Dark, billowing clouds are dancing overhead and the muted orange sun is streaming rays out over the Atlantic Ocean. Balmy air is met with a quiet breeze as palm fronds playfully move about, swaying from side to side. Cathedral bells ring out and echo off the old historic buildings.
I hear distant music in the streets, the soundtrack of Cuba. I’m up earlier than normal this morning and instead of the usual porch in the backyard, I’m on the upper deck on top of a hotel in Havana.
Last night over dinner one of the painters here with me told me she had once lived in New Orleans, which prompted me to tell her this story.
My Chance to Own a Radio Station
When I was a young man, about 23, I learned of an FM radio license possibly available in a small town outside New Orleans. This was very rare because it was believed that all the radio licenses that could be granted by the FCC were gone. Was it too good to be true?
The process to apply for a license required visiting the community and meeting with 150 or so community leaders and citizens to ascertain their needs, so you could prove to the FCC that you were able to meet those needs.
Doors Slammed in My Face
Upon arrival in this small Louisiana town, we found everyone to be very unfriendly. No one would talk to us. People would slam doors in our faces. But why?
Meet the Boss Man
Finally, we sat down in the city hall of this tiny town, and it was like a movie set. It was sweltering hot, and the clapboard building had wicker chairs and a slow-spinning ceiling fan. The leader of the town kept us waiting for four hours, and after he found that didn’t discourage my partner and me, we entered his office. It was like a scene out of the old TV show The Dukes of Hazzard. This man was dressed like Boss Hogg … white suit, white hat, giant cigar, a half-empty fifth of Jack Daniel’s, and he had his cowboy boots up on the desk when we entered. He did not stand to greet us or shake our hands.
In the deepest Louisiana accent, he said, “I understand you boys want that radio frequency down in these parts.”
“Yes, sir,” I said respectfully.
“There have probably been 200 people down here trying to get that license, but there is something you need to understand. I control things around here. I control all the land and the permits where you would need to build your tower. And I happen to own the one local radio station here. So you boys won’t get a permit to get a picket fence, let alone a tower.”
“But sir, we intend to serve the community, and we won’t impact your radio station. The reason the FCC wants another station here is so there are other people offering service.”
Alligators Await You, Boy
“You think I don’t know that, boy?” he said heatedly. “You boys better be gettin’ out of my town lickety-split. If we catch you talking to any of the people in our town, our officers might just pull you over, find a bag of cocaine under your car seat, and put you in jail. No one comes out of our jail, and the only way out is through the alligators.”
The meeting ended, and not well.
Naively, we continued to try and meet with people, but more doors were slammed in our faces. Now we understood why.
This Isn’t a Movie
By chance we landed at the office of a local attorney who had spent his career trying to bring this man and his brother down because they were so crooked. When we told him what happened, he told us, “Boys, this ain’t the movies. This won’t end well. People who get arrested in this town really do end up with the alligators. I don’t recommend you stay.”
This of course did not stop us; we were determined to get that station. But soon we noticed a squad car following us and we got spooked, so we got in our rental car and drove to our motel in New Orleans, about 30 miles away. This was around two o’clock in the afternoon, and that squad car followed us all the way there and parked right outside our room.
I was more frightened than I’d ever been in my life.
Escape in the Night
Once it got to be bedtime, we turned the lights out, but we stayed awake and alert, and finally that squad car left at two in the morning. If his job was to make a point and scare us, it worked. Once he left, we grabbed our bags, got in our rental car, and went to the airport, where we slept safely until our flight the next morning.
The following morning I phoned our FCC attorney and told him the story. He said, “That’s unfortunate, Eric, but the FCC won’t give you that license unless you have about 200 ascertainment interviews, and even then it’s a long shot. You simply weren’t meant to get this license, and this explains why such a rare license is available. It looks like no one will get that license.”
Then I said something the attorney did not expect.
A Bold Idea
“Let’s go to the FCC with a sworn affidavit from me, telling them about the situation, telling them our lives were threatened, and telling them we can’t build a station tower in that town because they won’t give us a permit. Maybe they would make an exception and move the city of license and not make us do ascertainments?”
He told me the FCC had never done anything like that in their history and that I would be wasting my time.
Just Do It
Though I was young, very insecure, and respected this man tremendously, I told him I would write it up and get it notarized, and I asked if he would present it to the FCC and request a special hearing. Reluctantly, he said he would do it, but it would cost me a lot of money, and he repeated that it wouldn’t work and would be a giant waste of time.
Months passed, and one day I received a call: The FCC had granted me the license.
