I had a very happy childhood. I grew up on a farm in northern Ohio in the 1940s and ‘50s, the fifth child of two fifth children. I spent quite a bit of time on my own because my parents were very busy, both with the farm and with raising my much older and much younger siblings and me.
I don’t know whether my parents knew how to raise my six siblings, but they sure knew how to raise me. I think they had good insight into who I was as a person, so they gave me a great deal of freedom. One of my greatest freedoms was walking through the fields and going into the woods on our land. I loved it. It was there that my quest for always having a purpose in life actually began.
A life-changing experience.
One February when I was about eleven years old, I was walking through the cornfields. It was that time of year when it’s usually still very cold in the Midwest. It was a very clear day, very sunny, without one cloud in the sky. You could even see the moon starting to come up.
I remember the crunch of the snow under my boots, a sound I always liked. Of course, everything had long been harvested, but you could follow the rows of cornstalk stubble just like you were following a path. One of the great things about walking through the bare fields in winter was the clear view of the planes that regularly flew overhead.
On this particular February day, I had what would become a life-changing moment. I heard a plane coming and knew it was a four-propeller DC-6. I watched it, trying to figure out which airline it was, but it was hard to see in the bright sun. All of a sudden, just like an electric shock, a thought came to me: I wonder how far I can go.
It was just a question, but I remember it felt the way others have described religious or spiritual experiences. Looking back at that moment, I knew had discovered my purpose in life. I recall having a feeling of connection — of being connected to this question, which became dominant in my thinking and my life.
How far can I go?
A lot of people ask me, since I’m past an age when most people are retired, what keeps me going, what is it that I’m trying to achieve? It all comes back to the question that gives me my purpose in life.
I tell them that I’m not looking for an answer; I’m just following a question. No matter what level of success I’ve achieved, no matter how much Strategic Coach has grown, when I’ve achieved a major life goal, the question always comes into my mind: Now I wonder how far I can go?
My feeling is that I’ve been unusually blessed by having my whole life framed by a powerful question. This is because the moment you achieve one level of answer to the question, immediately the question gets bigger, and you move forward to an even higher level.
There are all sorts of clichés about entrepreneurs and why they do what they do. I believe they do it for the freedom entrepreneurship can provide. I’m able to create greater and greater freedom in my life because I’m always curious about what the next level of answer to my lifetime question will bring.
It’s not a question that I’m ever going to get a final answer to. As I keep pursuing my life goals, all sorts of new and great things happen — new discoveries, new capabilities, great new people in my life.
And when I look ahead, people will say to me that you can’t predict the future. But I feel to a great extent that I can. Whether it’s five or ten or even 20 years out, I know that every day, I will still be guided by my purpose in life, the thought that struck me, literally out of the blue when I was eleven years old: I wonder how far I can go.
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