Utah’s Canyon Country is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It is home to three national parks, two national monuments, and the splendor of Monument Valley. Trout-filled lakes, ruins from ancient civilizations, petroglyphs, and red rock canyons lie in every direction. To visit southeastern Utah is to step back into time. It is to return to a place where one can actually experience the sensation of silence and see the Milky Way blanketing the sky. It would be difficult to find a more richly blessed area anywhere.
But – for all its natural wealth – Utah’s Canyon Country is also one of the most economically disadvantaged regions in the United States.
I drove down through the red-walled canyons of U.S. Highway 191 in June of 2009. Past Moab, once known as the Uranium Capital of the World, and on past the Monticello – where deer graze in the courthouse lawn, and I was to live for season – and on to Blanding, home of a state college satellite and a business incubator operated by a Small Business Development Center. My assignment, as a VISTA volunteer, was to help stimulate the local economy.
How can a golden opportunity be ignored by people living in poverty?
The SBDC incubator was housed in a multimillion dollar facility. It included an auditorium, a kitchen, about a dozen (empty) offices, meeting rooms, a receptionist, all the equipment one would need to launch a business office, and an SBDC counselor on hand to help guide clients through the process of entrepreneurship.
With the poverty rate running close to 30% in the region and unemployment at almost 12% (the highest in the state), one might think aspiring business owners would be standing in line to convince the counselor (a seasoned expert) they should be chosen to occupy one of offices at the incubator. Yet the building was all but empty. And it had been since it was built.
I met with the director of the facility and the regional SBDC manager to figure out a way to bring people in. Given my background in copywriting, they hoped I could use my advertising and PR skills to get the word out. After all, if the community isn’t aware a facility exists, it doesn’t matter how much you have to offer.
At the end of that first meeting, I headed home, to a rusty old trailer at the Monticello City Airport, armed with a list of media contacts and a puzzle to solve. The situation certainly seemed perplexing. If the tools, facilities, and personnel being offered in Blanding were available in my hometown, back in rural Oregon, it would have been packed.
(That’s what I thought, anyway. When I realized the real reason the incubator was failing to draw a hungry crowd, I changed my tune; it probably would have remained just as empty in Myrtle Point, Oregon.)
I followed up with the newspapers and radio stations. All of them would be happy to broadcast news about the small business incubator. The radio stations would even run public service announcements (PSA’s) for free.
Everyone I spoke with voiced support for the program, and all wanted it to succeed. When I asked why so few people knew about the SBDC center, though, the responses I received served only to magnify the mystery: “Why, everyone knows about the incubator. You can’t keep a secret around here.”
When you don’t know the answer, go talk to the people
He was standing in the shade of a juniper tree. Beside him was a faded old Chevrolet truck with the hood up. He was, I had heard, one of the best mechanics around – and my well-traveled van needed a tune-up.
As he finished installing a water pump on the truck and began to refill the radiator, I asked him about his auto repair business. Had he ever thought of building a garage and installing lifts? It must be tough to work outside during the winter. He could even include a parts store. Folks had to drive a long ways, as it was, to buy parts.
I don’t know how old he was, maybe 30. Maybe 60. Long, straight black hair and the demeanor of one who didn’t do anything real fast. He stopped, looked straight at me, and said, “That’s been my dream for a long, long time.”
I got as excited as a football fan on Super Bowl Sunday. Here was my chance – a recruit for the incubator. A guy who obviously possessed plenty of knowledge about his trade, but needed a little help to get a business off the ground.
“Let me tell you why I came to southeastern Utah,” I intoned. Then I laid into him with my very best pitch. By the time I was finished, I had his garage built, happy customers driving off to tell their friends and neighbors, and the cash register so full he had to make several trips to the bank daily.
Then the let down.
“Naw, I don’t think so?”
“What? You told me having a garage of your own has been your dream since you were young. I’m here to help you accomplish your dream, and the resources of the United States government are backing me up. You don’t want to do it? What are you thinking, man?”
“I just don’t think I could. Nothing like that could ever happen for me.” He made a quick motion with his hand and said, “Here, your problem is this disconnected vacuum hose. You’re good to go. No charge.”
We stared at one another briefly, pages passing between us. He then turned and walked towards his ramshackle house, leaving me to wonder why.
Why the mechanic couldn’t realize his dream – and how the light came on
I spent days pondering the situation, even went back a couple of times to try to get more information, but he didn’t want to discuss it anymore. Nothing I said could change his mind. It was too late for him to do something that grand; he was a simple man, and it would be best to accept that.
It was a tough pill to swallow. I saw the potential of a business that would serve the community with something they needed badly. He could charge fair prices and prevent locals from having to drive into Cortez, Page, or Farmington for work that could be accomplished right there. Moreover, I saw the people he would employ: mechanics, administrative personnel, and parts runners. He would need a bookkeeper and accountant, insurance, supplies.
