A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Mark Hardcastle
In another blog post I write about how I sometimes stand in front of a room wearing my corduroy blazer with leather elbow patches rather than my uniform jacket with four stripes. In August of 2019 I had the honor of doing just that.
The Colorado Independent Publishers’ Association asked me to emcee their annual awards banquet. I got to be the one to hand out the award certificates and pose for pictures with the winners, which was great fun. Another of my duties was to offer a keynote presentation to get the festivities underway. It was one of the funnest (most fun?) speeches I’ve ever given. If you have the secret decoder ring you might still find it on YouTube.
But since you likely don’t have the ring, I thought I’d write down the ideas I offered to that room full of kindred spirits. And I invite you to think through them with us as if you were a fly on the wall that night.
As I climb the steps onto the stage, I look out to the crowd and say…
“It’s so good to be in a room full of writers! And I can’t wait to help you celebrate your love of books and writing tonight! Let’s start the celebration by acknowledging everyone who has done the work. I invite you to stand up with me if you’re under consideration for an award tonight and let us give you some love! Great! Welcome! Good luck to every one of you!
Now let me ask you again to stand up with me if you feel like writing books is easy. Anybody here feel like that? Nobody? Let the record show, nobody stood up. [laughter]
Now, one last time, I’d invite you to stand with me if you believe that writing books is worth it! Yeah! [applause] In case you couldn’t see from where you’re sitting, almost everybody stood up.
What you all have just done is demonstrated this idea that while writing books can be challenging, the rewards can be significant. That idea applies to all of life. It’s been my observation that we find the good stuff by doing the hard stuff. We should go about this business of doing hard things so that we can receive the good stuff that life has to offer.
I’ll be talking about that tonight, particularly as it relates to this idea of writing books. Now, if you’re a book writer, you understand. If you’re not, you can use that as sort of a metaphor for whatever challenge you’ll be facing over the next days, weeks, months, and years.
I’ll be offering three thoughts for your consideration over the course of the evening. The first is that we cannot allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the project that we have cut out for ourselves. The second idea is that however long it takes to do the project, we have the ability to stay in the process for that long. And finally, the third idea we’ll talk about tonight is what I call “the power of the pull.” I’m going to invite you to visualize what your reward will look like when you finish writing your book, then allow that vision to pull you to your success.
So, let’s talk about the first idea. We can’t allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the totality of the task.
Let’s imagine taking a trip to Honolulu. Would you like to do that? Well, when you do, you’ll likely find yourself on the beach in Waikiki for at least the first few days. Why? Duh, Honolulu, right? [laughter] But after two or three days of lying on the beach, you might find yourself going a little further afield in search of what Honolulu has to offer. I would suggest maybe you consider exploring some hikes. There are some great ones on Oahu.
The one I have in mind tonight is a dormant volcano called Koko Head. In World War II, Koko Head was used by the Army as a lookout site. Every morning soldiers would climb into a railroad car that would crank them up a track to the top of the mountain, and they would pile out and spend the day scanning scanning the horizon for enemy ships. After World War II, the base was abandoned, and fell into ruin. But the grade bed remains to this day, and it has become a very popular hike. So the park system maintains all 1,150 railroad ties up the side of that mountain.
Now imagine a classic witch’s hat-shaped volcano. What I mean by that is the initial grade is gentle. About halfway up the mountain, it turns steep and stays like that all the way to the peak. If you choose to take on this challenge, I’d suggest maybe you go there early while it’s still cool. It can get hot in Honolulu by mid-morning. When you get there you’ll meet up with probably 50, 60, or maybe even 70 of your closest friends who all had the same idea. You’ll all start up that gentle grade. And then about the point where it starts to get steep, you’ll start to run into people coming back down the other way.
