premarital counseling. I’ve been married now for 44 years. That’s a miracle. The miracle of grace belongs to her not me. I’m a knucklehead, most guys are. Here’s the thing. Principle number one is that I was taught that commitment will hold a relationship together, but only communication gives it life. That’s a great principle. Principle number two is that it’s always better to be kind than to be right. My ego hates that one. It gets on the throne all the time. But here’s the third one: Do not dwell on the things that bug you. Dwell on the things that bind you. Because I tend to focus on that which is negative, it takes me down. I commiserate with others. I never produce anything positive because I’m in the swamp. Three principles, and I was violating every single one of those. Finally I’d had enough. My business was in the toilet. My family life was on the edge.

I went to a dear friend of mine and said, “Don, counsel me.” A very wise person, he said, “What’s up?” So for 50 minutes I poured out my problems. At the end of 50 minutes, he said, “Marshall, you are a control freak.” I said, “Really?” He said, “You’re attempting to control things that you were never intended to control at all. You are attempting to be responsible for people, and you can only be responsible to people. Stop it.” I said, “I didn’t know I was doing any of that.” He said, “The gate of change can only be opened from within. You can never change another person any more than you can change the weather. People are out of your control. Be responsible to them, but never ever for them.”

He said, “Have you ever prayed the Serenity Prayer?” I said, “I think so.” He said, “Can you recite it.” I said, “Well, let me try. Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” He said, “That’s your fundamental problem. You’re attempting to change people, and they can go their own independent way. They have a will of their own. That’s why bad parents have good kids and good parents have bad kids. Go figure. Because you have a choice to make.” I said, “Well, I’m tracking with you so far. Go on.” He said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You can set the sail on a boat, but you cannot bring the wind. All you can do is your best. All you can do is, in fact, all you can do.”

And then he said this to me. “I’m going to ask you two questions.” First of all he asked, “Is it a good goal for you to have a terrific marriage?” At the time, I had been married to Kathy for 23 years. Is it a good goal for you to have a good marriage? How many of you say it’s a good goal? I raised my hand. I said, “Well, absolutely.” He said, “Is it a good goal for you to raise your three kids, Whitney, John, and Mindy to be responsible adults?” I said, “Well, of course.” Actually I was proud of myself; I got two out of two. I was so messed up I thought anything that would reflect being correct would be a winning combination. How many of you think that’s a good goal? Raise great kids. Yes.

Gently, yet clearly, he said to me, “Those are terrible goals. And that’s where your problem is. You have labored under a false premise and a wrong definition, and it’s led you astray on what a goal really is.” I said, “I don’t understand. I am totally lost.” He said, “Is it a good goal for you to be a good father to your children? Yes. Is it a good goal for you to be a good husband to Kathy? Yes. Why? Because those are things you can control. And the difference between a goal and a desire has to do with how you control another individual and your own life.” And then he said, “For 50 years of your life, Randy, I’ll bet you’ve been laboring under a false premise about goal setting, and it’s messed you up in three areas. Planning three months. That leads to a strategy of one year. That leads to a vision of three years. Because without a vision, the people perish, and the reason your vision is perishing is because your strategy is weak because your planning is based on an inaccurate concept.”

How many of us have heard of “puritization”? For three months, you begin to establish a great plan. Three months. And during those three months, if you are on the wrong path, it will get you to where? The wrong destination. So what I’m going to submit to you is that planning is the master key that unlocks productivity and inner serenity. It does. But most of us have labored, I know I was under a false premise of what a goal and a desire might be.

Then he defined the terms. And if you’re taking notes, this is where I jump in. He defined a goal like this. He said, “A goal is that which you alone own and you alone can accomplish. It is dependent upon no one else. You alone accomplish a goal not dependent on anyone else.”

Second, a desire is just the opposite. A desire is that which is out of your control and is dependent upon someone else to help you accomplish it. They are polar opposites. And what I’m submitting to you is most people who set goals really are setting desires that are really out of their control because they involve other people. Other people can say something to you in this business called “no, I’ll wait,” and they’ll put you off because you can’t control them. You can’t control what happened prior to your appointment. You can’t control what’s happened businesswise emotionally, spiritually to that person. And you’re coming in, oftentimes, to a perfect storm. And they can say no.