A new thriving business throws a sizeable ripple in a remote area. He could even branch into buying vehicles in need of repair, fix them and sell them on his own lot. That would mean more employees and more cash to feed families and get new school clothes.
And what if a dozen such enterprises could be launched in the region? We could change the economic picture and attract new residents to this part of God’s country.
Back at my office in the rusty old airport trailer (I was managing the grounds in exchange for rent and utilities), I happened upon a quotes site and read something that hit me like a sucker punch. It was a line from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and it fit my newfound friend’s situation perfectly – in a reverse sort of way.
Don’t run by this quote quickly. Think on it a bit. Let it soak in like rain on thirsty soil.
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
It occurred to me that Thoreau isn’t blowing rainbow bubbles here; he’s laying things out just as they really are.
Let’s read Thoreau’s rather presumptuous verse – with emphasis on a few important, but easy to miss words. Study these tenets to find a simple, practical, exceptionally powerful means of reaching your goals.
IF one advances …
There is a prerequisite to reaching your dream. There is an IF … and it’s a big one.
One who would set out to accomplish a dream must do so with abandon. No turning back, no holds barred … it’s “I’m going to DO this thing.”
In the direction of his dreams …
One must know exactly where he or she is headed and set out in THAT particular direction. No more wishy-washy “maybe this, maybe that, or maybe later” … one must advance directly towards the dream.
AND Endeavors to live the life which he has imagined …
To endeavor is to try … and to try hard. Endeavor speaks of real effort. Your dream isn’t likely to be handed to you without significant struggle. You may have to forego pleasures and do without certain luxuries for a while. You may have to stay up working while others are asleep. An old maxim says something like this: If you want the things others will never have, you have to do the things they will never do. Moreover, you must concentrate on your OWN dream … and that may not be the same life others think would be perfect for you. Your dream is a WHICH; it has your name on it.
He WILL MEET with a success unexpected in common hours.
Thoreau isn’t proposing an idea that MAY work here. He wrote this from his own experience. The passage, as written in Walden, actually begins with “I learned this, at least, by my experiment …” Are you looking for a guaranteed path to your dream? Thoreau’s prescription is one that is not COMMON. We will try everything but “advancing confidently in the direction.” And we get sidetracked oh so easily, don’t we? Thoreau takes us from IF to WILL – and the latter absolutely depends on the first.
What do you do with the truth?
I was excited about my find – and was fortunate to be working with a team that understood the significance of my findings. Failing to locate an existing program that addressed the ramifications of Thoreau’s observation, I pulled the best advice from every time/life management course I could find … then wrote our own system: The Roadmap to Freedom (Dream Into It).
I took the course into the county jail – spending my Friday evenings encouraging inmates to identify and begin advancing toward their dreams. I took it to Rotary Clubs, college auditoriums, high school classrooms, homeless shelters … anywhere I could find an audience, and I began to see results, to get calls and emails from people who were finding “a success unexpected in common hours.”
I was exhilarated at the prospects for further work as the end of my VISTA term approached, but things quickly appeared to begin falling apart for me personally. The doctor said my wife needed an immediate operation; he was afraid she had breast cancer. VISTA said their charter wouldn’t be renewed, so a second term in the same location would not be possible. And the city told me my services would soon no longer be needed, since a new airport was under construction, and there would be no residence allowed at that site.
I had seen amazing things happening for others who put the Roadmap to Freedom to work – an inmate caught a break and went home to launch a business rather than on to prison to serve more time. A secretary finally wrote that children’s book she had planned for years and embarked on a tour to promote it. I knew the program was working in my life as well. I knew where I wanted to go … but how would I possibly get there?
Don’t even try to explain it – a Learjet in the desert?
Late one evening a visitor pulled into the airport and knocked on my door. He wanted to know if he could drop off a Hummer for his boss, who would be arriving the next day. I got him lined out, and in the process discovered that he worked for one of the wealthiest men in the West – a guy who was ranked among the largest private landowners in America.
Early the next morning, a Learjet announced its intentions to land. That was not a normal sight at Monticello. (Actually, a plane of any kind stopping for more than fuel was an event of sorts.)
Over the next few weeks, I was able to talk with the jet’s owner. He asked about my work, and I enthusiastically told him about Thoreau’s golden principle and the situation at the incubator.
A short time later, I received a call from his secretary. The Learjet would be coming back again in a few days. Would I fly back to corporate headquarters with the crew and consider working for its owner?
And that turn in the road (to quote another great poet and philosopher) “made all the difference.”
A Challenge and a Promise
How about you? Are you advancing confidently in the direction of your dreams? Or have you all but despaired of ever realizing them?
Don’t let the inner critic – the voice that says you can’t – continue to keep you from that which calls you. Your dream wants you as much as you want it. Stand up to the inner critic. Decide where you want to go and start walking. Thoreau is correct – situations will arise that are unexpected in common hours.
IF you advance in the direction of your dream … you WILL succeed. You don’t have to take my word for it, though … just try it.