Posted with permission from Brigadier General John E. Michel, USAF – Commanding General, NATO Air Training Command-Afghanistan; Commander, 438 Air Expeditionary Wing
“Anyone can achieve their full potential…but the path we follow is always of our own choosing.” Martin Heidegger
One of my favorite stories as a child is the story of David and Goliath. It remains that way to this day.
Several thousand years ago the Israelites and Philistines faced off in battle. David’s older brothers were members of the vast army of Israel while David (the youngest of all the brothers) was trusted to stay behind the advancing army and tend the sheep.
One day David’s father, Jesse, sent David forward to the war zone to deliver some food to his brothers and to gather some news about how things were progressing. David quickly arranged for others to take care of the sheep while he took off on his mission.
Upon arriving at the battlefield, David was dismayed to find his brothers and the rest of the Israeli army cowering in fear from the taunts of Goliath of Gath. Goliath was the champion of the Philistine army. He was also a giant of a man, registering about 9 feet tall. Hurling scores of disparaging remarks and insults at the Israeli army arrayed around him, he hoped someone would take him up on his offer to engage in battle.
Yet the Israeli army sat paralyzed in fear; no one stepped up to accept Goliaths challenge.
David, who had been watching all this for several days now, was filled with righteous indignation. He decided to do what no one else would: he volunteered to fight the giant.
No doubt the King and his advisors must have thought David had lost his mind (or at least, had a serious death wish). Nonetheless, despite a number of people trying to dissuade him, David refused to back down. He was committed to standing his ground.
Given no one else stepped up to answer the giants challenge, King Saul offered David his royal armor to wear into battle. David graciously refused the offer, largely because the armor was about two sizes too big, and he knew it would do little more than slow him down in the already very mismatched fight.
From a personal standpoint, I can only imagine the stunned silence on the Israeli side and overt laughter on the Philistine side as the young teenage David set out to fight the supersize Goliath on the open field. On his way to the battlefield, David paused to gather five smooth stones from the river and pocketed four of them. The fifth went into the sling prepared for its intended target, Goliath.
As they approached one another, Goliath mocked David and said he certainly was not afraid of a little boy. David rebutted by adding he had no fear of Goliath and that the birds would be picking the flesh off his giant body by the end of the day.
Needless to say, Goliath’s inflated ego and swollen confidence told him this young man would be one of his easiest casualties to date.
He was wrong.
History records that as David and Goliath approached one another, David deftly let fly the single stone in his sling. The stone hit the giant between the eyes and sunk into his forehead. Goliath, momentarily stunned by what was unfolding; fell forward while both armies watched. David then pulled the giants own sword (the ultimate “in your face” move if you ask me) and proceeded to chop off the head of the former Philistine champion.
The Philistines army sat there in stunned silence, then, tried to flee. The Israeli soldiers were revitalized by what they saw and used their newfound courage to rout the Philistines before they could escape.
In sum, the final score worked out like this: Sheppard boy with the courage to stand his ground–one; intimidating, arrogant and previously undefeated giant–zero.
I share this well know story of David and Goliath with you because it teaches us much more than trying extra hard to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. It’s a story designed to remind us, amongst other things, of the danger of listening to the crowd instead of leaning into our potential.
As I write at length about in my first book, (No More) Mediocre Me, none of us were born to simply blend in with the crowd. The truth is, we were created to stand out. Each and every one of us has the spirit of David within us in that we are different, unique, and teeming with a specific array of talents, strengths and passions capable of being used to promote positive change in our surroundings.
Statistics confirm, however, that despite this amazing and intrinsic ability to stand out, to be our best possible versions of ourselves, most of us choose to “go along to get along.” We dress alike. We sound alike. And when someone dares to challenge the prevailing or conventional thinking of the day, we are often quick to label them as outliers, rabble-rousers, or misfits instead of valuing their willingness to stand up and fight for their convictions.
So how can we push back on this tendency to fall short of our potential and consistently live out our deepest held values and beliefs? Try following these three suggestions:
Celebrate Your Own Identity: A popular saying goes this way – “People laugh at me because I am different; I laugh at them because all of them are same.” Being true to who you are is what makes you stand out from the regular crowd. Going along to get along does little more than kill innovation, stifle growth, and hinder you from achieving your goals, hopes and dreams. Choose instead to illuminate, liberate, and cultivate your unique genius–then commit to helping those around you do the same.
Press for the Offensive: Taking new ground means you have to move forward, not stand still. To flourish in life, you must be willing to go all out and fight for what you believe in. Even if it means you have to follow in David’s footsteps and take on giant-sized challenges along the way.
Stand Your Ground: The more conscious you are of your particular talents, strengths and passions, the more confidence and courage you bring to bear on the choices you must make in your sphere of influence. So the next time you are tempted to follow the masses and toe the line or get in line because it’s what easy, choose to hold the line instead–setting an example others can emulate along the way.
Never forget, none of us were born to blend; we were all born to stand out. Are you consistently following the path of your own choosing?