Your Vector - Derek Oaks

Your Vector

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After little time as an Air Force Academy Cadet, I realized that I was competing with some of the smartest minds and capable young leaders in the country, and among them I was average at best. Tough blow for a National Honor Society, lettered high school athlete who had heard many times how good I was. I was just average at best, and to survive I needed to work above average.

My first two years of sprinting and struggling yielded what I was coming to expect—average. I was not smart enough to cram for exams and beat my classmates. I was not athletic enough to stand out in sports beyond a participation pat on the back. I was not the natural leader that drew people to me and put me at the front of any group. And yet I was trying REAL HARD. I really wanted to succeed. And I couldn’t crack the code.

I took a two-year break from the Academy to serve a religious mission, and something life-changing happened for me. I was not any smarter. In fact, a two-year layoff from math and sciences should have doomed me. I did not work any harder. But the grades and the performance fell into line with my goals. The two-year break and maturity taught be something about correct application of effort. About targeted energy and focus. It aligned my vector with what I viewed as my victory.

With over thirty years in aviation at some level, the word ‘vector’ has long been part of my lexicon. Like many other words that I never hear outside of the aviation world, I’ve learned to temper its use around non-flyers to avoid the ‘deer in the headlights’ look from many when I use it. Even so, it is a great word when talking about goals, focus, energy, and life in general.

Every life has a vector. We all have a direction and a level of effort. Even when sitting still, we have a vector. By giving ourselves a ‘vector check’ occasionally, we are only asking ourselves if our direction and effort matches the desired end state.

An anonymous author once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any course will get you there. Nothing could be more true. Young boys are often characterized as ‘all energy, no direction.’ The physical makeup of a child is prone to excessive energy and wandering from one event or attraction to another, not really sure what the point is in it all other than to live life to the fullest as only a child can. Few are the children that can focus on a task to the end.

That is where parents, teachers and mentors step in. Not to dictate the youths’ actions and goals, but to guide them and teach them how to dictate their own actions towards a goal of their choosing. With limited vision or a wandering mind, those goals may be more short-term and focused on just getting through the day, the week, or school year. Leaders teach youth how to focus on winning for a football team, how to perfect a song for a recital, to build something with their hands, or achieve the honor roll. Regardless of how meaningless my high school graduation is for me right now; it was a key goal and step for me to arrive right where I am. The few sports championships that I won as a kid could have been for naught without any major tectonic shift on earth, but they played a small role in who I am today.

Find what you define as victory. Determine what makes you happy. Others can help give you ideas, explain what different goals mean and what their achievement meant to them, but ultimately you must decide what victory looks like. Then set a vector to achieve that victory.

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