One was from the head of the Department of Psychology at West Point.
The other was from the head of the Department of English at West Point.
Psychology and English were my favorite subjects when I was a cadet.
I was passionately interested and worked hard, so my professors loved me.
Both letters invited me to teach in their department at West Point.
I was thrilled.
I replied to both letters that I would love to teach there, and what would be my next step?
I figured I would go with the one that responded first.
That turned out to be the Department of English.
I never heard back from the Department of Psychology.
I later learned that the Department of Psychology mysteriously never got my letter.
So it goes.
So I pursued a graduate degree in English at Duke University.
They accepted me even though I hadn't majored in English.
The Army told me I had two years to earn a masters degree.
All my Army colleagues had to take a semester of undergraduate make-up courses first.
I studied the catalog and determined I could earn the masters in one year.
I could meet all the course requirements for a Ph.D. in two years.
But I would need to take graduate courses right away.
I typed and signed my course request card and gave it to the department head.
He said, "No one has ever completed a card without counseling before. You already know what you want to do."
He seemed impressed and approved my request.
I didn't have to take any undergraduate make-up courses.
But I was in over my head.
Some of my classmates already had a masters in English.
My professor talked about novels I hadn't read.
At night I would go home and read one of the novels.
That meant reading a novel almost every night.
In class, my classmates used fancy words I didn't understand.
That night I would look up the words and add them to my vocabulary.
By the end of the first term, I felt confident enough to speak up in class.
By the end of the second term, I knew what I was talking about.
I took the exam for my masters degree and passed it.
By the end of the second summer and the third term, I had finished all 60 credit hours.
I had met all the requirements to take the Ph.D. candidate exam.
I took it and passed it.
After starting behind the eight ball, I had achieved "all but dissertation" status in 18 months.
My classmates with masters degrees were still studying.
I decided to write my dissertation about the celebrated American novelist John Cheever.
I met him, and we became friends.
I met Cheever and we hit it off. He told me everything about his life and work.
When my two years were up, I had completed my research and had written three chapters.
I joined the Department of English at West Point and maintained my friendship with John Cheever.
I earned my Ph.D. in 1977.
All this hard work changed my life.
This isn't a story about "fake it till you make it."
It's about following your passion, believing in yourself, being bold, working hard and never quitting.
I wouldn't be where I am today, who I am today, if I hadn't tried to do things that had never been done before.
It's amazing what you can do when you ignore people who say you can't do it and just get to work.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength .