What Frame Of Reference Are You Creating Right Now?

I want to ask you a question. What frame of reference are you creating in your life? I’m going to tell you a quick story about something I’ve never really talked about before. I went to college when I was 17 years old. I was literally five foot eight inches and weighed 140 pounds soaking wet. I joined army ROTC because I thought it would be cool. The first couple weeks of the first semester I saw these older guys in ROTC walking around with what I found out later were airborne “jump wings” on their chests. These were guys and ladies who had gone to airborne school and jumped out of airplanes.

I was like wait, what? You could, as an ROTC cadet, go to airborne school and jump out of airplanes? I was in! Then I started finding out there were some pretty stringent physical requirements in order to go. One requirement was that you had to go to the gym at 6:00 in the morning and do the “airborne pt” workout. It was tough, especially for someone who had never worked out before. I literally could only do 25 pushups and, and 30 situps. I couldn’t even run two miles. But I said, “Okay, I’m going to do airborne PT!”

One of the older cadets said to me early on, “You know what, if you really want to go, you’ll get a slot.” Now, he said that and I said, “Okay, I really want to go.” And he said, “No, if you really want to go, you’ll get a slot.”

And I found out later what he meant by “really wanting to go!” That meant showing up for these pt sessions, going to bed early instead of hanging out with fraternity brothers and doing typical college fun stuff.

It was in that semester of college that I found out what “really wanting something” was all about. And so long story short, I worked out for months and months and I still didn’t get a slot. And so I said, ‘Sir, you told me if I really wanted it I would get a slot.” He said, “Hey, just hang loose. It’s not over yet. If you really want a slot, you’re going to get to go.” And sure enough, somebody couldn’t go and I ended up getting their slot.

So I was jazzed. I was super, super, super, super excited because I was going to have those cool jump wings. I called my parents and I said, “Mom, I got a slot to airborne school!”

And my mom said, “What’s airborne school?”

And that’s when everything fell apart. I had neglected to tell my parents, who were still my guardians, what I wanted to do. Well, my mother and father freaked out, got pissed off and said “You’re not going!” So they came down and talked to the colonel in charge of the ROTC, told him that I’d had childhood asthma, that my foot was messed up and bunch of other stuff. So much so that they ended up kicking me out of ROTC. I go from this high of I’m going to go get these cool jump wings to holy crap, I’m out of ROTC.

Not to be deterred, I went and talked to the colonel, told him I had over protective parents, and got it straight. They did a bunch of medical exams on me and eventually cleared me. But I had lost my spot to airborne school. So the colonel pulled a bunch of strings with the general in charge of ROTC for the whole nation and found me a slot to airborne school. So I had gone from in to out to back in. And by then I had turned 18. So I said, “I’m 18, I’m going to do what I want.”

So I came home, told my parents I was going to airborne school, and my parents said, “Okay, get out. Leave our house.” They literally said either you’re in or you’re out. So I had to make a decision and the decision was I was 18 years old and I was still in college and there was no way that I was going to be able to support myself. Going to three week airborne school and having that badge was not worth doing what I would have to do if I moved out.

So I didn’t go. And it sucked.

So what does this have to do with frame of reference? Well, that’s the interesting part. I didn’t share with you some details in that story about how I wanted to quit before I got my slot. Right in the middle of this whole process before I got my slot I was ready to quit. I was at a party with a friend of mine and told him, “Man, I’m going to quit.”

And he said, “Dude, don’t quit. You’re going to hate yourself for the rest of your life if you quit.” And so I thought about. I said, “Okay, I’ll just give it one more day.” And then I gave it and one more day and then one more day. As I recognized my progress, I was developing this frame of reference that I would be able to do this. I started to see that I could somehow transform myself from this 17 year old, 140 pound weakling into somebody who was capable of going to airborne school. And I did it! I transformed myself.

When I got home my parents hadn’t seen me for months. We kind of made up to a degree and then one day I was working out and my dad asked how many pushups I could do. I told him I could do 65 pushups in a row. He said, “bullshit! There’s no way!” So I dropped and did 70.

The look on his face was priceless.

And that’s when I learned about frame of reference. See, I now had the frame of reference that I could do it, but my parents had a frame of reference that said he’s still a kid with asthma.

This is why we had to be really, really careful with the frame of reference we’re creating for ourselves at all times, especially in our business. The fact is, you either have a frame of reference right now that empowers you or disempowers you. You’re either scared or you are excited. You are either looking forward with a frame of reference that says, “I can do this!” or you’re looking backwards with a frame of reference that says “I’ve never done this before.” And if that’s the case, you’re shooting yourself in the ass.

You need to be really careful about the frame of reference you’re carrying around. If you have disappointment, if you have things that don’t turn out exactly the way you think they should, you need to adopt a frame of reference that says every experience makes you better than you were. You’re stronger, you’re faster, you’re smarter, and you have more tools to move forward into the future to help you get what you want.

If you adopt that as your frame of reference, then you’ll be able to use everything that happens to you as fuel to move you forward – positive or negative. In the end I didn’t get to go to airborne school. In fact, I ended up getting out of ROTC in my second year because I decided I wanted to go into the Marine Corps, which is whole different discussion. Bottom line: I have looked back on that entire experience of wanting to go to airborne school and transforming myself physically to give myself strength. I’ve drawn on that for courage in the face of doing something new or doing something hard because it gives me a frame of reference that I can do something other people, sometimes even myself, would think was impossible for me.

My advice here is simple. Pay attention to the frame of reference you’re creating for yourself at all times. How you interpret things will either empower you or disempower you. Even stuff that happened 34 years ago for me I can use to empower myself now to this day. Adopt a frame of reference that proves to yourself “I can, I’m smart, I have courage, and I can make things happen!” You’re constantly developing your frame of reference, you might as well create one that empowers you!


  • Virginia Reeves

    Reply Reply January 30, 2019

    Jim – what a good way to remind us of how our attitude and perseverance are the keys to getting what we want. Also, that we have to step away from the naysayers and those wanting to hold us back, even if they think it’s for our own good. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

  • Rohi Shetty

    Reply Reply January 31, 2019

    Thanks, Jim!
    This is incredibly helpful to me. I am sharing it with my nephew who’s going through a troubled phase. Thanks for being you.

  • Kim Gail

    Reply Reply February 1, 2019

    Wow! Interesting story. Frustrating story. Sad Story. Motivating story.

    Made me go back over my life to see what frame of references I have been using to make the important decisions in my life

    also, what ones I may have inadvertently created for my own kiddos that are holding them back

    Thanks for sharing that.

  • John D Thomas

    Reply Reply February 3, 2019

    Thx for your story, Jim. I just sent an email to my 7K+ list and mentioned the story about what my roommate said to me many years ago. He said, “When I’m old and grey, I want to be sorry for the things I DID, not for the things I DIDN’T do”. For me, that was powerful! Tomorrow I’ll see if I get anyone who’s been sitting on the fence. (Warning: Yes, this approach DID get me into trouble now and then – but it changed my life from being a person living a life of “quiet desperation” to a life of “Okay – what’s next?”)

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