The Power of Will (An Homage to Dad)

By Carolyn Campbell, MA, CPPC

As many of you know, my dad has been battling cancer for the last four years. On July 28th, he let go and left this world for another. It was an honor and a privilege to watch him take this journey. I have often written about him and the lessons he taught. Here is one more that seems so relevant today—for me, for my clients, and for our times.

One of my dad’s most well worn statements to us kids was, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” He had little patience for us dilly-dallying around and then complaining that we didn’t achieve something. “I can’t” and “They won’t” got no sympathy from him. He’d ask us how committed we were and watch our feet. Would they shuffle or be solidly planted? Were our heads bowed or would we meet his question eye to eye? If we were wishy-washy, he’d dismiss our whining. But if we demonstrated our conviction – our will – to make it happen, he’d be there as our advocate, our guide, our coach and our protector.

I remember one summer when I couldn’t yet swim. I’d bob around the pool pushing off the bottom and coming up for air, then pushing off the bottom and coming up for air. I really wanted to jump off the diving board but you had to be able to swim the length of the pool in order to have diving privileges.  After begging my dad to help, he took my hand, walked over to the lifeguard and asked him what the swimming test entailed. Please note, as a Navy commander he knew exactly what a swimming test entailed. The guard faltered a bit and then said, “The child must self-sufficiently get from one end of the pool to the other without assistance.” My dad asked me if I wanted to take the test. I nodded but started to say, “But I can’t….” He gave me that “dad look” as if to say, “Do you want to go off the diving board?”

I jumped into the deep end. I pushed myself down to the bottom, then back up to the surface. I came up for air and dove back down again, and again. Each time I came up I’d hear my father’s voice, cheering me on. About halfway across, I looked to my father who was next to the lifeguard. The lifeguard was leaning out over the pool, perched for rescue. My father’s hand was gently placed on his leg as if to say, “She’s fine.” To me he called, “Good job, you can do it!”

Where there was a will, he taught us how to make a way.

When I got to the shallow end, out of breath but successful, my dad thanked the lifeguard and gave me his thumbs up smile. I was officially allowed free reign in the deep end…bobbing.

My father’s approach to life, and death, in the last year has given even more meaning to the power of will. As he took his journey through surgery after surgery, chemo and radiation, I watched just how powerful his will was. While pursuing one approach, he would be fully committed to that process and also be looking ahead for other more effective options. And he didn’t care how he “looked.” He was living life the way he always did: respectfully his way.

As a coach, it has become ever more apparent to me when people are stumbling and flailing simply because they lack the belief in themselves and the will to follow their passion. If you take a moment and notice when something seems really elusive and beyond your reach, is it truly so, or is your “will” not quite aligned with your vision? Take some time to notice when you see or hear someone bemoaning a situation they keep struggling with. Or notice when a project keeps floundering. Look a little deeper and ask, is the “will” there? Are people really committed to making it happen? When they’re not, it’s amazing how many distractions and roadblocks seem to appear.

But there’s good news! By paying attention and noticing what is really going on, you have a chance to make some powerful choices. I see this again and again. When people shift how they’re perceiving themselves and their purpose, their will shifts. As they become more self-aware, they trust themselves more. They are more confident in their choices. Their connections are enhanced. And seemingly like “magic,” when the will changes, the way becomes clear.

In the last months of his life, my dad’s will changed. He kept telling me, “When the treatments are no longer making my life better, I’ll be done.” When it became clear that his body could no longer keep up with his spirited love of life, he let go. He died gently and peacefully. Breathing one minute and then, not. Will is a powerful thing. Will makes things appear and disappear. Will makes dreams come true, even when the odds are against them. The gift is learning how to use it.

So, carrying on his tradition, I’ll ask you…What if you trusted your dreams and lived your vision, what would you be creating in your life? Are you ready to will it so?