What’s your dream?

Today Laura Dekker, a 16-year-old Dutch girl, arrived in the harbor of the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Unremarkable perhaps, except for the fact that she just finished sailing around the world, the youngest recorded person to do so–alone.

This is a venture that cost legendary explorer Magellan his life. Dekker battled the Dutch authorities who forbade her journey, she faced down her own self-doubt aboard her 38′ “Guppy,”  and en route she encountered all manner of harrowing maritime tribulations.

But she circumnavigated the globe. Why? In her words, “It’s a dream, and I wanted to do it.” As we ponder the big questions in life it’s easy to forget that sometimes there’s just a simple answer.

Crack the Whip! Life lessons from Indiana Jones

Do you sometimes wish you could don a fedora, grab a bullwhip, and add some adventure to your life? Here’s how to tap some of Indy’s best traits as you tackle each day.

Indiana Jones is everyone’s favorite big-screen hero who uses his wits as well as his fists to get what he’s after.

One of the most interesting aspects of  the character is that Indy doesn’t have any super-powers, he gets knocked down over and over just like those of us in the real world.

While the character’s exploits are created on storyboards, there’s no reason you can’t work on the script of your own life as well. Here are some tips you can use to start putting your own plan into action.

What do you treasure? When asked the importance of the “Shankara” stones by Short Round—the pint-size Temple of Doom sidekick—Indy replies, “Fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.” Have you taken time to decide what you really want out of life? What does fortune and glory mean to you?  Do you have a plan on how to get it, and what you’ll do with it?

Write it down. In most adventure movies, the call to action usually begins with something in writing: a mysterious old map, a cryptic code, or ancient runes on a tablet. We intuitively know that when something has been written down—or set in stone—it’s tangible.

This is true in the real world, what gets written down tends to get done. You can put this power to work for you by making your big goal come alive with a written mission statement and a business plan. If you like paper, use a classic Moleskine notebook. If you prefer pixels, try the Nightingale Conant mission-statement builder. Or go ahead and knock yourself out with a chisel and slab of basalt.

Face your fear. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy is shocked to find his pilot Jock’s pet snake “Reggie” in the cockpit. “I hate snakes, Jock, I hate ‘em!” To which Jock replies, “C’mon show a little backbone, will ya!” It’s a humorous scene that sets up a fear the hero’s going to have to face down as the film progresses.

Indy will take on Nazis, but snakes will stop him in his tracks. Indy’s ophidiophobia presents a particular challenge since his exploits require that he enter dark passages where snakes like to hide.

Quite often we also have fears linked directly to our professional pursuits, fears that are holding us back. Fear of starting that business, a fear of public speaking, a fear of rejection. Sometimes even a fear of success. What scares you?  Identify it and take steps to face it down and vanquish it.

Be an open-minded skeptic. As a scientist, Indiana Jones is suspicious of “magic and superstitious Hocus Pocus.” Yet it is revealed time and again that there are mysterious forces at work in the world. You don’t need a PhD to adopt an inquisitive mindset. Make an effort to regain the sense of wonder and amazement you once had as a child.

Study a new language or learn a new skill.  Become an expert in something. Train for a marathon. Read passages from the teachings of different faiths. Look up at the night sky and marvel at the same stars the ancients saw. Visualize your place in the universe and get excited by the possibilities.

Take your lumps. “Dr. Jones, once again we see there is nothing you can possess which I cannot take away.” Who can forget the opening sequence in Raiders when Indy reluctantly hands over the golden Chachapoyan idol to his rival Belloq?

A trademark of the Indiana Jones movies is that despite Indy’s Herculean struggles, he often loses the very thing he’s after. The mystical Crystal Skull is returned to the temple, the U.S. government confiscates the Ark, and the Holy Grail is hopelessly lost in a crevasse. Along the way Indy ends up getting punched, shot, beaten, and whipped. But he doesn’t give up, and it’s that relentless nature and ability to adapt that sets him apart.

Don’t let the prospect of failure dissuade you either. Others will take their shots and you’ve got to roll with the punches, dust yourself off and jump right back in. In most cases you’ll come away from the experience stronger and wiser than if you hadn’t dared at all.

Know what you do. What Indiana Jones does for a living is nicely summed up in one scene by army man Major Eaton; “Dr. Jones, professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and obtainer of rare antiquities.” It’s a great “elevator statement” that introduces us to the character of Indiana Jones and  tells us everything we need to know about him.

Regardless of what you do for a living, you need a short, snappy way to sum up your expertise and what you can offer others. It should establish your credibility and succinctly tell others what it is you do. (Click here for tips on writing your own.)

Be focused on the moment. In Temple of Doom lounge singer Willie tells Indy, “You’re gonna get killed chasing after your damn fortune and glory!” To which he replies, “Maybe. But not today.” Indiana Jones is a man who—as Eckhart Tolle would say—understands the power of  “the now.” Indy is all about surviving and moving ahead but to do that he needs to stay focused on the urgency of the moment.

Too often we’re distracted by persistent thoughts of the past and the future. Neither will help us through the current predicament. Make an effort to be in the moment and give whatever you’re doing your full attention and effort. You’ll get more things done and enjoy life more.