And you begin to take that very personally. But the fact of the matter is that we’re operating on a wrong definition. I’m convinced of it. Mark it well, the number one principle for mental health in the financial service industry is to know the difference between a goal and a desire. Because in that building block that has to do with your future, when you go back home to your general office, it’s knowing the difference on how to plan for three months correctly, using the right definition of terms.

For over 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with New York Life. And involved in that process I ask this question because they have three levels of productivity. They have Executive Council, President’s Council, and Chairman’s Council. So I’ll ask this question to all the New York Life folks, Is it a good goal to make one of those three levels of productivity? Is it a good goal for you to be Executive Council, Chairman’s Council, or President’s Council? And invariably, what is the response to that? Of course, it’s a good goal. That’s what we’re striving for. That’s what we’re aiming for. That’s our goal.

And what I’d say is, gently and understandingly, because I was in that same pit before in terms of planning. I’d say, “I don’t think it’s a goal. I think it’s a desire. Why? Because it takes another person to sign that app and give you that check. And that is out of your control.” So the question I asked Don is, “How in the world does this work? How does it work? Nice concept. I’ve never heard a definition of terms like that before. But how does it work?” He said, “Start writing,” and I did.

He said, “There are three principles that drive a goal and three that drive a desire. Don’t get them mixed up.” Here’s what he said. Number one, a goal you work for. You work for a goal. That makes sense because I alone can control my behavior. You can pray for your daily bread, but oftentimes, let’s just say 100 percent of the time, it will not be parachuted from the sky. We have to work for our daily bread. In fact, the ancient text says if you do not work, you’re worse than an infidel. So we work. We have a work ethic involved here. That’s where we get the old adage, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” That’s a good goal-setting framework. That’s the Serenity Prayer right there. This is not passivity we’re talking about. You take the bull by the horns. You work.

But, secondly, that work is always translated into activities. And here’s the principle. Life rewards actions not good intentions. It always has. My grandfather used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And that’s true. The IRS will never reward me if I intend to pay my taxes. If I want to catch a fish, I’ve got to bait the hook and put it in the water. If I want to farm, I’ve got to plant the seed and nourish the seed. I can’t increase the crop. That’s up to someone, in terms of rain, etc. But I’ve got to do my part as to the divine partnership that enters in here. I have got to be involved in activities.

I played baseball with the Kansas City Royals. My dad was my Little League coach. He would invariably tell me this. He would say, “Son, you can never hit the fastball, curve, changeup, or slider with the bat on your shoulder. Swing the bat.” He was right. Put the hook in the water and bait it. Plant the seed and see what happens. The harder I work, the luckier I get. It’s an amazing thing.

So, it is a work ethic. I’ve got to do it or it won’t get done. It’s not by osmosis. They don’t come knocking on my door often. I’ve got to go out and play in the traffic, I call it. I’ve got to go be with them. And then I’ve got to formulate an activity strategy. We all know that. Says easy, does hard.

Here’s the third principle. The first one has to do with behavior. Let me share with you what the third one has to do with. It has to do with time. Now, it gets a little tricky. Good goal setting is scheduled, and it is predictable. What do I mean by that? Mark this well. If you cannot put this on your day timer or your calendar, it is not a good goal. If you can’t predict it and schedule it, then it’s out of your control, and it is a desire. But a goal, because we master time, time does not master us. We all have 24/7. To say you don’t have enough time is a statement of value not fact. We know that too. Therefore, put it on your calendar and schedule it in a predictable way, because you alone can control that.

