The Monthly Takeaway

A Newsletter by Michael W. Anderson

Inspiration Comes in Unlikely Places
(August 2015 Issue)

The Realization

There are seasons in life where the time or energy to move forward on a goal will elude you. Rather than allow frustration or stress to build up, take a step back to clear your mind and chart out a new path to success. But as you do so, keep your eyes open—inspiration comes in unexpected places.

An Example

I recently went on vacation to the Outerbanks in North Carolina. I needed a break in the worst way. I had just completed my first year at a new job and, although I liked it more than my previous employment, it was much more demanding on my time and mental capacity. Attempting to make progress on my novels at 4 a.m. each morning or after coming home from my job, being a husband and father, mowing the overgrown lawn, grabbing yet one more late-night bite to eat, etc. was wearing me down. I started missing more writing days than not, which was disheartening.
The Outerbanks, a 200-mile string of barrier islands which separate various smaller bodies of water from the Atlantic Ocean, was exactly what I needed. There are a number of beach communities, most within a 50-mile stretch connected by one road, including Corolla (where wild horses run free), Duck (famous for Duck Donuts!), and Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills (where the Wright Brothers’ first flights occurred). It’s a funky place featuring casual restaurants with crazy names (like the Froggy Dog or Dirty Dick’s Crab House), thousands upon thousands of beach houses lining the shores, and a lazy beach vibe.
My family had a list of sites to see including the Wright Brothers National Memorial. We almost didn’t go. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but toward the end of our stay, we decided to give it a try.
I’m so glad we did. The story of the Wright Brothers is one of long-percolating ideas, steadfast resolve, and hard work for years in obscurity before success. In short, it’s a story that mirrors that of anyone trying to achieve a goal. It was just the inspiration I needed. 

The Wright Brothers

Wilbur (b. 1867) and Orville (b. 1871) grew up in Dayton, OH. The lifelong bachelors were extremely close: they lived together, started multiple businesses together, and dreamed of giving man the ability to fly. The dream was planted early; their father, a traveling Brethren bishop, brought back a toy helicopter when the boys were 11 and 7. The boys played with it until it broke, and then designed their own. But it would be 21 years before they started to seriously pursue the dream.
In 1889, Orville dropped out of high school at 17 years old to start a printing business after he designed and built a printing press with Wilbur’s help. Wilbur later joined him and the two ran the business and a weekly, then daily, newspaper…for four months. It was a failure. The Wright Brothers then shifted to commercial printing, which did better.
In 1892, the Wright Brothers noticed that America was going crazy for bicycles after the invention of the “safety bicycle.” They promptly set up shop making and repairing bicycles. They created their own brand and designed several improvements on the standard models available at the time. They would later use the profits from the bicycle business to fund their innovations in flight.
During this time, however, the brothers never lost interest in flight. In 1896, several events combined to transform their interest into an unquenchable desire. Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley successfully flew an unmanned steam-powered fixed-wing model aircraft. Chicago engineer and aviation authority Octave Chanute tested gliders over the sand dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan. And Otto Lilienthal, a German hang gliding authority much admired by the brothers, was killed on one of his glides. The brothers were convinced that the dream could become a reality.
In 1899, the 31 year old Wilbur wrote to the Smithsonian Institution requesting information and publications regarding aeronautics (imagine what they would have accomplished in the internet age! Oh yeah, probably a vast collection of selfies on Instagram…). That same year they began sincere study of aeronautics and mechanical engineering, which ultimately led to the first powered and controlled human flight just four years later on December 17, 1903.
There is simply not enough space in this newsletter to adequately capture the magnificence of the story. I was deeply moved as I walked through the exhibit and looked at the somber photographs of these worn-looking young men, so serious of purpose. The depth of their letters to friends, family, patrons and institutions outlining their belief in the impossible and their passion to create, was awe-inspiring. Their engineering sketches, hours of study, and starting and running of businesses were a testament to the ability of human determination. 
After walking through the Wright Brothers National Monument museum, I walked out to a large grassy field (which used to be sand dunes, similar to the ones not too far away, in Jockey Ridge National Park) to see the recreations of their lonely and ascetic worksites and living quarters and the large stone demarcations of the December 17, 1903 flights:
  • Flight 1: 12 seconds/120 feet
  • Flight 2: 12 seconds/175 feet
  • Flight 3: 15 seconds/200 feet
  • Flight 4: 59 seconds/852 feet
852 feet might not sound like much, but after seeing all the preparation and study it took, after seeing the bleak elements they battled for months on end, after reading about the personal sacrifice and gaining a better understanding of the enormity and impossibility of the task, the distance of that fourth flight was truly breathtaking. I was proud of their achievement.
The story was not all peaches and cream after those first flights. There was disbelief and disinterest, lawsuits and patent fights, contract squabbles and delays. But by 1908, the world acknowledged what the unknown Wright Brothers had been able to accomplish. Although Wilbur (the driving force) died in 1912, Orville lived until 1948--long enough to see the effect their invention had on World War II.

The Takeaway

There are many takeaways from this story, including:

Putting in the work – can you even imagine teaching yourself aeronautics and then designing an aircraft (let alone inventing aircraft) in four years? We often don’t realize what the mind is capable of, but it takes hard work and concentration to unlock its potential.

Practicing patience – 21 years passed before skills were acquired, the time was right, and work was begun on the dream, and 25 years before the beginnings of success were realized.

Daring to dream – the idea was so crazy, that even after the Wright Brothers succeeded with their first flights, no one believed them. It took years to convince the U.S. military to give them a contract and they were publicly lambasted by the European (especially the French) press as fraudsters. How crazy was that dream 21 years earlier?

Putting in your time – the brothers accomplished the vast majority of their work before and after “work hours.” Flight wasn’t just a hobby, but they had to pay the bills and take care of their responsibilities. Yet, their passion pushed them to dedicate every free hour to achieving the goal.

The major takeaway for anyone who is feeling a little disheartened on achieving a goal is this: step back for a short period of time to clear your head. Figure out a new plan of success that works within your (real) constraints. And keep your eyes open for examples of success that didn’t come easily. You’ll find an inspiring story underneath the glitz of achievement. 

Michael W. Anderson is the author of The Civility Code and Provoke Not The Children. Visit his website at to learn more. If The Monthly Takeaway was forwarded to you (awesome!), but you would like to receive future issues directly, please click HERE.

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