“Ah, to come to the end of one’s life and realize one has never lived.” — Henry David Thoreau

Is life just happening to you or are you living it on purpose? Does your life and income depend upon the direction of the wind? Is it fate? Or will you pull it? You can decide what you want, add some character (doing something you committed to long after the feeling that had you originally commit wore off), follow some rules for success and start ticking off your goals as you achieve them.

When I was in my early teens, I moved to Florida with my family. I had just moved from the town I was born in and was a bit lonely, but had a few pen pals. One was a girl named Lisa, whom I grew up with. Well, I was a bit of an artist and was excited about Florida and all that it represented to me in contrast to Detroit, and drew a picture of a house I was going to live in one day. It was on stilts and the water was behind it with a boat anchored and a convertible car in the garage underneath. There were palm trees and the sun and sea gulls. I think I was trying to make her feel bad for being stuck just beneath the Arctic Circle in the Midwest and said she should move here when she grows up, as if to say, “look how great life will be.” I was too stupid to know that I was supposed to be older to do it!

We stayed in touch and nine or 10 years later when I was about 23 years old she decided to come to Florida for a few days of R&R. She was a law student needing a break. I picked her up at Tampa International Airport. We threw her bags into the trunk of my ‘67 Ford Galaxie convertible (yes, it had a 428 under the hood!). Man what a car and what a day to show off Florida to my “stuck in the north” friend! We drove over a land bridge, crossing Tampa Bay with the top down, watching the pelicans dive for fish as we sped along. We explored the beach and stopped at a waterfront restaurant for lunch. We then drove along Clearwater Bay, heading to the house to drop her stuff and get to relaxing. When we pulled up to my one-year-old house, she said, “That’s the house!” I said, “Yea, that is the house.” “No,” she said. “It’s thee house, the one in the picture.”

I had always known what I wanted as part of my picture of paradise. I never forgot. It would have been like trying to forget being hungry. I did however forget the drawing I’d sent her approximately 10 years earlier. She had it, still. We looked at it. It was the house. It was a stilt house on the water. It had the old Ford backed in underneath, along with a collectable Corvette. There was a boat out back hanging in a lift. The drawing was not the statement. It was a thing I did as a manifestation of my dream. My goal. My decision. It couldn’t not be.

Many other things happened over that decade. I noticed houses and convertibles and boats. I felt incomplete without them. They were Florida to me. I honestly never considered NOT having this life. Same as never considering whether I’ll eat today or not. It just was. It was real every time I spoke of it or doodled a picture. I got envious whenever exposed to anything close to my ideal. “I WILL HAVE THAT.” And it became real as the words went out.

Some other things happened along the way. I was not one of those workaholic schoolboys. I had a buddy who was, and he turned out fine too, owning the restaurant he worked in after school by the time we graduated high school. Soon I got faced with choices. Mow lawns or no gas. Wash windows or no party money. Detail cars or no dates or movies or mall…you get the picture. Some might say, wow what a disciplined kid. Man, was he motivated. It was never that I was wrestling with lying around vs. hustling. It was all about choices. In my mind, I never had to do anything. My Dad always said, “You don’t have to do anything but die and pay taxes.”

I’ve expanded on that. I say all you have to do is die. You don’t have to pay taxes. You CAN go to jail, an obvious choice but still a choice. I didn’t think of it as work. I thought of it as, “I choose to have this life. Money in and of itself is worthless. It’s not like you can eat it. It does take money however to finance whatever pulls you.” So I did indeed choose to have some money. That was it. Further, I was committed to a convertible, a boat and a waterfront house. I also knew that when I was someday married with kids I’d want my children and their friends jumping off a dock into the saltwater — for me, that’s the only way for kids to grow up. Please hear this: In my own private mind I thought this was the only possible way to have a life.

I was so focused that there was simply no alternative. Sure I’ve worked hard, but not as hard as the family living in subsidized housing with a constantly breaking car and very little pleasure. Look close: Working hard is easier than struggling. And finally, again, it was my only future because (this is key) it was my PRESENT for almost a decade. Most of my financial choices were driven by my desire to end the discomfort associated with my outside (no house yet) not matching my inside (I already have all this stuff).

Highlight this line: When you explain things to yourself as a choice, and you choose based upon a previous decision, circumstances feel better and you know you’re moving toward something. If you see something as “no choice,” be careful as this way of thinking can lead to becoming a victim. Once this occurs you get in the mode of things happening to you. Next, you feel powerless and give up a key ingredient to success: Accountability.

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