What do you do when you see a road closed ahead sign?

Yesterday morning my family and I piled into our car to make a 2-hour drive to a basketball tournament in the small town of Freedom, Wisconsin. Freedom is just north of Appleton. If Appleton means nothing to you, Freedom is 20 minutes south of Green Bay. If you are from New York City, or a non-American, Freedom is 4 hours north of Chicago.

The Sign

Fifteen minutes into the drive, as we made our way down a country road, we approached a large sign that said: Road Closed 1 Mile Ahead. Local traffic only. As we approached the sign there was one car ahead of us. Upon seeing the sign the driver pulled to the side of the road, then quickly turned around and headed back the way we came, presumably to find a different route.

I ignored the sign and continued down the road anyway. One mile later, I approached a small fleet of construction vehicles parked neatly on the side of the road. They had clearly been put away for the weekend. Despite the warning from the sign, the road was indeed open and passable, even for non-locals like me. I drove through the hibernating construction site, and within a mile I reached the interstate on-ramp, exactly as I had planned.

Don’t Turn Around, Bright Eyes.

As I pulled onto the freeway, and reached my cruising speed, I reflected on this seemingly small incident. Because it was symbolic of how we go through life. We all see signs that tell us we can’t go this way or that. We are told of rules and limitations and regulations that cause so many among us to stop and turn around. Because most good, rule following  people stop when they are told the road ahead is closed.

But if you want to do great things, hard things or never-done-before things, you can’t follow all the road signs. You can’t pull a u-turn every time you are told no.  You have to question, challenge and push ahead. And when you do, you will be surprised how often the closed path advertised ahead is wide open and waiting for you to take it.

Key Takeaway

If you want to start a business, create an innovative new product or service, or forge a new route, you can’t turn around every time you are told you should. The same holds true in our personal lives. You have to find your way forward. Challenge the rules and laws. Question the assumptions. Don’t just take no for an answer. Find out for yourself what is really possible. Because beyond the no, the stop sign and the dead-end are where all the really great things are found.

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The one simple thing that separates Dreamers from Doers.

Everyone has a dream. Me. You. MLK Jr., Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Yet the number of people who do something to make their dreams a reality is really small. Like Pluto vs. Jupiter.

So what’s the difference between Dreamers and Doers?  I’m glad you asked. Wait, I asked. Well, I’m glad I asked because you should know the answer.

A Deadline.

A goal is a dream with a deadline.  -Napoleon Hill

Time constraints motivate you to action. If you are serious about your dream, give yourself a deadline to make it a reality. Because a deadline tells you what you need to be doing now. (Hint: You can start by setting a deadline to take the first step. I do this a lot.)

When you were in school it was easy to set goals like these:

  • Make the varsity team.
  • Make first chair violin.
  • Get the lead part in the play.
  • Go to a party with cool kids.
  • Become an emcee of the Winter Carnival Talent Show and orchestrate a stunt to get the show shut down forever.

In school you have 4 (or 5) years to bring your dreams to life. That finite amount of time is a critical driver. Because you can’t stay in school forever (unless you were this guy named Brucey from my hometown).

But once you get past your schooling you start to float in an odd, timeless space. It’s like losing the effects of gravity once you leave Earth.  Time is still slipping by. You just don’t notice it until it’s too late. Like alcohol in a really fruity drink.

We all need time to ground us.

Time scarcity is what tells us what we need to do NOW.

If you want to accomplish great things, travel exciting places, learn new skills or start a business, you need deadlines. The deadline creates the urgency to act today.

When I turned 40 I set a goal of starting my own ad agency by the time I was 42. I easily beat the deadline. The time limit forced me to start moving. And when I started moving things developed quickly.  I set timelines for other business plans at the same time. Those plans are coming to life now too. On the other hand, I have a whole mess of dreams that I haven’t given deadlines. Those dreams are just floating out there, like Sandra Bullock, calling to George Clooney.

Dreaming is fun and easy. But it won’t translate to wealth, experience, accomplishment or pride without a deadline. Set one for yourself. Or set a lot of deadlines. Accomplish a lot. I’m giving you until midnight on Sunday to take the first step.  You’re on the clock. Tick…Tick…Tick…