Men Empowerment Network learns to “wrestle the goat” to become who they want to be.
By Rogelio Escamilla
Sometimes it takes 20 years of failure to become an overnight success, Bronze Star medal recipient Dave Swanson said Oct. 5 to participants of the Envision Summit hosted by the Men Empowerment Network.
Swanson spoke to 53 male students about his journey up the ranks in education as well as in the military.
He detailed the sometimes-difficult process of achieving one’s dreams and goals, which he calls “wrestling the goat.”
“The goat is yourself,” Swanson said. “It is your self-discipline to accomplish the things you need to accomplish to get to the other side. Wrestling with yourself is the hardest thing to do — to get yourself out of bed, to go to sleep after everybody else and to study harder.”
Every student who attended the summit received a free copy of Swanson’s 2017 book, “The Dot on the Left.”
The autobiography mentions his narrow acceptance into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, despite having a 2.6 GPA in high school and 750 out of 1600 score on the SAT.
Swanson said wrestling the goat is how students get from being the dot on the left, to the dot on the right. He explained the metaphor’s origin during his speech.
“The night before academics began for class, the commandant put up, on a movie theater-sized screen, the SAT profile of the class,” Swanson said. “He put up the math portion first, and I saw that number underneath the dot on the left was a 340. Somebody in my class had an 800 out of 800 on the math. He showed the English portion, and that dot on the left was a 440.”
Although Swanson said these numbers during his speech, they actually add up to a total score of 780.
Swanson said laughter began to break out in the crowd of around 200 people.
“One of the friends I had already made said, ‘I wonder if that’s the same guy,’” Swanson said. “I knew it was the same guy. I chimed in and laughed along with everyone else. That was one of the longest walks back to the barracks that I had in my life. It was at that moment I had to start thinking about if I was really willing to put in 20 hours a day.”
Swanson said everyone is a dot on the left at some point. On his first day of math class, he said a student fell out of their chair laughing after he asked the professor what a square root was.
“They always say there are no dumb questions,” Swanson said jokingly. “There are if you ask it in a collegiate-level class. My instructor came up, looked me straight in the eyes and said, ‘I’m not going to waste any of my time on you.’”
Swanson told the audience that people will cut them down, including family and friends, but students can choose to change their lives.
“You can choose to be that dot on the left for the rest of your life or you can choose to be something different,” Swanson said. “I made a decision that night with tears in my eyes.
“I found out that her thoughts of me were not going to be my reality. Even if I couldn’t change her perception, I was going to change mine of myself. That’s a key point; if you don’t like who you are or what you’re doing, the first step is to change in yourself. Nobody else can make that decision for you.”
While having motivation and self-discipline is necessary to achieving success, Swanson said that is only half the battle.
“Helping other people is what allows you to stay on that right side,” Swanson said. “There are two other things as well. We all have something to be thankful for. Give gratitude every single day and don’t focus on what you don’t have. This is a big one that I didn’t start doing until a few years ago — learning to be happy for other people. It will completely change your life.”
Swanson said he went from not knowing what a square root was on the first day of math class to tutoring people by the third quarter.
“When you find out people’s real stories, they’ve been failing for so many years,” Swanson said. “But failing doesn’t make the headlines. I had honestly begun to believe in myself. If you believe in yourself, you will make it through anything. You will wrestle the goat and get to the other side.”
During a question-and-answer session, Swanson shared a story from his high school basketball days when he became third in Cincinnati in scoring.
“When I first started basketball, I was told by my eighth grade coach that I shouldn’t try out,” Swanson said. “He sat me on the bench the entire year. That was pretty crushing. I practiced more and more, and by junior year I started for the very first game, where I got a triple-double. I started in every game after that.”