Make no mistake, these are not people who got up at the crack of dawn, have already been to the top, and are heading back down to the parking lot. No, these are people who started 15 minutes ahead of you. But about the point where it started to get serious, they started looking all the way up to the top and thinking, “Man, these ties are steep now. And I’ve got 500 more of these to go!” And they started to feel the heat of the sun on the back of their neck; started to sweat a little bit; started to think, “maybe I don’t have quite enough water to make it all the way. Maybe my shoes aren’t quite right. Maybe today just really isn’t the right day to be climbing Koko Head.” And they turned around, abandoned the climb, and now you’re running into them as they head back down to the parking lot.
Of course, that’s not you. Because you understand they were looking at the wrong thing. What they were looking at was the enormity of the remainder of the climb. They got overwhelmed. What you’re looking at is the one railroad tie at your feet. And because you’ve already gone across about 500 of those railroad ties, you know that it’s a piece of cake to step up one more time. And one more.
And you realize that if you do it enough times, before you know it, you’ll be there. And you do the work. And you find yourself at the top of Koko Head, and you get to enjoy the good stuff for having done the hard climb. You soak in that spectacular 270-degree, panoramic view of the now midday sun reflecting off the waters of the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye can see. And you get that because you didn’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the totality of the task.
Time for the next idea. It doesn’t matter how long it’s going to take. Ask any of the editors here, any book coaches in the room, how long does it take to write a book? It takes as long as it takes, right? Yeah, Mike’s nodding (@Michael Daniels, a book coach in Denver. Look him up!). The good news is that it doesn’t matter how long that turns out to be, because you have the ability to stay in the process for that long.
It’s hard to imagine, but this lesson was driven home to me 40 years ago when I was a junior in college. It was an intense moment – I remember it like it was yesterday.
The setting was the US Army’s Parachute Training Jump School down in Fort Benning, Georgia. I was there as part of my military training.
Now, jump school is a three-week course. Let’s call the first two weeks “ground school.” That’s when you learn all the technical skills you need to be able to jump out of perfectly good airplanes – which we then proceeded to do five times in week 3 to earn our silver wings. I jumped out of perfectly good airplanes five times! Seriously? All right, I was young, okay?
Did I mention that jump school is at Fort Benning? Well, Fort Benning is in south Georgia, and if I told you that I was in south Georgia in August, you’d tell me it was hot and…? Humid, that’s right! It was hard to breathe.
Here’s something you probably understand about parachutes. You probably understand that if you have this nice, big, open parachute, you come down slower than… if you don’t! That’s kind of the point. What some of you may not understand is that even when you have this nice big fluffy parachute, you can still hit the ground pretty hard, and if you’re not in really good shape, you can get injured.
Obviously the Jump Masters know this. And one of the objectives they have for ground school is to make sure that everyone is in the best possible condition before you go and jump out of the plane. So I did a lot of pushups, a lot of sit-ups under that Georgia sun.
Then came Friday morning of week two, the last day of ground school. The Jump Masters showed up at the training ground with a lesson that was going to be cloaked in physical conditioning, but really had nothing to do with the technical skills I was just telling you about. They wanted to teach us just how far we could go.
The Lead Jump Master ordered us to “Fall in, Airborne!” Now, you’ve got to understand. At jump school, everybody is “Airborne.” Doesn’t matter if they’re talking to an individual or if they’re addressing the entire group. They’re always talking to “Airborne.”
“Fall in, Airborne! Now we’re going for a one mile conditioning run. Forward, march! Double time, march!” And we were off and running.
And let’s just say the Jump Master established… a brisk pace. Then he got faster. Then he got faster again. So by the time we got to the end of the course, we were at an absolute lung-searing, heart-pounding sprint, really glad to see that finish line coming up.
That’s when the other shoe dropped: “Great job, Airborne! Now we’re going for another mile!” And a bunch of guys dropped out to rest. They just knew they couldn’t go another mile. Not at that pace.
