It was the Fourth of July and I (Dr. Cloud) was at a celebration that included a memorial "paddle out" on surfboards in the Pacific Ocean to honor and remember my brother-in-law, Mark. He was a Navy SEAL, a great American, husband, father, hero, brother, and a friend. Mark died on a mission in Iraq in 2008.
My ten-year-old daughter Olivia, wanted to participate in the paddle-out to honor her uncle. So, we borrowed a surfboard and began to walk out to the beach where the surfers were gathering, with me carrying the board. I was excited for her to take part in honoring her uncle Mark and was inspired by her fearlessness in wanting to paddle way out into the ocean with all the adults. She did just great and when we came back to the beach we hugged.
She was very proud and thankful for her uncle Mark and we spent a moment talking about all of it before everyone gathered their things to make the long walk back up the hillside to the main event. Everyone, that is, except Olivia and a few other people who had decided to go back into the ocean and catch some waves.
She said to me, "Daddy, I want to stay here and go back out. I will come up and join you guys later."
"No, Livi. I'm sorry but you can't. Who will walk back up with you? You can't walk all the way back by yourself with just your cousin. Sorry," I said. I did not want her in the commotion by herself at her age, and also, there was no way that she could get that big surfboard all the way back uphill.
"But it's fine, Daddy," she said. "There are some adults coming too, and they have to walk back. I will walk with them."
"No, Livi, just come with me now. It will be a lot less complicated," I said. Then I played my trump card. "Besides, the surfboard is way, way too heavy for you to carry back. They all have their boards and won't be able to carry it for you, and I can do that if you come now. If you don't come with me, how would you ever get it back up the hill?" At this point, I thought I had her.
"Dad!" she said forcefully. "I WILL find a way."
Those words pierced my heart. I literally had to stop talking as I felt tears welling up in my eyes. It was true: she would FIND a way. Because that's who she is. The tears I felt were more than just a moment of being proud of her. The tears were that I literally, and I mean literally, felt something happen inside of me. At that moment, I somehow got assured of her future in life.
As a psychologist, I know that there are two kinds of people in the world. People whose circumstances overcome them, and people who overcome their circumstances. As the psychologist, I did not just hear "I will find a way to get the surfboard back." I heard something automatically coming from her innermost being, from the operating system that made her who she was—the kind of person who says, "I will find a way."
I knew that mode of thinking would serve her for life, no matter what her future circumstances might be. I knew that she will always "find a way."
"OK, Livi," I said. "Have fun."
"Bye, daddy." and she waved as she ran to join the group. I did not worry one iota, and in a couple of hours, she and the big heavy surfboard were back where they belonged.
Research has revealed time and again that a belief that one will be successful is one of the strongest predictors of goal achievement. Great leaders build this belief into their people, teams, and culture. They believe that they can do it, and when things get tough, they find a way. They exert what I call "optimistic control," even in environments where there are many negative realities that they cannot control.