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“You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To”

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My first week in college was one of the most challenging weeks of my life.  

At the beginning of the week, I thought I would become a Doctor.  By the end of the week, I knew I wouldn’t.

This is the story of that one short week in my life, and how it cemented a lesson my Dad and been trying to teach me for years:

“You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To.”

I’ve thought of that lesson many times since, and today I’m sharing it with you.  You can do anything, but it’s conditional on that all-important step of putting your mind to it. We should all spend more effort deciding what we want to “Put Our Mind To”.  This lesson applies throughout life, and it’s particularly relevant to retirement.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

First, the story of that one week in college, and the lesson I learned that has been of value my entire life.  My Dad will be honored to know I’m sharing his lesson with you.

The first week of college was one of the hardest of my life. But it taught me a lesson I've valued my entire life. Click To Tweet

you can do anything you put your mind to


You Can Do Anything You Put Your Mind To

Biology 101.

Perhaps I should say, “The infamous Biology 101″.  The university I attended was known to have a strong pre-med program. A lot of the incoming Freshmen had ideas of becoming doctors.

Biology 101 would stop those dreams for many, including this writer.

In hindsight, it was genius.

The class was intentionally designed to weed out the “wanna be’s” from those who were truly committed to putting their mind to it.  The ones who thought, “It’d be cool to be a doctor, help people, and make lots of money” vs. those who respected the arduous path truly required to achieve the distinction.

“Weed them out early”, the university likely thought, “and avoid them looking back years later realizing they’d made a mistake.”  It worked, and it worked well.  The professor made everyone aware that they’d likely work harder in his class than any other class they’d take on their journey to becoming a doctor.  It was time to decide if you were serious.  It was time to decide if you were willing to put your mind to the task.

Less than 50% of the students completed the class.  I was one of the many who dropped out, and dropped out early. Effective, indeed. 

Their strategy was simple – hit them hard, and hit them early.

On the first day of class, our assignment was to read some insane amount of the Biology textbook by the next class.  I stayed up reading until 1:00 am, and fell short by a chapter.  On the second day, the assignment was equally intense.  I made it to Day 3.

My dreams of being a doctor vanished in 3 short days.

I wasn’t prepared to “put my mind into it”.  I realized what they were doing in the class, and it sent me on an adrenaline-fueled search for what I really wanted out of life.  Did I REALLY want to commit years of intensive study required to become a medical doctor?  If so, now was the time to commit.  I could do anything, but did I want it badly enough to put my mind into it?  The approach of the class forced my recognition of reality, and I’m thankful to this day for the approach.  I bailed out and signed up for an alternative class. 

I have no regrets. I was never meant to be a doctor. 

I know in hindsight that it wasn’t something I would have wanted to do with my life, and I’m very happy with the career path I chose.  My family and I lived a good life following the Corporate America Path, and it was an area I enjoyed putting my mind into.  I enjoyed the variety provided by a career of diverse and challenging assignments, and my mind was well suited to the challenges presented in a business environment.

I realized that “you can do anything”, but only if you’re willing to put your mind into it.


you can do anything - career example

You Can Do Anything – A Career Example

The biggest “stretch” assignment of my career was being named Plant Manager for the largest recycling plant of Used Beverage Cans in the world (think curbside recycling, we melted ~18 Billion of those aluminum cans per year at “my” plant). I was 18 years into my career, and it was my first experience in operations. By this point in my career, I had recognized the value of “putting my mind” into new assignments, so I hit it hard. 

Very hard.  

I was living in temporary housing until my family could relocate and used every free minute to study. After my first day on the job, I spent the evening memorizing everybody’s name that was on “day shift” that week.  When I returned the next day, I could see the surprise when I was able to call everyone by name and mention something from the previous day’s conversations.  By the end of my first week, I had memorized everyone’s name in the plant.  I’ve always felt people are the most important part of any organization’s success, and I made them my first priority.  Then, I moved on to memorizing the Key Performance Indicators for the plant, and which “levers” had the biggest impact on performance.  I spent time with the maintenance team, and I learned the capabilities and issues of all of our various pieces of equipment.  I spent time with the operators in each department and learned the biggest safety risks and what they felt we could do to reduce them.  On and on it went, never ceasing in my effort to “put my mind” into learning everything I could about the plant I had been given the responsibility to manage.

The hard work paid off.  

In two years, I was promoted to a role in our North American Management team at our Corporate Headquarters.  I followed the same mantra of “putting my mind to it”, and I learned firsthand it’s importance as a precedent for “You Can Do Anything.”


“Whatever you pay attention to, grows.”   Kevin O’Leary


I just completed my first dog house

You Can Do Anything – It Doesn’t Stop With Retirement

The lesson of “Putting Your Mind To It” doesn’t stop when your career ends.  Quite the contrary, in fact.  You no longer have a boss telling you what you should put your mind to.  You have the amazing luxury of deciding for ourself what success looks like in your post-work world.  With that luxury comes an obligation – the necessity of choice.

You can do anything, but you have to be intentional in deciding what you’d like to put your mind to.  You all know about my writing, but it’s only one example of what I’ve been putting my mind to since I’ve retired.

The photo above is from my Instagram page and is a perfect example of choosing to put your mind to something new in retirement.  As I mentioned when I announced a new approach to my blog,  I’ve been spending a lot of my previous “writing time” exploring new areas of interest. One of those areas is woodworking, and I’ve been intentional in putting my mind to it.  Not unlike my days as a young plant manager, I’ve been studying up on what it takes to be successful. 

I’ve been learning a new craft.  Here are some of the steps I’ve taken:

With my woodworking shop now completed, it was time to put the lessons to use.  For the past few months, I’ve been spending time using the documentation I had created to build my first dog house.  100% on my own, and 100% successful.  Why?  Because I had chosen to put my mind into it. 

It’s rewarding beyond words to challenge yourself and accomplish something new, and I felt a real sense of achievement as we delivered that doghouse to Dixie and Zeus yesterday morning.  They were two very deserving recipients of my wife’s charity, Freedom For Fido (her charity is another example of someone “putting their mind to it” in retirement, with great success.  I’m proud of what she’s accomplished.)

No, I was never a doctor.  But, I’m proud of what I accomplished in my career as a businessman.  Perhaps more importantly, I’ve learned how to create things from wood, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts from this keyboard in my writing studio.  Both of those accomplishments came after I retired, and I’m excited about the challenges I’ll continue to conquer in the years to come.

You CAN do anything.

But first, you must decide to put your mind to it.

My wife and I delivered the dog house yesterday on behalf of Freedom For Fido

Conclusion

What do you want to be? 

If you’re still working, what position do you want to master?  Are you willing to put your mind to it?  If you’re retired, what matters to you?  What do you want to be remembered for?  How do you want to make an impact in your world?

You can do anything, but first you must decide.

What do you want to put your mind to?

The choice is yours. 


Your Turn:  What challenges have you conquered in life?  How did you put your mind to it?  Let’s chat in the comments…

Zeus supervising the assembly of his new doghouse.

 

39 comments

  1. I want to be remembered for:
    A. A loving and dependable husband and father.
    B. Follower of Christ in my thoughts and actions.
    C. Reliable, punctual and dedicated sailor and person.
    D. A giving person in time, talents and treasures. Time is precious, until you run out…and discover an even BETTER world for your soul. 😉

    Most proud of: Reliability, integrity, love, acceptance of all, generosity and keen sense of humor.

    In the future of my retirement, I aspire to touch as many hearts and souls through volunteering with Hospice and other charities I have yet to join. Life is good. Share a smile, a story, and a kind act.

    Kindness is free. I am very proud of you and your wife Fritz. Keep on keeping on young man!

  2. Inspiring message, being a lifetime learner should be everyone’s goal. Now how did you and Jackie lift that big dog house onto your truck to deliver ?

    1. I had Jackie lift it, Curtis. Someone had to keep their foot on the brake to make sure the truck didn’t roll over her, right? Smiles. Actually, the doghouse design is modular: the walls, floor and roof all can be carried seperately. Total weight is ~600 lbs, heaviest individual module is ~100 pounds. And yes, being a lifetime learner is a goal we should all strive for.

  3. What a great message, and an important reminder to regularly reassess what we’re doing and the effort we’re putting into it!

    In my last couple years of corporate work I realized that I wasn’t putting my all into it anymore. Not because I’m lazy, but because I no longer wanted to move up the corporate ladder, so the sacrifices weren’t worth it. Now I’m trying to work through those questions you laid out at the end of this post and figure out my purpose and next steps. I know I had a lot more good I want to do in this world, just need to find my passions and put my mind into it.

    I love what you and your wife are doing with the charity, by the way! Congrats. My husband has gotten super into woodworking as well over the last two years and has definitely been “putting his mind to it” in his spare time.

    1. Mrs RFL, you’re spot on with how it’s difficult to “put your mind to” work in the final few years, I think we all suffer from that. Glad to hear you’re asking yourself the right questions for retirement, thinking on those things will serve you very well in the transition and beyond. Best of luck on your journey!

  4. Inspiring and true. Also true that we can’t put our mind fully on everything so we have to chose to be less than stellar in some things and to save ourselves for others?

    1. Great addition to the discussion, Sander. Best to prioritize what really matters, and focus your mind on the areas where you really want to make a difference. Definitely ineffective to try to “do it all”. Thanks for the comment.

  5. Way to go on learning a new task and building something awesome. Great idea on shadowing and expert and learning something new. I have focused on maintenance projects and having fun. I have yet to figure out my impact on the world.

    1. Thanks for the kind words on “shadowing”, works really well when you’re trying to learn new things. And, don’t sweat too much about “your impact on the world”, go where you’re led and the impacts will follow.

  6. I want/need to get my health back so as motivation I made the decision to sign up for Ironman Cozumel in Nov 2022 at age 68. Training for an Ironman is hard and I feel like giving up most days but I have a big ‘Why’ for getting it done and just need to show up and do the work. It will be interesting to see how things turn out.

    1. Mike, ironically, I thought of you and your Ironman Quest as I wrote this post (us “Retirement Rebels” need to stick together, right?). Definitely an example of “putting your mind to” it, I sincerely wish you the best of luck. Major goal, I’m pulling for you!!

  7. I joined the army as a teenager because my parents didn’t have a college fund set up for me and I lacked real direction or vision for what kind of career I wanted. 8-1/2 years later, I exited the military with a small family so using the GI Bill meant going to school at night and online. As I closed in on early retirement, I created a nonprofit that provides small scholarships to working students as a way of ‘helping people help themselves.’

    1. JR, great story of how military service can help during those younger years when so many of us “lack real vision.” Your nonprofit sounds awesome, great area of need. Thank you for your “service”, both in the military and after your early retirement.

  8. Great message Fritz, love the stories. If you would have told me even 5 years ago that I’d be running a successful graphic design company I’d have laughed. But here I am. I put my mind – and my mouse finger – to it!

  9. Fritz,

    First, I want to let you know how much I loved reading your book; full of practical tips and wisdom!! Thank you. We are about the same age (I am 57) and I am planning to retire in 5 years at 62 years old. I have also been listening to you on YouTube and have gained much valuable insights on the preparation for retirement.

    There are two challenges that I would like to share. One in the past and the current one I am experiencing.

    I received my doctorate when I was 41. It took me 5 1/2 years to earn my terminal degree. I was teaching full time while trying to be a committed and engaged husband to my bride. At that time, my daughters were in their very early teens. Despite the rigor of the coursework, I never missed my daughters’ soccer games and other activities. I could not pursue graduate work full time but I took a couple of courses a semester (other than my residency year) for almost four years. I kept “plugging” away with the coursework. I remember studying for my comprehensive exams and was ready to give up several times. I stuck with my studies and eventually passed the exams. The old saying “How do you eat an elephant? —One bite at a time” was certainly true in my case.

    The second challenge is the one I currently face. I really enjoy tennis and am an active member of the USTA (United States Tennis Association). I often play against men that are my daughters’ age. I constantly have to work on my diet, fitness and flexibility just to compete with these younger guys. I love the physical challenges. Although I recently transition to playing doubles (from singles), it is still hard work physically (as well as mentally)…and I love it!!!

    Hopefully, when I retire, I can dedicate even more time to tennis.

    [Side-Note: Here is my growing list of my plans once I retire: Learned this from you, Fritz]

    – Serve in a food a pantry
    – See all 50 states ( I bought a scratch off map of the US; you scratch off each state you have visited – 19 more to go)
    – Play tennis in the mornings and/ or afternoons (instead of after work 🙂
    – Coordinate Financial Peace U at my church
    – Serve as a mentor to young adults
    – Travel to New Zealand
    – Go to the US Open or Wimbledon
    – Introduce myself to Mr. Tony Dungy (former head coach of the Ind. Colts)

    1. Dr. T – what a great comment, and I applaud your grit in getting through the Doctorate while protecting your family time. I also applaud your “current” tennis challenge – as you know, I’m a huge proponent of fitness at any age, but especially as we get older. Kudos to you. Finally, I love your growing bucket list, and happy to see some service items listed instead of strictly the “travel” items most folks think of. Well done. Thanks for making me a small part of your journey, I’m pleased to know my work has been of value to you!

  10. I told the following to my students on the 1st day of every class I taught:

    The only person to stop you from doing what you want to do is yourself!

    I would then have students write down where they would be in their life in 10 years. Then I told them to date the envelope ten years from that particular day and to open it on that day to see how close you got. Then I said it takes hard work to achieve goals in life
    I have had students tell me that is what they remember the most from my class. A few have told they did exactly what they wrote. The idea was to get people to set goals.

    1. It sounds like you were a great teacher, what a great way to teach an important lesson. I’m sure many remember your lesson, well beyond the number you’ve heard from. Thanks for sharing, and for making an impact in the lives of your students.

  11. I get your point, it’s difficult to succeed unless you are all in. But I think that can be dangerous advice too. It not only takes putting your whole mind into it. It requires having the right mind. I’m a chemical engineer, and it was easy for me. But most people on this planet could not pass the coursework and even if they did they could not be good at it. It’s too complex, too abstract. No amount of training or commitment could turn me into a virtuoso in any area of music, not going to happen. I’ll never be a 5.0 rated tennis player though I’ve played the game almost my whole life. You’ve got to have the self knowledge to narrow your choices to things you can actually accomplish or you will be destined to a life of failure. I also think of a friend who is convinced he can consistently beat the casinos at gambling. It’s a sucker bet. You make your point beautifully, I’ve just seen too many earnest, hard workers who were round pegs in square holes. Great post and great life you are living!

  12. Great post and good point about having to put your mind to it. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you can wish it into existence, you have to be willing to put in the work.

    Speaking of work…I’m still working and recently took on a very expanded set of responsibilities a couple months ago. I almost said no because it meant taking on a much more operational role than I’m used to. I even spoke with someone at work who I trust and told them I was concerned that I’d be biting off more than I could chew but after a lot of thinking I eventually said yes.

    Right now, I’m “putting my mind to” doing as best I can in this new role. Lots of reading, lots of experimenting, and lots of meeting with people and convincing them to come along for the ride. That’s probably been the hardest part so far but I’ve already surprised myself with some early wins and I know long term if I keep putting the work in that I’ll be successful.

    1. Good for your for “stepping up”. If you’re anything like me, I suspect you’ll find the rewards of tackling a “big bite” more rewarding than a lesser challenge. Funny how that works. Good luck on the new role.

  13. Less than 50% of the students completed the class. I was one of the many who dropped out, and dropped out early. Effective, indeed.

    Flitz, did you think that your success could be even better if you did finish your studies? After all, the knowledge that we receive at the institute is not so important as the ability to “work correctly” (to make quick decisions, to do work in the shortest possible time, etc.).

    1. Marina, I should have been more clear – I did continue my studies (graduated near the top of my university class), but I changed my course of study from Pre-Med to Business. I agree that the lessons from advanced schooling goes well beyond the subjects taught in the classroom. Thanks for your comment.

  14. What a timely article! My first “If you put your mind to it” example was when I quit work at 28 to go back to school full time to earn my degree. I was working in construction at the time and recognized it was not the profession I wanted to still be doing in my 50’s or 60’s. I was never a big fan of school so going back after 10 years was, let’s just say, a bit scary!! Balancing my studies and a family (my son was just under a year old) was quite the challenge. But it was something I knew I had to do in order to have an opportunity for a different career and better life situation.
    Fast forward 30+ years later and my second example is happening in real time. I will be hitting my starting line on 6/30/2021 at the age of 57. The better, or more planned timeframe, would have been closer to me being 60. The decision came about a bit sooner when my employer offered a voluntary buyout opportunity this past March. While retirement has been on my mind for the better part of my 50’s, it wasn’t until summer of 2020 when my wife and I began to sit down together to look at our numbers in order to calculate an expected timeframe. By the way Fritz, your blog and book have been beyond helpful in so many ways.
    So, while we are in a good position financially, we have really only started to think about what our non-financial interests may be. Life throws many curveballs at you and, while this is a nice one to have, there is work to do to ensure that our future is the best it can be. I will be be “putting my mind to it” out of the gate to explore new things, be curious, and also enjoy some much needed time off.

    1. Jon, what a great story, and a solid example of tackling a “scary” objective for long term benefits. Congrats on crossing The Starting Line at the end of this month, you’re fortunate to have the buyout option to make your early retirement a valid alternative. I’m honored to have played a small role in your journey. Best of luck “putting your mind to” the new reality of life on this side of the Line.

  15. The biggest challenge (and the longest-lasting!) was raising 3 children entirely on my own. At 35, I found myself unexpectedly alone; my youngest was not yet 2 years old. I had no family in-state. I had been out of the workforce for 7 years as an at-home mom. One child has a chronic immune disease. And I had to move to a new community for my new job. Today my children are loving people, giving community members, and great employees (all with advanced degrees-yes, I’m a proud mama!) It was a marathon, and I made many mistakes, but God met all our needs and sent many wonderful individuals into my children’s lives as coaches, pastors, friends, teachers, and club leaders to fill the gaps.

    I retired January 1, a bit earlier than planned, in part to care for family. Still figuring out the long-term plan, but I am enjoying every day! While helping to care for my mother with dementia, I discovered “fidget blankets”, which help calm and occupy sufferers. I made one for Mom…and then for a family friend’s grandfather….and then Mom’s facility asked for several. And I was off! I solicited neighborhood donations, and have been astounded by the generous response. And the requests–I have quite the waiting list. Turns out 1 in 4 American families will have an individual who suffers from some sort of dementia. This week I began hosting work sessions for volunteers, including two teenage girls who want to learn to sew. To provide solace to dementia patients and encouragement to their caretakers through the free donation of fidget blankets is my current, stumbled-upon passion! I like being able to make this small contribution to my community.

    Oh, yes – and to become more fit! Getting on my new treadmill every day. Not liking that process so much, but I want to run and play with my grands for many years! 🙂

    1. Denise, wow, what a powerful comment. You sound like an amazing woman, thank you for helping those who suffer from (and care for those with) dementia. As you likely know, we had my mother-in-law live with us for 4 years (dementia) and can relate first hand to the challenges of caregiver for aging parents. I wish we’d known about those “fidget blankets” a few years ago! Best of luck on your latest passion, sounds like a great one. Now, go get on that treadmill…..wink.

  16. Always a good read. I am now five months into retirement and we are traveling up and down the west coast in our RV and new jeep. I am still in the transition period of what to put my mind into next. I would like to help people to reach their goals like i have, but have not decided how to do that yet. We have always wanted to travel across the US in the RV. I will settle in with the wife and enjoy that first and i am hopping the time away will give me some ideas for my future.

    1. David, thanks for dropping in from the road! I agree RV travel is a great way to spend the early years of retirement, it makes for a great transition as you “put your mind to” finding your longer term purpose. We treasured our cross-country RV travel, but suspect it will wane a bit now that we’ve found fulfilling “work” in our retirement home town. Interesting to observe how this retirement thing evolves over the years…

  17. In 2020, the world population is 7,794,798,739. Within this enormous organic mass, you will not find two entities that is the exact copy of each other. We are slightly different from one another.

    Unfortunately, most of us will not spend enough time to explore this tiny difference. Microscopic the difference it may, but it is packed with immense human potential.