Let’s flip the coin. What about desires? There are three principles that drive a desire. Principle number one: You don’t work for a desire. You know what you do? You pray for it. True. Work for goals. Pray for desires. Why? Every time I’ve attempted to kick the door down, pick the lock, do something manipulative. Every time I’ve done it to try to gain the advantage that either wins in the beginning and falls apart later, goes off the books, whatever, what I determined is that I will work hard like this. I hold goals with a tight hand. I hold desires with a loose hand. Because you know what I’ve discovered? It flies the way as the wings of eagles. When I think I’ve got it, when I think it’s a slam dunk, when there’s an absolute 100 percent trilogy involved, there is a need. They have the authority to make the decision. And there’s money. They can make the decision. And I am spending that commission check in my mind. It is amazing, when I attempt to press the issue too hard that it flies away.

What I need to know is this. I agree with this quote from Saint Augustine, which William Carey used as a mission statement, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” You see, I work as if it’s up to me. I pray as if it’s up to Him.

The second principle and this is a key one: Don’t wear down on me. This is a key one. It goes like this. Desires have to do with results. How many of us like results? The fact is if you don’t have results, I have a word for that. It’s called unemployed, right? So, we all want results. The question is how do we get results? I suggest you focus on the side that you can control. Leave the other side with a loose hand. And what happens is this. Results will come.

Let me give you an example. About six months ago I’m sitting in my office, and the phone rings. The person on the other end of the line says, “We have had a referral. We’d like to have you speak to our convention.” This was in San Antonio, Texas. There are 5,000 people there. Big venue. The fee was great, and it was a new company. Open door. Excited? You bet. What date? Held my breath. The date was open. I said, “Fantastic.” He said, “I’ll get back to you with the details.” I hung the phone up. I sat back in my chair. You know what I did? I smiled like a Cheshire cat, baby. Manna from heaven. Unannounced. Unpredictable. Serendipity. Something like that ever happen to you? Sure.

One month later, he calls back and says, “I got bad news. Our company has gone through a slump.” He said, “We pulled back from all outside training. We’re going to have to postpone the meeting.” All right, talk to me. When somebody says they’re going to postpone a meeting, what does that really mean? Canceled meeting. I said, “OK, I understand.” I had to now practice what I preach. It was out of my control in the first place. Still out of my control. But, I hung the phone up and now what did I do? I was upset.

Here’s the deal. It is never wrong to want to be disappointed, but it’s wrong to want to be devastated. And if you are devastated in this business, it’s probably because you mixed up a goal versus a desire.

I was disappointed until I was sitting in my office for the third time, and a phone call came through and said, “We’d like to hire you. We’ve got a $30 million grant from the government. Can you come and speak to us on such and such date?” Same fee. Same audience. Same company. I said, it’s open, yes. I hung the phone up, sat back. Did this to my tie. Smiled broadly. And I said, “Man am I good. Really?”

Let me ask you a question. What did I do in that process except sit in my office three times? The phone rings three times, and I get a nice gig for a great fee. What did I do? Nothing. Has someone ever walked up to you at a party and said, “You work for Prudential? We have a key man in our office. We just hired him. Can I get together with you next week and talk about putting together a plan?” Yes, I guess you can. That would be nice. Yes, sure.

But then on the other hand, you’ve worked for months on a project. You’ve done due diligence, and you get to that point where you’ve interviewed the person that can buy that policy. And there is a need, the money, and the authority to make the decision. You go back and you’re excited about that. You go back into the second interview, and they give you the Heisman. And they say, “You know, amazing, between that appointment and now, our son just joined Northwestern Mutual.” And you’re not with Northwestern Mutual. And family is family. We’ve got to place the business there. Eagles fly away. The wind. Right out of the palm of the hand.

Here’s the comment. Think about it. My job is to get you to think. When you leave here, I hope you still think about it. That’s the only job I have. And that’s tough because 5 percent of the people think, 15 percent think they think, and 80 percent would rather die than think. But because you showed up at this session, I’m going to consider you the 5 percenters. Thanks for coming.

If you become dependent upon results, it’ll drive you crazy. Got that? I believe it with all my heart. If you become dependent upon outcomes or results, it will drive you nuts. Crazy. Why? Because you can’t control them. All you can control are the goals. You cannot control the desires. Focus on what you can control and leave a loose hand for what is a desire.

