Soon after John F. Kennedy became president, he began to see the importance of the manned space program that President Dwight D. Eisenhower had envisioned; in fact, in his State of the Union address in January 1961, he made his support of manned space flight clear. Then on April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union sent the first man into space, which seemed to show the world that while the United States had dreams and ambitions, it was lagging behind in achieving its goal. President Kennedy did not want to fall behind the Soviet Union, which was putting more money and effort toward space than we were at that time, so on May 25, 1961, he stood before a special joint session of Congress and outlined what could be viewed as his beacon in the fog. He said:
I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership [in space travel]. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to ensure their fulfillment.
It’s important to note that President Kennedy did not stop there. Instead, President Kennedy added what my associate Rick Sapio refers to as a catalyzing statement when he said:
I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. (Special address to the United States Congress, May 25, 1961.)
Of course, that goal was fulfilled when on July 20, 1969, less than a decade after President Kennedy made his famous speech, Neil Armstrong did indeed walk on the moon and returned to earth safely.
Catalyzing statements add specificity and are the fuel that motivates us—and those around us—to keep moving toward our beacon in the fog.
At the risk of sounding immodest, I would say that my beacon in the fog of helping people in developing countries is noble, but it is also too broad. This leads to two problems. The first is that, even though I have a goal, it lacks any specificity to guide my actions day to day. The second is that, as I try to garner support from others, my goal seems overwhelming and unattainable.
So, I refined my goal and concluded I wanted to help educate youth from around the world. Even with that, though, it still lacked focus and was too vague for others to grasp. Eventually, I arrived at my catalyzing statement, which is: “I plan on educating one thousand youth from around the world before I turn fifty.” That was the point when I became very focused and also found others who were willing to support my dream. Suddenly doors opened and opportunities arose that helped lead us closer to this goal.
On a very different scale, what I did was much the same as when John F. Kennedy declared, “We will get a man on the moon before the end of the decade…and return him home safely.” We must clearly identify our beacon in the fog, and then we must follow that up by creating our catalyzing statement.