Tony Beets is a gold miner in the Yukon, and a reality TV star on Discovery Channel’s Gold Rush. He was born in the Netherlands, but moved to Canada years ago to find better career opportunities. He’s as rough as he looks, but don’t let the appearance fool you. Tony is a desperate man. Desperate to find more gold. He left construction and headed to the Yukon to mine for gold in 1984. Relentless pursuit are the two words I’d use to describe his style. But I’m a more polite person than Tony.
Tony is a speed freak extraordinaire. He doesn’t take anything off anybody. He pushes, cusses, pushes some more, cusses a lot more and gets things done.
A new season of Gold Rush is about to begin. This should be an interesting time watching Tony work his Viking magic. He bought a 75-year-old dredge and hired a couple of guys to help him move it to his mining operation. He’s confident it can crank out up past $7 million in a single season of gold mining. But first, they’ve got to tear it down and truck it miles away, then reassemble it. During the first episode Tony takes these two unsuspecting fellows to see this enormous dredge that hasn’t worked in 30 years. It’s gigantic. Tony walks them inside up to the control room to take a closer look. You can easily see the wheels turning in their heads as they’re wondering what in the world they’ve gotten themselves into. Tony isn’t a subtle soft sell kinda guy. He’s direct. He’s in your face. He’s bold. He plainly states his requests, or demands, then asks one question to find out if you’re in or out. That’s his selling process. Since he’s got the gold, it works. He tells these guys his powerful one sentence sales pitch.
I mean every Viking needs his ship, well this **** thing is mine.”
Then his simply asks them if they’re in or out. They pause. Pondering the enormity of the task. He stares at them, unflinchingly and asks, “Gentlemen?”
And like anybody who wants to play in Tony’s world, they agree to do the job. They’ll help tear down and move Tony’s new million-dollar Viking ship, a dredge that Tony hopes will help him achieve his goal of two big mining operations that can run simultaneously.
I meet with a group of young men a few times a month. It’s a labor of love and faith. These are all remarkable young men, three of them are fathers. They’re not kids. They’re men. They’re all at least 20 years behind me so I’m hoping to be a valuable resource for them. I’m planting seeds that I may not live long enough to see grow into strong trees, but I’ve already seen them grow enough to make it all worthwhile. I love these guys. That helps.
The other day I decided to talk a little bit with them about decision making. It’s been on my mind for about a month. Countless blog posts and articles online leaped out in front of me because I was likely pre-occupied with the topic. So, it’s like everywhere I looked I was seeing stuff about it.
During our meeting one of the young men who happens to be my son spoke up about the two reasons people make decisions: inspiration or desperation. We chatted about how these 2 factors drive all of us to make choices. I asked him, “Which one drives most of your decisions?” I wasn’t sure how he’d answer. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how I would answer it. He didn’t hesitate too long and said, “Inspiration. Definitely, inspiration.” Not only as his dad, but also as the leader of this group, I was pleased. Mostly for him because I suspect that’s not the case for many people.
For the next few days I kept thinking about those two terms, inspiration and desperation. At first blush they’re polar opposites. The first is positive. That’s why I was thankful my son answered that it was mostly the compelling reason behind his choices. The other is not just negative, but depressingly so. Thoreau wrote that famous line that embodies the depth of it so well.
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Somewhere I’ve still got the paperback book that I bought and read back in the late 80’s – Quiet Desperation: The Truth About Successful Men by Jan Halpern. It’s been way too long since I read it, but the title alerts you to the content. Many successful men are living lives that Thoreau described. The contradiction is that they have achieved a degree of success, yet suffer quiet desperation.
Gold mining seems like tough business. Very tough. Every time I watch an episode I think, “Man alive. There’s got to be a better way to make a living.” Equipment is constantly breaking. The ground is often uncooperative in giving up the gold. People are stressed by the hard work and long hours so tempers often flare. If it’s not one thing, it’s a dozen others.
Gold mining isn’t the only hard work. So is songwriting.
Jackson Browne appeared recently on Off Camera with Sam Jones. While talking about his own singing, Browne pointed out to Sam Jones that by the time the first record was released he’d been working hard to improve his singing. Those of us who love Jackson Browne universally brag not just about the lyrics and melodies, but his ability to sing. It was the result of hard work brought about in part by his mom who once told him after watching him play live before he was a recording artist. She couldn’t understand his words and told him to start enunciating more. He admitted that for a long time he didn’t think of himself as a good singer.