Somehow, though, most of us kept running. And we hadn’t gone another 50 yards when the Jump Master called us to a halt. “Quick time, march! Platoon, halt! Fall out.” And as we were trying to catch our breath, the Jump Masters said nothing, allowing the lesson of the day to become self-evident. Had they felt the need to state the obvious, however, this is what I think they might have said:
“All right, Airborne, now you understand that if you believe you can keep going as long as you need to, you’re probably right. And you also understand that if you believe you can’t” – as he might have pointed back at our friends who’d given up just a few yards short of the end – “you’re probably right about that too, Airborne. Because ya see, it’s always mind over matter. You can keep on as long as you need to. You just need to know you can.”
Tonight, I want you to know that you can keep going as long as you need to, to fulfill your dream of writing that book.
Finally, I invite you to see the power of the pull. The picture I’m going to paint might be easier to imagine if you close your eyes. Walk with me now into your future on the day you receive the first copy of your book.
You’re holding it in your hand. How does it feel under your touch? What does the art on the cover look like? Bring it to your face. Flip through the pages. Can you smell the ink? What do you hear around you as you enjoy your book for the first time?
Here’s something else that might happen that day. If you closed your eyes you can open them now. Imagine that on that day, your book didn’t come in a carton on a pallet of 1,000 books. It came in a padded envelope, because that is your author approval copy. It’s the only copy that exists in the world. You haven’t even ok’d the print yet, but here it is.
And it’s the day that your neighborhood has started its annual garage sale. So you have opened up your garage door, put a whole bunch of clothes in there that you want to sell, and you’ve laid out your lawn chair on your driveway just in front of the garage, Your lawn is littered with all the junk you want to get rid of. You start to settle into the chair to read your words. Euphoric is not too strong a word for what you’re feeling.
Just as you settle in, here comes a minivan. It pulls up in front of your house, the side door slides back, a bunch of grownups start to pile out, and before the first woman’s foot hits the sidewalk, she yells across to you, “that must be a great book from the look on your face!”
“Yeah, absolutely!” You jump up out of the lawn chair. You run over to the van. “It’s a great book! Check it out. I wrote this!”
And she takes it, and at the first impression she gets serious. She looks at the art on the front, turns it over. Reads the blurb on the back. She opens to the table of contents and says, “I think this book might help me.”
“Great! Tell me why! I’m thrilled but tell me why!”
She lifts the hem of her sweatshirt. You see a pouch of medicine with a line going into her abdomen. “I’m fighting breast cancer.”
You’re stunned, and you look around for a pen. You sign it – the only copy in the world. You give it to her. “Please take this away. Please, I hope it helps. Email me. Let me know how it serves you.”
A month later, you receive an email from her neighbor telling you how much your book has meant to her friend.
Then you give the printer the ok. Your books show up on a pallet. You pile them into your garage, and over the course of the next days, weeks, months, as the stacks in your garage get shorter and shorter, you hear story after story after story about how your book has changed lives.
Folks, that… is the good stuff. That can be your reward, as it was for me.
So here we are, some day in the future, on the day you received your book. I invite you to drive a stake into the ground on that day. Now take a giant rubber band and attach one end around that stake with the other end around your waist, and walk backward into today, August 17, 2019. Tonight, I invite you to think of the process, and allow the power of that vision to pull you forward into your success.
And before you know it, you’ll realize that the mountain’s not that big, and the time it’s going to take is not that long. And that your success is within your grasp.
Tonight we’re here to celebrate this idea of writing books. In just a few minutes, we’re going to hand out awards to those who’ve done it well. I congratulate you for being part of the celebration. Thanks for coming.
Again, I encourage you to step into the process, meet whatever challenge it presents, and enjoy working through the hard stuff to receive the good stuff you deserve.
It’s been a pleasure to speak with you all. Thanks so much for the opportunity!“
And – thanks for reading!
Link to Mark’s book, The Symphony of Your Life
The Symphony of Your Life on YouTube
Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: email@example.com for information.
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