Make it a great day

Mike Knotts, director of government affairs

One of the really interesting things about working around and with the great people who bring you The Tennessee Magazine is that I get to hear about a lot of really awe-inspiring people, places and things here in our great state. I particularly enjoy the features Bill Carey, the Tennessee History Guy, regularly brings to these pages. Take the time to read these and you just might learn something exciting about that dusty building or marble monument that you never really noticed on your way to work each day.

However, it took a couple of guys from South Dakota to teach me about another way Tennessee touches the world. The Southwestern Corporation is based in Tennessee, and while it has a number of companies under its umbrella, its primary business is teaching college students how to sell books door-to-door. In doing so, these young salesmen can earn enough money to pay their college tuition. But what they really learn are the skills and, more importantly, the attitude to become successful in whatever field they choose.

This army of salesmen is drawn from every state and around the world. This diverse group comes to Nashville at the beginning and end of each summer to train and complete the administrative tasks necessary to earn their commissions. I have personally seen the throngs of young men and women, full of energy and vigor, as they begin and end their summertime journey. It’s inspiring to hear the stories of some of their successes and the lessons learned through some of their failures.

But the most important lesson they learn, in my opinion, is the concept of volition. I have no idea if it is described to them in so many words, but it is clear through the actions of the many, many Southwestern “alumni” who have achieved great things in different occupations and endeavors that this concept is a unifying factor among them.

1. an act of making a choice or decision
2. the power of choosing or determining
Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

“Volition” was brought front-and-center to my attention during the recent annual meeting of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. During this time of work, we often pause and take a moment to hear a message from someone who might bring a different perspective to our discussions.

This year we were privileged to hear an inspiring keynote address from Maj. Dan Rooney, a retired F-16 fighter pilot and PGA golf professional (I joked with Maj. Rooney that he is living BOTH of my dreams!). So it’s only fitting that his pilot call sign and nickname is “Noonan” after the main character from the classic golf comedy “Caddyshack.” Having served three tours of duty in Iraq as well as having experience in building, owning and operating a golf course, he could have spent his time wowing us with his abilities to accomplish many very difficult tasks — and accomplish them well. His presentation contained loud videos demonstrating the awesome power and speed inherent in the F-16 fighter jet, and he could have bragged about the very small and select fraternity of highly trained American fighter pilots of which he is a member.

But his passion in life is the organization he created: the Folds of Honor Foundation, built to provide college scholarships for the survivors of those heroes who have been killed or disabled in service to our country. You see, in the middle of marking off the many tremendous personal accomplishments in his own life, Rooney realized that his time and efforts had a greater purpose. He realized his life could have an impact. He realized that it wasn’t all about him.

Today, Folds of Honor is a tremendous success. Its main event, Patriot Golf Day, is now a Labor Day weekend tradition in which golfers add $1 to their greens fees at participating courses. That simple act has raised more than $13 million and counting for scholarships for these most deserving Americans. Dan exercised his volition — he made a conscious decision to do something impactful for the sake of others, regardless of how hard it might be.

Just like Maj. Rooney, so many Southwestern alumni learned about the importance of making their own choice. “When I awake today, what will I choose to be?” Happy or sad? Optimistic or sullen? “When I awake today, what will I choose to do?” Work hard toward my goals and aspirations? Or resign myself to an unknown fate?

Attitude is a choice, and we all have been given the gift to decide how we will conduct ourselves. As we start a new year, I challenge you to make an impact. It doesn’t have to be as dramatic and large as Maj. Rooney, but you can make a difference in your community. All it takes is a decision on your part to do it.

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