Here’s the last principle in terms of desires. It’s unpredictable, and it is unscheduled. It comes out of the blue. Unannounced. Serendipity. Just like a lot of things in our lives. When we least deserve it, least expect it at times. It’s amazing how that happens. Life 101.

I’ve discovered life is a mystery to be lived not a puzzle to be solved. Have you?

Jack Benny, this will date me, the late, great comic, received an award one night at a banquet. He got up to get the award, and the venerable comic said these words. “I don’t deserve this award, but I have arthritis, and I don’t deserve that either.”

A lot of things we don’t deserve come out of the blue on both sides of the coin. The day of prosperity and the day of adversity. Here’s the question. How do you deal with both? It’s a mind change, it’s a paradigm shift, it’s a reorienting of thinking on what a true goal is and what a true desire is. Now, let me tell you how I know that. Because it revolutionized my business, and it changed my family. It took Don 30 minutes to tell me five steps on how you do that over a three-month period of time. But when I did that with him, at the end of three months, I moved from a foxhole. I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and I began to change. I began to release things. I began to have peace and tranquility inside me and a lot more productivity on the outside.

I’ll tell you how it began. Have you ever heard something, you get excited about it, and you go home and share it with your family? Have you ever been met with less than overwhelming enthusiasm when you do that? Yes. You’re excited about it. You’re on fire. You’re a flaming bush, and you go in and it’s met with indifference? And like, how long is this going to take? Well that’s exactly what happened to me. I took this home, right? And I said to my family, “Sit down. I’ve got a revolutionary concept that will change your life.” And they did. They sat down there dutifully. Their bodies were there, but their person was gone. They looked like an oil painting. So I jumped in. I gave them the same principles I just shared with you. That didn’t work.

I went into the back bedroom. I pulled out a flipchart. I brought it in. I started drawing arrows and ledgers and circles. Because a visual aid will increase retention 400 percent. That didn’t work. So finally I said, “I’m going to do a workshop experience here.” So I got a bowl out of the kitchen. I put it on the table, and we drew names. And what we would do is hold each other accountable for a goal. And we’d pray for each other for a desire. Cool? That’s exactly what we’ve been doing for 20 years as a family.

Every summer we go to Sandestin in Florida for vacation. The first day at Sandestin, we gather around an old oak wooden table, and we share goals and desires from the past year. As an immediate family, we share them every three months. As an extended family, we share them every year. I want to tell you something. Trust me on this. This works. And this is going to be my final message. I’m going to give the message I believe in the most. This one will change your business and will change your personal life. Meet me halfway, will you? Try it and see what happens. All the sincerity I can muster. I want this to be audience centered, not message centered. And I want you to get the fact that behind this message there is a heart of enthusiasm for how it works. It will give you peace, and it will give you productivity. And those are the two things that people are looking for the most in life.

So finally, we drew names. I drew our eldest daughter’s name, Whitney. Whitney wrote down her three goals. Here was her first one: Dad, I would like for Wiley, that was her boyfriend at the time, to love me. Do you think that’s a good goal? Do you think Wiley might be a little bit out of her control? So I said, “Whitney, we like Wiley. He loves baseball. He’s got a deep sense of humor. He’s got a spiritual compass. Put him on the desire side because he’s out of your control as far as love is concerned. What could you do alone that could make yourself a more varied and interesting person?” She said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Well, let’s think about this. Wiley loves baseball, and I love you, but you don’t know a baseball from an orange.” She said, “Yes, that’s right.” I said, “Why don’t we learn the game of baseball?” So I listed 22 terms. I started with some basic ones, such as dugout, pitcher’s mound, and first base. Basic terms. Moved to 21, it was balk, suicide squeeze, sacrifice fly. The point is, she began to study those, and I said, “Then sprinkle them into the conversation. Enter his world.” She said, “OK, Dad.”

