A man with two shadows reaches for the sky.
Rick Nelson TAG Portrait

My first year in college at Hayward State, now Cal State East Bay, I took a drama class in addition to the requisite math, science, and language classes. Additionally, I did a little theater at night. So I got to know a lot of the students that were calling “Drama” their major. 

Early on in the semester, in a drama class led by professor Eduardo Dela Cruz, the instructor asked the class, “How many of you are pursuing drama as a major?” 70% of the class raised their hands. Then he asked, “Of you, how many have a minor in something outside the department?” Just about every person who had their hand up previously was also pursuing a minor in some other field.

Professor Dela Cruz paused and gazed across the room at his students. Then he said something that stuck with me: “If you have something to fall back on, you will. If you REALLY want to make theater your life, there can’t be anything to fall back on. Trust me,” he concluded, “the best way to become a CPA is to have a major in theater and a minor in accounting.”

Back-Up Plans?

I remember being incredibly cynical when I heard him speak those words. My natural reaction was: Everyone needs a back-up in case their best laid plans fall short. I also remember thinking, He’s a teacher…sure seems like he had a back-up plan.

But I was wrong. From the time he was a small boy, Eduardo Dela Cruz had only one dream: To be on stage. I learned that the professor had actually had a very successful career in the theatre as a triple threat: singer, dancer, actor. He decided to retire from performing to spend fewer days on the road and more time with the ones he loved. That’s when he started teaching.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve realized his comments were wisdom. In my case, it was the kind of wisdom that is presented, but not accepted. Of course, there is always an ahh haa moment when the lesson finally lands.

Chasing big things, becoming a professional athlete, being an actor or actress, becoming an elite scientist or lead engineer, starting companies, changing the world, or pursuing executive status in your professional career will require all of the persistence and tenacity you can muster.

Beware the Body Snatchers

Pursuing success will come with its share of obstacles, challenges, and adversity. My friend Hayes used to call those things “body snatchers” because if you succumb to them, you’ll find your passionate, driven self replaced by one who is apathetic, complacent, and settling for less. Replaced by a stranger. It’s the importance, the urgency you place on achieving your highest goals that determines your ability to elude the grasp of the body snatchers.

I remember being in a meeting of 15 entrepreneurs, including Hayes. Someone (maybe me) was complaining about the customers that didn’t pay their bills, the vendors that charged the highest rate because startups weren’t big enough to get a discount, the family member that kept saying how high the risk is, and how few people actually succeed, and all the other pitfalls that make you want to quit. 

I made the mistake of saying, “I’m tempted just to go back in the corporate world. Let somebody else deal with those headaches. I’ll get my check and benefits and be just fine.”

Hayes vaulted into a diatribe of why that was a lazy and weak approach. Entrepreneurs, he emphasized, have the opportunity and the responsibility to change the world.

“You can’t give into the body snatchers all around you,” he insisted. “You have to be stronger than that. You have to fight off those things that try to take the life out of your business, your teams, and you personally.” 

I’ve never forgotten that. When it gets tough — and it WILL get tough — remember two things:

  1. To overcome the nastiest body snatchers, you have to have a single-minded focus on your endgame. Related article: Burn the Ships. Make the Leap.
  2. When you set out to take on your biggest challenge, make sure your mind isn’t cluttered with your back-up plan. The only way to conquer is to commit.

Thanks, Edgardo and Hayes. Game on!

Your turn

What are your body snatchers? How do you banish them? Please share in the chat!


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