David Geffen co-founded Asylum Records in large part because he had been shopping a deal for Jackson Browne. Nobody wanted to record Browne. Instead, Geffen was encouraged to form his own label to record Browne. When Sam Jones asked him how that made him feel you could tell Jones suspected it might make him feel very special. Instead, Jackson confessed it made him feel like he was so awful that Geffen was going to have to start his own company just to record him.
There was the usual starving artist conversation about his first road trip to New York from Orange County California. His mom gave him fifty bucks and one gas station credit card. Stories of sleeping at a manager’s house. Serendipitous encounters with people who lead to other people who lead to career breakthroughs. But Browne was committed to being a singer-songwriter. Asked if he had any backup plan – any plan B – he confessed he didn’t. His dad talked to him about one day wanting a family and needing to leave himself options. But Jackson said he figured if he had a safety net he might wind up in it so he didn’t have one. Maybe Gywn can’t just say she was born to sing, but Jackson did.
If desperate times call for desperate measures, so does inspiration. But it works in reverse, too. Inspiration calls for inspirational moments. And I suspect both require more desperation than we may realize. Or want to acknowledge.
Desperation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. How can desperation be a good thing? Easy. Just think about it in your life.
When you loved the girl and were desperate for her to know. Or you’re desperate to see her again. I was 17. School was out for summer. Alice Cooper said so. I was one semester into college having graduated high school early. We had gone on our first date and been together pretty constantly since. We had both attended a church meeting during the July 4th holiday. My first night there I asked her out. The next morning we sat together in church. Then again that night. Then we went out again. I was never one to “date around,” but this was different. I sensed it might be for her, too, but one never knows for sure. Somebody took this photo of us during those first dates.
Proof that I once had hair. Too much of it to suit my parents. And no, I’m not smoking anything. That’s a straw in my mouth. Come on, people. We were at a CHURCH MEETING. Mirrored sunglasses, “glass pack” mufflers and cars with lots of chrome. It was “the good ‘ol days.” In the car that summer were Pure Prairie League, Poco, The Hollies and ZZ Top, plus a vast array of others including Jackson Browne. I never went anywhere without cases and cases of tapes.
When the meeting was over I was desperate. Desperately in love. I drove back to southern Louisiana while she went back to Ft. Worth. An 11-hour car ride would now separate us. I had no idea when I’d see her again. She’d be starting her own college career right there at home in Ft. Worth while I resumed the drudgery of LSU. My life will full of desperation in those days. Desperate to write another letter (we wrote each other every day). Desperate to make sure she felt toward me the way I felt toward her. Desperate to see her again. Desperate to get out of this Calculus class with a passing grade. Okay, some acts of desperation just don’t pan out. I never did pass calculus. But that desperation led to inspiration, the acknowledgment that I wasn’t meant to be an electrical engineer. Which led to more desperate inspiration to enter the school of journalism where I felt perfectly comfortable from day 1.
But back to love. The best kind of desperation.
I endured years of desperation away from that girl in the photo. Okay, two years. But when you’re young and in love, and apart…it’s like dog years. And I felt like a dog during those years. I’d go to class, then to work selling hi-fi equipment, listening to my favorite records and writing. Lots of writing. Mostly letters to her. And rushing home to get my mail, knowing there’d be a letter from her. There was just a lot of desperate behavior in those days. It fueled me. Drove me. Inspired me.
It inspired me to make choices and decisions. Some that would affect my entire life and alter my trajectory. And hers. Inspiration drove me to go visit her, asking my boss to let me off work on a Saturday. A big deal when you’re working retail. Driving all night Friday, arriving at her house around 6am Saturday. Spending all day with her and riding in my car to a quiet place where we hatched a plan to marry the following year, during the winter holiday break. It wasn’t so much a plan. It was more like drawing up a playground football play in the dirt with a stick. But it was good enough for us ’cause that’s how you roll when you’re desperate enough to be inspired.