Following Your Gut
If I had listened to the advice of my attorney, the course of my life would have changed significantly. Because I had a gut feeling, because I did not allow his advice to sway me, because I believed in my own ability to write a convincing argument, I ended up building a station, putting it on the air with one of the best signals covering New Orleans, and eventually selling it at a nice profit. Though a couple of hundred had tried, I prevailed.
Winston Churchill was known for saying, “Never, never, never give up.”
Fool, This Can’t Be Done
I have a lot of crazy ideas, and it is not unusual for people around me to tell me why it’s a bad idea, why it’s not possible, why it won’t work, why we will lose money. Often I’ll assign a project that is seen as folly, or even impossible, and I get the response that it simply can’t be done.
My radar goes up when I hear the words “It’s not possible. It cannot be done,” and I am driven to find a way, and almost every time I’ll work on it until I’ve proven that it can be done.
Most people stop at the first no, or the second no, or sometimes the third. I believe that every project has a large number of “nos” until you get to a “yes,” and the more “nos” there are, the more it’s worth doing.
Consider “NO” as Progress
My friend and former sales trainer Pam Lontos used to demonstrate this principle by stuffing $100 worth of $1 bills into her sleeves and clothes. She’d have a salesperson come up and talk with her, and every time she said no, they would pick a dollar bill from her. She said no many times, and they ended up with a dollar for each one. The point being that you have to be ready to keep asking, no matter how many “no” answers you get.
What are the times when you did not accept “no” that turned out well?
What are the times you regret accepting a negative answer?
People Who Try to Kill Ideas
I’ve discovered that pack mentality tends to default to the negative, not the possibilities. I’ve discovered that when a lot of people tell me something is a bad idea, I realize what a good idea it is after all. I’ve also found that the more negatives there are in the media about something, the more likely it is to happen. Remember how everyone said Jeff Bezos could not succeed with Amazon? He is now the richest man in the world.
This isn’t about money, or about business, it’s about a way to consider living life. It’s about believing in your instincts and following your own vision, your own dream, no matter how many people tell you it’s a bad idea. It might be about your art, your dreams, your goals, a better life.
Giving Up on Dreams
I’ve met dreamers who failed but are glad they tried. I’ve met dreamers who never tried and regret not trying. I’ve been both. I never followed my dream of becoming a Hollywood film actor, and though I’ve never given up, I’ve never really tried because I lacked self-confidence and told myself the odds were against me. I wasn’t following my own advice, so I’ve not given up on this dream, or on some others I’ve told myself were not possible.
Impossible Becomes Possible
Almost everything that is in your head is possible, or will become possible. (No, I can’t wish myself to become 7 feet tall.) When I went into the Internet radio space, I was told by every technology person I interviewed that what I wanted to do was not possible — that physics would not support it. The guy I hired told me it was impossible but he would figure out a way to do it, and he did.
Everything starts with your belief systems. Though we always need to listen to others, we also need to keep in mind that our vision is different from theirs. You can see things others can’t envision.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you…
- It’s impossible
- It costs too much
- It can’t be done
- Physics won’t support it
- No one has ever done it
- You’re too old
- You’re too young
- You don’t have the right education
- You’re not good enough
- If Edison couldn’t do it, why do you think you could?
The voices inside your head are put there so you can change the world. So you can do the impossible.
Your Special Mission
You have been given a purpose, a belief, and though few can see it or understand it, you have special abilities to see what they cannot. Don’t let others discourage you, don’t let others stop you, don’t take no for an answer, ever. The world will change, and what is physically impossible today may not be tomorrow.
Seeing Beyond Others
The great people of our times like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, as well as the greats of the past, were all told what they wanted to do was impossible. Yet they were driven to prove their ideas could happen, and they worked tirelessly to find answers and solutions. They never took no for an answer. Sometimes they are seen as arrogant or tough, which is probably only from frustration when others tell them no and cannot see the world they envision.
Life is richer when you follow the voices in your head and never accept no for an answer.
In what areas of your life do you need to plow forward in spite of negative comments or discouragement?
What Are Your Voices Saying?
If you tell yourself, “But I’m different, I truly can’t do this,” you are underestimating your own abilities. You have things inside you that will come out at the right time, when you need them, and you’ll surprise even yourself.
Use this week to dream, and to move forward on your dream because you know in your heart your ideas, your vision, CAN be done. Oh, you’ll still have self-doubt. When you catch yourself doubting, kick it out of your head and tell yourself, “That’s unlike me. Of course I can do this.”
You will find a way.
PS: I was told it would be impossible to take a group of 100 artists to Cuba to paint. I was told both governments would never allow it, yet it happened, two years ago. Then I was told it could not be repeated. But right now I’m in Cuba with a group of painters, and today we’ll be painting all over Havana. Wish us luck. Internet is spotty, but watch my Facebook page for photos and video this week, or once I get back.