She called me seven days later and said, “Dad, I think I’ve got this goals and desires thing down. I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to go watch him play baseball. And buy a ticket and watch him.” I said, “That’s a tremendous idea.” She said, “That’s a good goal, isn’t it?” I said, “Perfect goal. Only you can rise, pick up your body, and go watch him.” At the end of the game, they were driving back. Whitney said, “Wiley, in the seventh inning, there were men on first and third with one out. The pitcher threw the ball, and the batter turned around and put the ball down on a suicide squeeze. Why did he put it down on the first-base line rather than the third-base line?” She said, “Dad, it was unbelievable. Wiley looked at me really funny. He pulled the car over to the side of the road, put it in gear, turned off the ignition, and said, “Whitney, where have you been all my life?” Whitney said, “And then that principle that you and mom talk about all the time, ‘commitment will hold it together, only communication gives it life,’ it works.”

Her second goal was: I want to make an A in Spanish this semester. How many think that’s a good goal? An A in Spanish? Is it? Who’s in control in a classroom? The teacher. Have you ever submitted a paper and said, “That’s Mensa quality. I should get an A+ on that.” Yes, because it’s brilliant, as they say. You get the essay results back, and it is a big C. And you’re mad. The teacher says it probably deserves more when you challenge her, but I was tired, and you get a C. I said Whitney, “Get a tutor. I’ll pay for the tutor. Study outside the class. Do your best on what you can control.” And guess what she got in the class? She got a B. And guess what she was, and this is important? She was content. You know why? Because she said, “Dad, I did my best.”

All you can do is all you can do. Your company is not asking you to do any more than that. Your unit is not asking you to do any more than your best. Focus on what you can control and leave the rest for the loose hand.

Her third goal was: I would like to stop biting my fingernails by Christmas. Do you think that’s a good goal? Yes, that’s a good goal. I’m not going to bite her fingernails for her. She alone can stop that. Or push yourself back from the table to lose some weight or run so often or read so many books—lots of it is in our control. Let me tell you a secret. And you know it. You know it intuitively. There’s a lot more out of our control than in our control. Namely, people.

I close with this story. The kid in that room that wasn’t buying any of this—our son, John. And I remember he was sitting there, and he said to me, “Dad, I’ve got 10 minutes. Can you kind of hurry this up?” And so at the end of 10 minutes, he leaves, not out the front door. He leaves to come back like this. He has a toothpick in his mouth, and he’s leaning back against the wall. He walks up to me later and says, “Dad, I think this is great for you and the girls, but frankly, I just think it’s the way you look at things.” I said, “OK, John, I can’t force this on you. That’s fine.”

Seven days later John comes to me and says, “Dad, do you know who we’re playing in baseball on April 8, your birthday? Your 50th birthday? I said, “Yes, I do.” He said, “J.J. Pierce.” Right out of Dallas, Texas, where I’m from. And at Richardson High School, we hate them. “They’ve beaten us six times in a row, and this year I’m going to beat them myself. Because it’s your birthday, Dad. And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to hit you a home run for your birthday. Your 50th.” I said, “John, I’m really touched by that. That’s a great gift. But son, you’ve never hit a home run in your life. Ever. In practice or in a game.” He said, “I know. But I’m going to do it on April 8 when you turn 50.” I said, “Well son, OK.”

Now, a couple of things you need to know about John. John was a catcher. He weighed 157 pounds as a junior at Richardson High School. OK, baseball fans, if you’re a 157-pound catcher, you’re very what? Light. You’re scrappy, but light. You can throw the ball 87 miles an hour from home to second. That’s fast. The fastest kid on the team. First team all-city. First team all-district. Batting average the highest in the entire district. But, he did not hit with power. Want to know why? Because of a lecture given by his coach at the beginning of the year. “Gentlemen, you play on this team. You will assume a role. If you execute your role with excellence, we will win.” Guess where John hit in the batting order? He was the leadoff hitter. OK fans, what does the leadoff hitter do? The leadoff hitter’s goal, or desire in this case, is to get on base. And he had done that obviously very well. But he never hit a home run in his life.