Get away from your desk. In his day job as a professor at Marshall College, Dr. Jones has mundane lectures to prepare and stacks of papers to grade. He has busy work just like the rest of us. But to find valuable treasures, Indy knows he can’t spend all of his time at a desk or podium. He needs to get out of the office to make things happen. This isn’t easy, even for Indy. In The Last Crusade, he resorts to dodging appointments with a crowd of students by escaping out of his office window.

Your life is playing out in real time, and you have to make the most of it. Do something today to break out of your comfort zone. Make getting out of your office to learn new things, meet new people, and follow up on leads a part of each week. You’ll be surprised how interesting things start happening.

Decide on a bold objective. All of the Indiana Jones plots contain what famed director Alfred Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin.” A MacGuffin is the object of the hero’s quest, such as the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy Grail. It has to be compelling and pose a challenge to obtain. It’s what keeps the story moving and the main characters motivated.

So what’s the MacGuffin you want to chase? What gets you moving and motivated? Decide what it is, and go after it with Indy’s same grit and persistence.

Bullwhip or not, you may find you can really become an action hero in your own life.

7 Secret Lessons of “The Old Man and the Sea”

Sure it’s a classic work of literature, but “The Old Man and the Sea” really shines as a handy guide to success.

In school many of us read—or were supposed to read—Hemingway’s novella, The Old Man and the Sea. The story is a classic and it earned Hemingway a Pulitzer in 1953 and a Nobel Prize in 1954.

There are plenty of places to go to discuss the book’s literary merits and debate the symbolism and allegory.  Hemingway himself said, “No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in… I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things.”

Well here are some meanings they might not talk about in AP English. Allow me to do you a favor and take my trusty fillet knife to this 100 page novella and carve out some real-world useful tips you can put to use no matter what you’re fishing for.

Make your own break. In the opening line of the book we are told the old man Santiago has “gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” Santiago has become a pariah in his little Cuban fishing village. Fishermen are a superstitious lot, and the parents of the old man’s trusty mate, Manolin, forbid the boy from fishing with him. The notion of bad luck is alive and well around us today. An MBA will “knock on wood” discussing a business venture. A pro ballplayer (and legions of fans from all walks of life) will blame poor performance on a slump or a curse.  Ruminating on the debilitating effects of “bad luck” Santiago says, “To hell with luck. I’ll bring the luck with me.” So should you.

You can get old and still put up a fight. “Everything about him was old except his eyes and they were the same color as the sea and were cheerful and undefeated.” Although the protagonist, Santiago, is fictional the character is based on real people, from Hemingway’s angling buddy Gregorio Fuentes, to the mysterious fisherman and a boy they once observed in a tiny boat far out in the Gulf Stream. Santiago is an “old man” driven by sheer will to survive. He’s an heroic archetype, who keeps on pressing forward despite having lost everything. Through him we learn age doesn’t matter, it’s the will that counts.

Too often we start using the “I’m too old for this,” mantra decades before it applies. Somehow we go from being too young to do things to being too old to do them, and the things never get done. Are you using age as an excuse?

Always have a hero. Santiago is motivated by thoughts of his hero, Joe DiMaggio. Santiago isn’t a famous baseball player, but fishing far out in the Gulf Stream with a handline for marlin that can reach over 1,500 lbs is major league. He reminds himself that to succeed he must adopt the same traits that are true of all of those bringing their “A” game. “But I must have the confidence and I must be worthy of the great DiMaggio who does all things perfectly even with the pain of the bone spur in his heel.” Who inspires you? If they watched you today what would they think of your efforts?

You have to do it alone. Once Santiago has hooked the fish they begin a long, agonizing struggle and both of their lives are on the line.  Santiago knows that is it his his own battle and to win it is up to him. “My choice was to go there and find him beyond all people in the world. Now we are joined together and have been since noon. And no one to help either of us.” Whatever you have to do, banish the thoughts of blame, and what-ifs and focus on doing what only you can do to get it done.

Don’t quit. Most of the time spent fishing involves trying different bait and lures, and experimenting with different depths and locations. Fishing is synonymous with patience. A good angler thinks in terms of options rather than obstacles. “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Persistence gets the fish.

Re-think the definition of work. Hemingway’s vivid prose really puts the reader in the midst of the action. You can feel the hot sun on Santiago’s brow, sense the unforgiving ocean beneath the boat, and experience the line biting painfully into aged hands as the heavy fish runs deep. It’s a stark reminder of the nature of hard work. There are people around the world who do more before 9 AM than some of us do all day. Hemingway knows you’ve got more inside, so reach down and pull it out. Today is the only sure thing you’ve got. So own it and wring it for what it’s worth.

Define winning. At the end of the book the old man’s giant fish is devoured by sharks and he returns to his village, exhausted and battered, dreams of a big payout at the fish market shattered. But the villagers come out to marvel at the unprecedented size of the skeletal remains lashed to his tiny skiff. “I think the great DiMaggio would be proud of me today,” Santiago muses before he collapses into sleep.

The old fisherman has earned the villagers lasting respect; next time he won’t fish alone. And his job is not yet finished—there are other fish out there, waiting.

As Hemingway said, “Any man’s life, told truly, is a novel.”  So what’s the next chapter in yours?

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