We were creative because we wanted it badly enough. The money. Where we’ll live. What our short-term future will look like. We talked about all of that. And more. We didn’t look too far down the road because like most young people, we just didn’t have the ability. But we were both smart – we’re still pretty smart. We were both desperate to be together. It was a grand time when together we allowed our desperation to fuel our inspiration. I’m not sure it’s ever happened again quite like that. Partly because we were young and so in love. Partly because the world hadn’t yet kicked our teeth down our throat a few dozen times. Naiveté has some benefits.
Every Viking needs a ship.
We found our ship in 1975. It was each other. On January 2, 1978 we were married. Our ship has taken on some water every now and again. We’ve hit some rocks along the way, too. I’ve even dropped my oar in the water more times than I can remember. All things that seemed major in real-time, but in retrospect…not so threatening because we still had our ship, even if it was sometimes damaged. It just meant we needed to work on the ship some.
Do you watch that History Channel series, Vikings?
Oh, you should. It won’t be back on the air until next February, but it’s a good show. About Vikings. Their ships are vital to their ability to pillage. And if you’re a Viking who doesn’t pillage…you’re not a Viking. You’re a farmer. Being a Viking is infinitely more thrilling. And rewarding. The ocean is the way to adventure, riches and glory. That’s why you need a ship.
What’s your path to adventure, riches and glory? Or whatever it is you’re looking for?
I don’t care what it is, there’s a metaphorical waterway to get you there. So you’re gonna need a boat.
Tony Beets needs a bigger boat. That’s why he spent one million bucks buying an old dredge. A very large old dredge.
Tony has calculated that this dredge can move enough dirt to bring in $350,000 every week. That means, according him, in about 5 months of gold mining – remember we’re talking the Yukon where you have to mine when the ground isn’t solid ice – this contraption can bring in about $7.5M worth of gold in a single season. THAT is a really big ship!
That’s why Tony is very determined to get this dredge moved, up and running. He’s cracking a whip because he sees the future with this ship. Not everybody helping him sees it, but he doesn’t care. So he drives everybody hard because he’s a Viking and it’s his ship.
That’s the lesson today. Be a Viking. Have a ship. Be inspired to be desperate enough to drive hard enough to succeed.
Instead of waiting for some inspiration to hit you out of the blue why not embrace the present desperation you already own? Don’t tell me you have no desperation. Everybody has desperation. Maybe you’re blessed right now and you don’t have much of the bad kind, but think about Tony Beets. You certainly have easier access to opportunity desperation than you may realize. If Tony Deets can ferret out a 75-year-old dredge that hasn’t operated in 30, then I’m sure you can find something to drive your desperation.
I know it’ll feel like running into a burning building, but we both know you’ve been running away from them long enough. Risks, opportunities, inspirations and desperations are all relative. I’m asking you today – right this moment – to consider walking up to your desperation, wrapping your arms around it and hugging it tightly for all your worth. You’ll be scared at first, but that’s okay. I was a bit nervous when I first leaned in to kiss Rhonda as a 17-year-old.
You’ll resist this if you’re not yet convinced you need a ship, but first, you have to know whether or not you’re a Viking. Not everybody is…at least all the time. Not everybody can be a Viking. In fact, the world doesn’t need you to be a Viking. You need to be whatever and whoever you really are, but we all have to be a Viking every now and again. In times of distress – or times when you’re not sure what to do – you need to find your inner Viking!
Vikings fight. They go and take what they want. They don’t negotiate. They don’t compromise. They’re bold. Vigorous. Courageous.
The journey toward their conquest isn’t some overnight destination. When you travel by ship using wind and man power, the trip can take awhile. Whatever time was spent planning on land before the voyage began pales in comparison to the time spent on the water. But Vikings know the trip is necessary. Conquests only happen if you’re willing to get into the ship. No ship, no conquest. Tony Beets knows this. That’s why he’s so driven. His ship is going to take him toward a conquest potential of $7.5M in a single season of gold mining. Then he’s gonna try to replicate that every single season.
So here’s how we can think about all this.
1. How satisfied are you right now? If it’s all good, then great. Keep it going. Honestly, there’s no need to board a ship and sail to a distant land for a new conquest if you’re perfectly happy today. You know there’ll come a time when you’re ready. If it’s not today, then rest up. Get your energy and strength fortified because you’re gonna need it. The past has already taught you this.