When I played at the Kansas City Royals’ level, I batted fourth in the lineup. What was my role? Hit with power and drive in runs. And I had done pretty well. Set the home run record at Arkansas. Taught by Tommy Henry, the old Yankee reliable when I went to spring training, who knew a thing or two about how it would all run. But I never wanted to interfere with the coach. Got me? I don’t like parents to interfere with the coach, so I pulled back. But now I think a higher principle was in play, and I said, “John, here’s the deal. When you hit as a leadoff hitter, you have three steps involved. Your weight is in the ready position, weight evenly distributed. Your hands are close to your body, and you have a short, level contact swing. So, weight evenly distributed. Bat is close. Short, level swing because you want to hit the ball on the ground two out of three times. With your speed, you’ll make it to first base. But as a power hitter, it’s just the opposite. The weight is not evenly distributed, Son. You load up. You hit from the back leg into the front. Secondly, you don’t swing level; you swing from the mountaintop to the valley to the mountaintop. You come down on the ball. Why? Because you want to spin the ball. Get it loft as a home run hitter. And third, you follow through strongly.”

He said, “Well, I wish you had told me that before now. And I said, “Son, you did really well as a leadoff hitter. I want you to try to fulfill your dream of hitting a home run before your high school career ends.” And so we hit 200 pitches every night for two weeks. One hundred off the machine, 100 live. Have you ever hit 200 pitches every day for two weeks? If you have, you know your hands are raw, and they’re bloody. John did exactly what I’d asked him to do.

The game begins, two o’clock, April 8, 50th birthday. Three things are going on. The wind is blowing in with gale force. That’s not good. The pitcher on the mound is the best one in the district, full scholarship to New Mexico State. Second black mark. Third, that day, Blake the pitcher is as wild as a March hare. He can’t get anything over the plate. So John might not even get a pitch to hit for a home run. His location was terrible. Nevertheless, you play the game.

First inning. John is up. Two balls and two strikes. He does exactly how he’s been coached. His arms were extended. His back leg is back with his weight there. As the pitch comes in, it’s too close to take, but it’s on the outside part of the plate. John comes down, swings at the ball. Pow. Turns on that ball, and that ball shoots off that C405 aluminum bat like a bullet. Here’s the problem. He can’t pull the ball and get it loft so he hits the ball sharply right up the middle. The shortstop goes over, makes the play, and throws him out. He did all he could with what he got, but he’s out.

Fourth inning. Deuces are wild—two balls, two strikes, two on, two out. The pitch comes in. This time it’s right down the heart of the plate. John loads up. Comes through. And pow, he hits the ball, and the ball shoots off that bat and goes over the shortstop’s head. As it does, it’s headed for the outfield. My heart is racing. Have you ever been in a dream in which everything is moving in slow motion? That’s exactly the way I felt. I’m looking at the girls. Kathy had said to me before the game began. She said, “Are you nervous? I said, “I’m hyperventilating.” She said, “Well, I can tell you this, if John hits a home run, two things are going to happen. Number one, I will wet my pants. Number two, as I’m wetting my pants, I will leap off these bleachers, through that screen door, across that infield, through the outfield grass, climb that fence, and get that ball for John.” I said, “Whatever.”

Now the ball is carrying. It’s going to be close. My heart is beating out of my chest. When I turn back, I can’t find the baseball. I don’t know where the baseball is. So who’s going to tell me everything I need to know? Who’s going to tell me? The outfielders. And they’re racing back. Slowly. They’re going back slowly. They put their tuchuses up against the wall. Now where do I watch? I watch their hands. Because if they raise their hands, what do I know? He’s out. If they drop their hands, what do I know? It’s gone. He’s hit his home run, the first one ever in his life. Happy birthday, Dad.

Seemed like an eternity. I waited. I didn’t think that ball was ever coming down. Finally, they’re standing at the wall. They raise their hands, and my heart drops to my toes. And then they drop their hands, and the ball sails over the distance marker at 340 feet for his first home run ever in his life.