  18. IMHO, and in my experience, you are completely right about the need to go all when faced with a do or die circumstance. Where success and failure are starkly demarcated. Life and death (for doctors, and for some engineers), economic survival (for engineers) – these are domains that demand extreme resolve. As the old Chinese saying goes, “Take what you want, and pay for it”.

    I became an economic refugee from a New England state from which many of the large companies had beat a retreat attributable to taxes, extreme regulation, fees, and high costs. This state had never recovered from the 1990s recession, and it got worse from there.

    Even with (what most would say was) a stellar resume and graduate degrees in areas that were highly marketable in the Northeast – it was still not possible to find a “Kids’-tuition-grade” job.

    After I saw a former IBM director stocking shelves at Home Depot while distributing business cards as Managing Director of his own Financial Management firm, I said “this is it”. I was out of there within six months, to DC Metro. I moved strictly based on the unemployment numbers, no job in hand. I got a better job than the one I had left, within two months of arrival.

    THEN I observed the DC requirement for continuous employment: credentials in Engineering and Cybersecurity. The Northeast was a competency center in Finance and Insurance. Nothing I knew or had done previously resembled Engineering or Cybersecurity. I spent the next six years working professional-level weeks, and going to grad school in Systems Engineering and Cyber at night.

    The problem sets were such that I spent five hours per night, and eight hours on Saturdays and Sundays to get them done. It really was as you describe in that Intro Bio course – do or die.

    The kids got their degrees free and clear, thanks to my steady employment. I got MY Engr grad degree free and clear, thanks to steady employer’s tuition reimbursement. I have had continuous employment for the fifteen years since coming here. I will retire next year, with what is known in common parlance as “a comfortable retirement”.

    Hence, from my experience, you are completely right. Unlike you, once I retire, my ambition is to be a couch potato, with a channel changer in one hand and a beer in the other. BUT I can afford to do whatever I want.

    1. Great story of “putting your mind to it”, Pullet Racer. Kudo’s for recognizing the realities of a dire future in a declining economic region, and for putting yourself in a better position through real grit. Impressive.

      One has to ask, however, can one who is faster than a Pullet really become a couch potato? Wink. You’ve certainly earned the right, and I wish you to best as you cross The Starting Line next year.

  19. Great post, and so true. I worked like a dog all my life and achieved a number of things but never did the things I loved. My mind was focused on survival. I never thought I could be successful at doing things I am passionate about. After I was 55 I decided I would lift my “hobby” out of the dumps and get back to writing music. I had always been a writer but never seriously thought I could make a success of it. As part of the “put my mind to it” approach I took online songwriting courses and paid to have my songs reviewed by highly successful songwriters and (after getting my ego trounced on a number of times) finally started to write songs that have both meaning and, potentially, some commercial value. A few years ago I placed one song with a small publisher in LA (it’s a start). I took runner-up in a songwriting competition. I was shocked. I started late – but better late than never. I still have to work to support my songwriting habit. But at least now a part of my life is filled with something I love to do. Thanks for your encouraging articles.

  20. Great attitude… which I think overcomes aptitude in many cases (especially in the corporate world). Glad to have stumbled across your site and lots to catch up on

  21. Okay, I can’t help think of Back to the Future when I hear that quote, LOL. So many thoughts here! First, what college did you attend? My son has been stuck on the doctor idea since he was six (he’s now 15). While I think he would make a terrific doctor, I would love for him to have this “weeding out” class to see if he’s really committed without wasting too much time. Second, the dog house, and your wife’s charity are AWESOME! Third, you could NOT be more right. The last 3.5 years have held LOTS of challenges for myself and my kids. Challenges many would not have survived. Left abusive husband of 21+ years, survived multiple threats on life, sold house, moved into rental, bought new house, working on physical and emotional healing of family, all while learning to go from stay-at-home mom/casual blogger to real estate agent/professional freelance writer/many other job holding mom who still manages to be there for her kids (mostly) and homeschool them. Without this concept of “putting your mind to it” we wouldn’t have made it. Was it tough? O. M. G. Was it worth it? Without a doubt. Thanks for your continual encouragement to the masses, Fritz. Much appreciated!!!!

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