The best advice I ever got came from my dad when I was about 12 years old. We were shooting baskets on our driveway at 48 Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose. He was teaching me how to make bank shots off the homemade plywood backboard he had hung over the one-car garage door. My dad grew up during the Depression and was a WWII veteran, so he was practical, no-nonsense, and to the point. After barking a few pointers about shooting a basketball, he said, “don’t forget that you can’t score if you don’t shoot.”
I’m pretty sure that my high school basketball teammates weren’t too happy with me when I took that advice literally because I know that I missed way more shots than I made. But my dad’s lesson was clear; success would come by taking calculated risks every now and then, hard work, and perseverance. I’ve had lots of failures and picked up a few successes along the way in my journey through life, and my dad’s advice on the driveway that day has guided me through the toughest of times.
First of all, I know how to lose a political campaign. I ran for school board in 1996, 1998, and 2008, and I was a candidate for city council in 2000. Even though I demonstrated a true passion for public office, I lost all four races. Undeterred, I got an opportunity to serve when the East Side high school board appointed me in 2006 and 2009. During my time on the school board, we saved after school sports from the budget ax and passed a historic policy that ensures every student has a chance to go to college.
In 2005, Comcast invited me to its exclusive Comcast Executive Leadership Forum, a year-long executive training program. I arrived at the company’s Philadelphia headquarters on a cold and snowy January morning wearing my best dark suit and a new overcoat. Passing a mirror, I suddenly froze, and the fears and doubts of an east side boy in way over his head consumed me. I debated on whether I should just go back home, but decided to stay. A little less than two years later, I was promoted to vice president of government affairs for northern and central California.
During the summer of 2010, I faced the biggest challenge of my life. I had a massive heart attack, and subsequent complications in my lungs left me in a coma for a month and in the hospital for over 100 days. When I awoke from the coma, I couldn’t talk, walk, or move any of my limbs. After intensive therapy and a few of years of a disciplined exercise program to strengthen my heart and lungs, I thought about my dad as I crossed the finish line of the annual East Side Save Our Sports 5K walk with my wife Sandra and daughters Marisa and Erica.
You can’t score if you don’t shoot!
Through many defeats and a few victories, I’ve learned that my dad had it right. Taking a chance, working your behind off, and keeping at it is the path to achievement. The past several years, I’ve had the great privilege to work with emerging community leaders through the Latino Leadership Alliance Leadership Academy. We discuss a variety of concepts and strategies needed for leadership. The conversations usually come to the conclusion that effective leadership results from some version of my dad’s advice.
We live in an age of non-stop media and talking heads with no leadership experience preaching quick fixes to complex problems. President Theodore Roosevelt famously said that these self-proclaimed leaders “neither know victory nor defeat” because they stay on the sidelines. To be sure, leadership concepts can be learned in seminars and conferences, but the practice of true leadership can only be achieved by getting into the fray. When advising aspiring leaders, I tell them that there is no substitute for taking a leadership role when the opportunity presents itself, especially if it’s risky, challenging, and seemingly without success in sight.
So, if you want to serve on the PTA, be a scout leader, run for Congress, or apply for that promotion at work, go ahead and go for it. Just know that you’ll have to step out of your comfort zone, work extra hard, and hang on for a long and bumpy ride. It’ll be worth it. And, never, ever forget that you can’t score if you don’t shoot.