Introduction: Driven to Achieve (excerpt)
(Young And Driven Available online May 5th, 2017)
A 3rd-grade kid does a book report on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and is filled with excitement because he found out something he had never heard before. This elementary age kid finds out that Dr. King got his Ph.D. when he was 26 years old. He is so excited that he tells you that he is going to get a doctorate degree just like Dr. King. He adds that he is going to get his doctorate before he turns 26 years old. What do you say to him? Kids do say the darndest things, so maybe you write it off the first time.
However, what do you say a year later when this kid still has it in his mind that he is going to graduate with a doctorate degree by his 26th birthday and has now picked his majors? He proudly announces that he plans to get a B.S. in some kind of engineering, a law degree, and then maybe find an M.D. / Ph.D. program to finally achieve his title as Doctor. Do you tell him that he can’t do it? That might be too harsh. Instead, do you just let him know that in order to accomplish this goal he would have to start college no later than the age of 15?
What do you say six years later when, at the age of 14, he is actually applying to college? How would you advise him five years after that, when he is graduating with his B.S. in Bioengineering from Rice University at the age of 19? Now he is the youngest engineer in the nation, but still pushing towards a bigger dream; would you think it was possible? Would you be convinced three years after that when he graduates from Harvard Law School with his J.D. at the age of 22 as one of the youngest black law school graduates in the school’s more than 200-year history? Do you know what you would say six months later when he is admitted to the Texas State bar as the youngest of more than 94,000 attorneys in the state while completing his first semester in a Ph.D. program? Can you imagine the elation he felt 2 ½ years after that when he is only 26 days away from receiving his Ph.D. in Engineering, and 30 days away from his 26th birthday? Was that hard to imagine?
I am that kid! Starting in the 3rd grade, I spent almost 20 years working towards the same goal; I
was going to become Dr. Wickliff at a younger age than Dr. King graduated with his doctorate. During the pursuit of my goal, I have been called a dreamer, unrealistic, naïve, immature, uninformed, ignorant, childish, and a lot of other synonyms that I tried to forget. This name calling came from all different directions; it came from people who were old, young, near-and-dear, and relative strangers. Some of the discouragement was even well-intentioned. They were trying to get me to realize that I was pursuing what they believed to be an unattainable pipe dream. It would be a lie to tell you that I didn’t spend several nights lying awake thinking the same thing, especially during the difficult times. However, less than a month away from achieving what many thought was unachievable, a dream that has been 18 years in the making, people finally stopped telling me how impossible my dream was. Eventually, people started asking me how and why I did it.
When asked why I have given a lot of reasons – I wanted the title doctor, I wanted to have as many career options as possible, I am genuinely interested in all of my chosen fields, I want to be qualified for jobs with high levels of responsibility, etc. All of which are true. Yet, none of those reasons are what got me through 11 years of all-nighters in college, or years of early morning meetings and late work days. Although I have always been greatly inspired by the example of Dr. King, my greatest motivation was given to me by another man in October of 2000.
I did not know it at the time, but early that month I would have my last face to face conversation with my dad, Anthony “Tony” Wickliff. I remember vividly coming outside of my family’s church in Liberty, TX to see my dad standing, leaning over his pickup truck. We talked a bit about school and then, out of nowhere, he said,
“Son, when you get rich and famous, I only want one thing.”
“Of course dad, what is it?”
He responded, “Buy me a Corvette.”
My dad had been a mechanic for most of my life; it wasn’t just his occupation, it was his true passion. He had worked his way up from a volunteer to the owner of his own auto body, paint, and mechanic shop. His hands and forearms were always a few shades darker than the rest of his body from engine grease that just never seemed to disappear. In fact, he seemed to have oil stains on everything that he owned, from his jeans and t-shirts to his Sunday best. This was because there was never a time when he wouldn’t fix a car for someone, which, on more than one occasion, included resurrecting a car in a church parking lot. As such, I am thankful that he never had to find out how little his 10-year-old son knew about cars, because I think I would have made him feel somewhat embarrassed. When he asked me for a Corvette, I had no idea what it was. So I naively responded, “How about I get you a Ferrari or a…”
Before I could finish the sentence to suggest a Hummer, Range Rover, or some other car I had seen in a movie, dad interrupted me and said, “Stop acting like your mom, always trying to tell me what’s best for me.” He chuckled in his comical, unique way and declared, “I want a Corvette.”
In that moment, I promised my dad that I would become successful enough to buy him a new Corvette. Because I had never seen the sticker price of his dream car, I had no idea the level of success I was committing to achieve.
That promise stuck with me, because, less than a week later, my dad died from a heart attack. Just as vividly as I remember my dad leaning over his pickup truck asking me for a Corvette, I remember opening my front door to find my mom standing in the middle of the living room crying when I got home from school. There are few things more devastating to anyone, let alone a 10-year-old boy, than talking to someone that you love before going to bed, and finding out he died a few hours later in his sleep. One of those things, that did hurt worse, was finding out, he went to the doctor to get checked out earlier that month but couldn’t afford any of the diagnostic and preventative care that might have saved his life. That kind of hurt never fully goes away, but if you work at it, you can find a way to let it drive you. And that is what I did. See the more I learned about Corvettes, the more I realized the level of faith that my dad had placed in me. Dad was from a farming/ranching family and was raised on handshake deals and cash businesses. This meant that every automobile part he ordered, every tool he owned, and every car he bought was with cash. One day while reflecting on my dad’s death, it dawned on me that, in his mind, he fully expected that his 10-year-old son was going to become the type of man who would someday be able to buy him a brand new Corvette – in cash. Wow!
Why he thought that and what he was expecting me to accomplish, I will never know. The best I could figure is that he must have believed that naïve 3rd grader who had told him these outlandish dreams 3 years earlier. If that is the case, then he fully expected that the type of person who could pull that off would be able to get him his dream car. So, it became my personal mission to live up to the potential that Dad saw in me. However, it wasn’t just to make my dad proud, or to one day be able to own an excellent piece of American muscle in honor of him; although, those were definitely motivators. More importantly, I want to become the type of man he expected because that kind of man would have the ability to take care of the people that I care about. I could help ensure that those people could have access to the medical care that they need, and I would never have to bury a loved one for the need of a few extra dollars.
I know that I have not yet fully become the person that I believe Dad expected me to become, but in 26 days, as I write this book, I will be one giant step closer.
This chapter has shown you a bit about what ignited the drive to achieve academically within me. It is my sincere belief and experience that: Success can be achieved by anyone who is driven enough to apply unrelenting, consistent, and intentional effort to make their dreams a reality. The question becomes “How?” How did I turn my drive into achievement, and more importantly how can you? That question is what this book will address.
Although I will share stories and experiences from my life, this is not an autobiography. This book will present the concrete steps that I took and would recommend for anybody trying to pursue an ambitious dream. Though I have applied them, thus far, to academic pursuits and career goals, they can be applied to any dream – whether you are pursuing academic excellence, success on your job, team achievement, a new career, or taking that first leap into entrepreneurship. Thus, journey with me in the pages that follow and you too can build lasting accomplishment and make your dreams come true.
- TO BE CONTINUED -
Thank you for checking out this excerpt from the introduction to my first book.