2. Where’s your pain? Face it. Don’t run away from whatever is scaring you right now. I don’t know what it may be, but it’s there. Others might not know about it, but maybe they do. This means you’ve got to face your own reality and not worry about what others think. This is your pain. You know it all too well because you live with it, even if you’re hiding it well.
So what is it? Revel in it. Dive deeply into it for the fuel you need. This is where I think too many of us get it wrong. I know I have. In fact, I’ll tell you that I historically avoided this just like you do. Then one day, sitting inside The Yellow Studio contemplating my future and my present pain it hit me. The biggest breakthroughs in my life have happened when I dove headlong into my desperation. Not in some dark way, but in a way to be inspired and motivated. There’s something about having your back up against the wall that can force you to move in the only direction available – out of the corner. It’s happened to me on a number of occasions. That’s the power of facing the pain. It beats the alternative of denying it.
3. How are you gonna fight your way out of this? Think about just one move. Listen, I know it’s impossible to always know exactly what you should do, but you’ve got some idea. All you’ve got to know is your first move.
Unless you were suddenly, unexpectedly surprised and boxed into a corner, then you’ve had some time in the corner. Think carefully, but don’t take too long. Act now. Do one thing to get out of the corner. It’s not necessary that you get too far ahead of yourself.
This one move is going to determine how you’re going to fight your way out of this. Well, actually, it’s going to determine IF you’re gonna fight at all.
Is your first instinct to defend or attack? If you’re smart it depends on what’s happening to you. If adversity is hitting you with one haymaker after another you’d better protect yourself for being knocked out. Or worse. But if the adversity isn’t aggressively knocking you around, then maybe it’s time to start kicking its butt. You’ve got to decide how you’ll fight and take your first move.
4. How long are you gonna fight? Are you gonna throw in the towel sooner, or later…or not at all? I grew up watching Cassius Clay and other boxers back when boxing bouts were televised on Wide World Of Sports, not pay-per-view. Sometimes an opponent wouldn’t answer a bell. They just couldn’t go on. Sometimes a guy’s corner man would put a stop to it and prevent their guy from going back in for a bigger beating. Today I’m disinterested in boxing, but I enjoy watching MMA (mixed martial arts), especially the grappling or wrestling moves. Sometimes guys will tap out when their opponent has them in a stressful hold. Sometimes guys will get choked out and pass out. But I’ve seen other guys who just refuse to quit, or tap. They do everything they can to keep the bout going, even if they’re being badly beaten.
Thankfully, life isn’t really like an MMA fight, with a distinct winner and loser. Life is filled with lots of gray and it can be hard to distinguish between winning and losing. That makes the answer to this question critical to your future.
Some fighters just lay down and quit. Exhausted, beaten and bloody…they simply lose their will to keep on fighting. There’s a strategy for living and a strategy for dying. Alive and kicking is the strategy for living.
Reflect on your past desperate times. If you’re like me you realize the outcome worked best when you behaved in ways fueled by that desperation. Times when the desperation drove you to be inspired. Motivated even.*
*Motivation is the energy we need to get the job done. Inspiration is the sensation or feeling we get from something. The dictionary definition of inspiration is, “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create.” Of course, inspiration doesn’t actually make you do something. You control that. That’s why I have always seen motivation is the energy you bring to your inspiration. Some bring a lot, and so they accomplish a lot. Others bring little, and their actions match it. I suspect that’s what makes the biggest difference, too – what we do with our desperation and inspiration!
You might do the wrong thing, but I know this. If you do nothing, your ship won’t come in. And if you do something, the odds are it’ll buy you enough time to figure out what to do next so you can make progress. I seriously doubt any Viking ship sailed a straight course to the lands they pillaged. They were brilliant sailors and fighters. Ruthless pursuers of their dreams. If a storm blew them off course a little – or a lot – I suppose they made haste to get back on track as quickly as they could knowing time was of the utmost importance.
Tony Beets knows winter is coming to the Yukon sooner than later. He’s got mere months of gold mining for this season. His ship isn’t in place yet. No ship, no dream realized. As Peter Drucker wrote in his book, Adventures of a Bystander:
The single-minded ones, the monomaniacs, are the only true achievers. The rest, the ones like me, may have more fun; but they fritter themselves away…. Whenever anything is being accomplished, it is being done, I have learned, by a monomaniac with a mission.”