The other day during an afternoon reverie, I thought about my life, my successes, frustrations and failures. I thought about the war—the big one, WWII—and my military service. When I realized how similar both aspects of my life were—civilian and military—I was surprised. In both environments you must train arduously, prepare for all possible circumstances, develop offensive and defensive strategies and plan to continue fighting even after you’re wounded by enemy fire—or a recession. I was young and adventurous, so I joined the paratroopers and was sent to The Parachute School in Fort Benning, Ga. The training was brutal, exhausting. The older guys, 25 and beyond, had to keep up or check out.
Whether you’re selling a product, starting a business or training for warfare, you must dedicate yourself to the process. The first stage was physical: endless hours of daily calisthenics, 25-mile runs and assaults on your body that would constitute a felony in civilian life. But it prepared you for battle. Salespeople and entrepreneurs must be physically ready to attack their objectives, to withstand the rigors of long days and late nights, and to engage the competition aggressively.
The second stage entailed jumping off 8- and 10-foot platforms into pits of sawdust. I wondered why they didn’t use sand in the pits for a softer landing. “It’s easier to spit out sawdust,” was the simple answer. There was also the wind tunnel where you learned how to collapse a parachute after hitting the ground. Getting proficient with a rifle and bayonet, hand grenades and automatic weapons came later. In business, you also must know how to use your equipment efficiently so that you achieve the maximum results. You also learn to be a team player; often your life depends on it. In business, your life may not depend on it, but your soul does. Forsake the team for greed or power and you strengthen the opposition. Then came the descent from 250-foot towers; first controlled, then freefall. That third stage prepared you for new experiences, sudden changes and emergencies. Now, you’re rarin’ to go. You’re ready for the big dance. In business, it’s time to open the store, introduce the line, sell the product.
And then, the fourth and final stage: The Jump. You draw your chute, lock in and board the plane. You stand in an open door, look down, see the drop zone and wait for the jumpmaster’s tap on the leg and out you go. When the chute blossoms, the experience is exhilarating as you oscillate like a pendulum and think heroic thoughts. In business, it’s like your first sale or the first day of a new venture. You become confident and competent and the propinquity of success makes you more aggressive and relentless in the pursuit of your goals.
The last segment consists of four daytime jumps and one at night. Upon completion of the regimen, a dress parade is held and amid proper pomp and circumstance, the commandant presents the qualified parachutist with his coveted silver wings. You trained diligently, practiced inexorably and performed admirably. In business, you’re baptized by experience and your reward is money and position; no wings, maybe a gold watch at retirement. The battle is intoxicating, especially for the entrepreneur. When you’re fighting for success, as on a battlefield, there are no barriers and no boundaries. You are limited only by your imagination and your aspirations. Make every obstacle a challenge and every challenge an opportunity.
War is hell and business isn’t much better, but the amount of good you’ll get from business is commensurate with the amount of training and preparation you invest. Get involved.