John said to me later, “Dad, I didn’t know how to run the bases. I ran like a banshee to first base, like a bat out of a hot place to second base. I’m screaming around second base, and I see the umpire. He said, “I’d seen that on ESPN one time.” He said the shortstop said, “Marshall, it’s a home run.” He said, “Dad, the moment I’ve been dreaming about my entire life. Have you ever gone from a dead sprint to a home run trot? I looked like a weird spaz, didn’t I? I looked terrible.” I said, “John, you looked great to me.”

I grabbed Kathy’s hands, my wife, I said, “Relish this moment.” As John came around third base, tears streaming down my face, he looked up in the stands at me. He looked up, smiled, and said, “Happy birthday, Dad.” He comes in and touches home plate. Kids rush out, lift him up on their shoulders. He’d done it. Home run number one. Good story.

Three innings later, he hits one 404 feet over the center field wall for a second home run. After he hits his second home run, I leapt off the bleachers myself, and I’m ensconced on the screen. John comes around, he’s looking for dear old dad, and he finds me. And he says, “Happy, happy birthday, Dad.” He comes around and touches home plate. About that time, the left fielder’s dad comes up to me and says, “Marshall, been a pretty good day old buddy. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. John boy is going to hit a third home run. This time with the bases loaded, and we’re going to actually beat Pearson for the first time in seven years. You book it.” I said, “Lindy, shut up. If he hits a third home run, you have one responsibility, to bury me with a heart attack right here. Because they’re going to call 911. I’m going to be dead.”

The last inning comes and guess who’s winning? Pearson is beating us again, but it’s been a great personal day. John is way down in the order. He’s not even going to get up. The first two guys pop up, and they ground out. Two outs. We’re getting bats together, purses up, briefcase is up, coat is on. We’re getting ready to leave. Then all of a sudden the next guy gets hit by a pitch and takes first. The next guy gets a hit by an error. First and second. Third guy walks. Guess who’s coming up to bat? John. John works the count to a three and two pitch. Full count and he drives one over the scoreboard for the longest home run ever hit at J.J. Pierce High School. Three home runs. He never hit one in his life.

I grabbed Kathy’s hands after the first one and said, “Stay right here.” By the way, she was dry. I said, “Don’t move. Cherish the moment.” That night, John had three baseballs in his hands. I said, “John, are you going to bed with those baseballs?” He said, “Yes, I am. And tomorrow I’m making a necklace out of them.”

A radio station heard about it, a TV station heard about this. Word gets out. They came and said, “We’d like to do a presentation on our Sunday sports special about a kid who predicted he’d hit a home run for his dad’s 50th birthday, and instead he hits three. Would that be OK?” Come on. They come out, and the video is a very brief video of that day in which a kid had some fame and was in the spotlight.

John bulked out. He went to the University of Alabama. He played on a top-10 team. He alternated with Jeremy Brown who signed for $1.6 million with the Oakland Athletics. John became a very good catcher. He batted third in the lineup, which is where normally your best hitter hits. But John would call me from Tuscaloosa, and he’d say, “Dad, I quit.” I said, “Son, why do you want to quit?” He said, “Because they’re better than I am. I struck out three times tonight. I threw the ball into center field two times. I’m about ready to hang them up.”

I said, “Son, let me tell you two secrets. One that my dad told me when I wanted to quit as I was trying to get to the major leagues. My dad would say when I got discouraged, ‘Son, remember this: Never make a decision in a mood. Think about it today, decide tomorrow.’ And let me tell you the third piece of advice that my dad never knew to tell me. Son, there’s a huge difference between a goal. . .” He said, “I know, Dad. Between a goal and a desire.” He said, “I believe.”

I think the best definition of commitment is when your body shows up. It’s true about your prospects and clients, isn’t it? But thanks for showing up. It’s been an honor to be here, and I appreciate your deep encouragement.

Randy Marshall, Ph.D., of Dallas, Texas, has been involved in the communications arena for more than 35 years as a speaker, communications professor and corporate consultant. He founded and currently leads Speaker’s College, a Dallas-based communications training company formed to improve the communication and leadership skills of executives.


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