Don’t let others hold you back

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I was just 16 when I graduated from high school. I had taught myself to draw and paint and had dreams of being a commercial artist. Unfortunately, in the Texas of 1962, such jobs for people of color were in short supply—meaning, they didn’t exist.

I was also determined to be a writer. I’d always loved reading and had wone a national short story writing contest when I was 13.

Of course, you know the story. It was Texas, and, according to the lady at the employment bureau in Houston, there were no jobs like that for ‘you people.’

Now, I’ll bet you’re thinking this disappointed and discouraged me. Well, you’d be wrong. It angered me and made me even more determined. I realized, though, that Texas was not the place where I could make my dreams come true. I remembered something my grandmother used to tell me. If things aren’t working out for you in one place, move. So, that’s what I did.

I set out to get as far away from Texas as I could. I waited until four days after my 17th birthday and joined the army. Six months later I was far away from Texas, Augsburg, Germany to be precise, up to my shoulders in the deepest snow I’d ever seen in my life, and on the first steps of a 20-year career in the U.S. Army.

How, you might ask, did this help me to realize my dream? I’ll tell you. I did my soldierly duty by day  but wrote, drew, and painted at night. By the time my first tour in Germany ended in 1964, I’d been published several poems and articles in Stars and Stripe, the newspaper for American GIs serving overseas. After seeing my byline in such a widely-circulated paper the die was cast. I knew I could do it.

Over the years that followed, with assignments in the United States,  getting a commission as a second lieutenant, and subsequent assignments in Germany again, in Panama, Vietnam, Korea and several places in the United States, I got articles, photographs, cartoons and other pictures published in magazines and newspapers from Germany to Korea, and even began making money from it. A couple of months I even made more royalties than my army pay.

By the time I retired from the army in 1982, and became a diplomat, I could honestly say that I was an artist, a photographer  and a writer, and I had the clippings to prove it. I published my first book in 2008, and since then have published a total of over 200 works of fiction and nonfiction, including several that are, at the moment, in Amazon’s Top 100 sellers in their genre.

Why am I telling you all this? Simple. This is a bit of life advice. I rarely use such absolute terms as ‘always’ and ‘never,’ but this is an exception. Listen and pay close attention. Never, and I do mean NEVER, let other people hold you back from striving for your dreams.

There are all too many people who will tell you what you can’t do, and precious few who will encourage you, other than maybe your mother, and even mothers will sometimes be a part of that naysaying chorus.

There is, however, only ONE person who can really decide how far you can go. YOU! Never forget that. ALWAYS hold onto your dreams, because every great discovery, every victory started as a dream.

We put men on the moon because someone had a dream that it could be done. We cured polio because people like Jonas Salk had the audacity to dream that it could be done.

Achieving your dreams require patience and tenacity. The patience to work at it day after day, and the tenacity to stick with it after you’ve failed a few dozen times. Achieving your dreams requires imagination and creativity. When one thing doesn’t work,  try another, or try something in a different way.

Achieving your dreams requires courage, the courage to go where others dare not go and to do the things that others dare not do. I’ll give you an example. I write westerns. The sort-of, old fashioned cowboys and outlaws with lots of horses and shoot outs.

The number of writers of color writing in the western genre can probably be counted on one hand, and when I decided to write my first one, my family looked at me like I’d just grown a second head. I was intrigued by the prospect, though, and as a student of history, I knew some things about those spaghetti westerns that many don’t know—I knew that they were historically inaccurate.

I decided to write westerns that were an accurate representation of the history and were good stories at the same time. Except for my friend and publicist, Nick Wales, a Brit who has the same rebellious attitude I have, everyone said that I was wasting my time.

I ignored them, and now, after eight years, I’m not only recognized as a true writer of entertaining westerns, I have the honor of having had six books at the same time in the Amazon Top 20 sellers in the western genre. That doesn’t happen too often, and if I’d listened to the naysayers it wouldn’t have happened.

So, go out there and find your dream. What are you waiting for?