WHO are you? WHERE are you? WHAT do you want?
I've been flying airplanes for twenty years. Still, every time I come in for a landing, I tell the tower I’m a student pilot. Mainly because I still am. What I’ve found is the people in the control tower are nicer to me over the radio because I’m a student.
No one cuts off a student driver, right? Well, some of you do, but you should feel really bad about it. If you want to engage your ambitions like you never have before, self-identify as a student in all things—be a student dater, student husband, student employee. You get the idea. We’re all amateurs at love and acceptance. Nobody goes pro and gets sponsored by Hershey’s Kisses or the Hallmark Channel. Don’t be a pain but ask people you admire lots of questions. Let them know you’re still a student and want to learn. Sure, some people will blow you off, but don’t sweat it. They’re just insecure or distracted. Most people will want to help you out and the kind ones always will.
Don’t act like you’ve got it all figured out. Nobody wants to give that person extra time. Instead, be humble, self-aware, and punishingly truthful. Jesus never had a problem with people who knew their shortcomings; He didn’t tolerate rookies who pretended to have gone All-Pro and have it all figured out but were just faking it. Once we get real with where we actually are and our desperate need for God’s help, He’s got a person He can do something with, and He’ll drop the people you’ll need in your path to help. Your job is to find them.
I love everything about flying except talking on the radio to air traffic controllers. Normally I like to talk to people, probably to a fault, but getting on the radio in the airplane to talk with a control tower has always intimidated me. They talk so fast and expect you to know what they’re saying. I might be wrong, but I think I heard a controller ordering a pizza once.
I decided maybe the problem was that I’d never met a controller in a tower, so I called the local airport and made an appointment to meet one. I got to the flight control center, walked up several flights of stairs, and stepped into what looked like a movie set. There were several people sitting in front of screens. Each screen had dozens of dots representing airplanes with actual people in them. The controllers spoke infrequently to each pilot, but when they did, they didn’t try to give them all the instructions they could possibly give. Each of the controllers was in charge of just a few dots, and their goals were simple. They wanted to help each plane get to its destination and avoid hitting other ones along the way.
Up in the tower, one of the controllers took me aside and said, “Bob, I know it’s hard to talk on the radio sometimes, and it can feel confusing and more than a little intimidating. Everyone feels this way sometimes. So just do this: Say who you are, where you are, and what you want. Then listen closely.” A lot of people feel the same way about talking to God or discovering their ambitions that I felt about talking to the control tower. They’re up in the air, don’t want to crash or hit someone else, and just need a little help getting to their destination.
Make no mistake, identifying and pursuing your ambitions is going to take a lot of courage and clarity. It’s also going to take more than a little personal reflection. Organizing your thoughts around these three questions will help you accomplish in the future what you haven’t been able to make happen in the past.
Start with acknowledging that deeper longing within you. If I had to take a guess, that’s why you’re here. You can feel it. I don’t even have to define what it is—you know exactly what I’m talking about. It is that “something more to life” rumbling around in your gut, that tug drawing you toward a scary, audacious dream. It nags you when you feel stuck at a job you once wanted but have since outgrown. It fuels the late-night conversations before college graduation. It hovers around coffee shops and kitchen tables when parents become empty nesters. It is everywhere. Boardrooms and bedrooms, subways and surf shops, galleys and galleries. It is in the passenger seat on a long road trip, uttered through quiet prayers, and found in pop song lyrics. These are all expressions of us searching for a life that matters.
I believe this pursuit is a combination of finding answers to the three big questions: Who are you? Where are you? What do you want? These are some simple words, but they are actually some of the most beautiful, most difficult, and most confusing questions we can ask of ourselves. They can be a cocktail of identity, desire, purpose, rejection, life experience, struggle, fear, hope, and longing rolled into one. If we’re going to discover and realize our most beautiful and lasting ambitions—the ones that are really worth pursuing—we have to lean into these questions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR BOB GOFF VISIT BOBGOFF.COM.