Flying solo. What does that mean?
To me it means being independent. It means being able to do what I want to do, accomplish what I hope to accomplish, without having to rely upon the help of others. Not that the help of others is bad. It can often be quite good. But if you have to rely upon the help of others to move forward, and that help doesn’t come, then you can’t move forward. The best guarantee to moving forward is learning to fly solo.
Once you learn to fly solo, you can truly pursue your dreams without any inhibitions. There will still be obstacles. In everything we do, there are always obstacles. But achieving your dreams isn’t about encountering obstacles; it’s about overcoming them.
In my work with others, I have found that one of the main elements holding people back from pursuing their dreams, their hopes and their wants is that they haven’t clearly defined their goals. They don’t even know what it is they want. And the reason they don’t know what they want is that they don’t really know who they are. More specifically, they haven’t learned their special value in this world.
You have value. No one in this world can do what you do. To admit that is neither bragging, nor is it a put down of others. It’s just a simple statement of fact. Others may, and can, do something similar to what you do, but no one else is you.
I learned what my value was during a crucial period seventeen years ago. Until then, I had always been independent, always relied mostly on myself, and that was true for as long as I could remember. According to my parents, when I was two, my mother used to put me in a harness and tie me to the fence, a common practice back then; it made it easier for parents to keep an eye on their children. Problem was, I always managed to find a way out of the harness.
When I was ten years old, I started my own neighborhood bicycle repair business as well as a shoe shining business. Soon after, I worked at a local gas station part time and picked up other various jobs over the years. Eventually, I dropped out of high school and joined the army. I wanted to go to Japan, but instead I was stationed in France where I finished the requirements for my GED and, not incidentally, met my wife.
So I was always independent, but it was seventeen years ago that I really realized that about myself. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I underwent a very radical prostatectomy, and the recovery took almost two years. As if that wasn’t enough, I was also going through a divorce. My wife at the time stayed with me for a year, until the worst of the cancer and recovery was over, before we finally separated. But during those two years, I went through a grueling process of self-discovery.
I found it necessary to question my very existence and being. I questioned survival itself and its importance in our world. I asked myself an array of questions to get at the essence of who I am. I looked into past experiences, going back as far as I could, and whenever I started to feel uncomfortable, I knew I was hitting on something I needed to fully examine.
I bore to my essence and understood why I was so independent. And I also learned why so many other people are not independent. And I also learned that my unique value to this world could be to help others become more independent themselves.
In order to help others become independent, the first thing I did was write a book, Who Sleeps in Your Skin? The book is all about teaching others to be steadfast in their convictions while focusing on the positives in their life so that they can be more independent and achieve their goals. Ultimately, it’s about knowing yourself, understanding yourself, liking and disliking yourself, all so you can live a life without limitations.
So the first element to pursuing your dreams is knowing what they are, which requires knowing who you are, your value. But this is where many people run into the second element preventing them from achieving their dreams: they lack the confidence to pursue them. Often, that lack of confidence is not their own fault.
There’s so much of each of us that’s not really us but rather the influence of other people, usually negative, oftentimes well-intentioned. And so much of it stems back to childhood. Without realizing it, we often instill in our children fear, guilt, confusion, uncertainty and dependence by overcorrecting, misjudging, overstating and disallowing the creative exploration of a child. And that comes back to haunt the child, haunt us, later in life.
Whenever I ask a client what’s holding him back, it’s usually something that happened to him when he was a child, something he were scolded for or made to feel guilty about. But when that client can examine that past incident through lenses of the present, he can break free its negative power.
But understanding the problem is just the beginning. Much of the real work towards building a more confident, more independent, self comes after the understanding. And that is a lifelong process that involves various survival power tools, including commitment, self-discipline and courage.
After I got out of the army, I launched into an almost indescribable series of jobs—twelve of them over fourteen years. I did everything from sales for Fuller Brushes to a staff manager at Prudential. Along the way, I also got my college degree in three years at Bryant University. Successful as I was in my work, though, I just didn’t like what I was doing. I was too independent to be subordinate to others.
It was then I decided to start my own business. It was a risky decision. My life was in a shambles at the time. I was in the midst of a divorce, and I faced a future of uncertainty with no money and a large amount of debt.
But I didn’t focus on the negatives. I focused on the positives of what I was about to do, and the strongest positive I had was my confidence in myself. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, you do have positives that you can focus on that will help you achieve your dreams.
Another key tool in the process of change is learning to recognize the wisdom of others. My business was in international costume jewelry, and while I encountered many hardships over my twenty-seven years in the business, I also reaped many rewards, and not all of them financial. I got to travel all over the world and share experiences with people from different cultures.
I learned that all of us share the common bonds of love and compassion. I learned that we all share the same values in life and family, and I learned that regardless of our cultural differences, we really are one.
I also learned to appreciate another human being for who he or she is. I learned how to acknowledge that person’s value and contributions to mankind.
The process also includes change. People tend to fear change because they fear being removed from their comfort zone. But change is a challenge to learn new things, an opportunity to be creative, to get involved in something different. Change is good, positive, stimulating and necessary for our wellbeing, so in actuality, we shouldn’t fear change. Rather, what we ought to fear is not changing.
The entire process also involves failures. In fact, our entire lives involve failures, but I’ve never liked the word “failure.” I prefer to call them learning experiences. Without making errors, how can we learn?
Failure is an idea that’s applied to humans that means the opposite of success, and failure is interpreted as a negative, usually applied to a specific goal. But to say someone failed is to assume you know that person’s ultimate destiny. For instance, I was let go from many jobs, and that would suggest that I failed. But because I was let go from those jobs, I eventually started my own business, which afforded me many forms of success—financial, mental, emotional, cultural.
The point is always on our path, even when it feels like we’re not. We each have an origin and a destiny, and for the longest time we may not know what that destiny is. In order to cope with, and survive, my recovery from cancer, I adopted the idea of examining my life, something Socrates told us long ago that we needed to do. The result was that I ended up with this entire new life of helping others shape their own futures.
But before you can create your future, you must live in the present. And before you live in the present, you must edit your past, examining all those things that prevent you from moving forward.
My new life, new direction, didn’t happen all at once. I eventually came to appreciate my skills, my creativity, and my keen understanding of the behavior of others. And I honed my ability to communicate with others. I learned to be hard or soft, depending on what was called for, skillful and kind.
In most major ways, I’m really no different from anybody else. I’m able to help people in a unique way; that’s my gift, and I use it every day. Anytime I can help someone, I do. And usually my help leads people to realize what their gift is, and how they can use it to benefit us all.
Nicholas R. De Stefano has a BSBA from Bryant University with a major in Management and a minor in Economics. He has over forty-four years of experience in marketing and sales, and for twenty-seven years he owned a very successful jewelry business.
Currently living in Florida, Nick has experience in commercial sales, marketing and business coaching and consulting specializing in helping others overcome personal obstacles to achieve the careers, and lives, they dream of. His book, Who Sleeps In Your Skin, and more information about Nick, is available at http://www.wsiys.com or http://www.bizotb.com.