As a former college football coach, I well remember the work and effort involved in preparing a team of young men to work together and achieve victory. Every win felt like an epic struggle (and it was).

When I look at the upcoming college football championship bracket – and specifically when I think about the coaches on those four elite teams tasked with preparing their respective squads to compete for the crown – I remember the anxious feelings associated with having your professional fate in the hands of, well, babies.

As a professor, I work with young people every day. And not unlike young ball players, their path to understanding – be it curriculum or a playbook – can begin as a nightmare.

Anyone involved in developing young people – coaches, professors, CEOs, or managers – must accept that along the path to their enlightenment, the millennials under their tutelage are inevitably going to get a little lost in all the information and attempts to synthesize it.

In football, there will be interceptions and bad decisions made along the way. There will be times when you simply must be patient with your young quarterback, explaining the same concepts over and over again, while you keep waiting for the proverbial light bulb to go off (which is, incidentally, when your work pays off and championships occur). It can be hard, but you have to get your focus on arriving at your eventual destination — that triumphant point in the future when you’re on camera on the sidelines making it look easy while your players execute flawlessly and win games for you.

Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney and Chris Petersen know all about those feelings right now. They can only hope all their sweat equity is about to pay off big time.

That’s the happy ending. But as I said, along the way, your millennials are going to get lost from time to time. In moments like those, remember this: There are worse things than getting lost. And, in fact, getting lost can be a good thing. Because by getting lost, and then finding the way back to clarity, emerging from that fog, a person has travelled a path of learning that sets them up (and, by proxy, sets you up) to reap tremendous amounts of success.

Simply said, the nightmare of being lost is one of the keys to moving from simply knowing to truly understanding in life. There’s no dream without nightmare.

I was recently spending some time in Seaside, Florida with my parents, who both happen to be educators. We were reflecting on my personal journey and how I now get to do all the things I always wanted to do professionally, which include teaching and coaching, and writing and being a business consultant.

Specifically, we were discussing the new Center for Student Coaching and Success I recently launched on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The center is intended to help millennial students systematically bridge the challenging gap between approaching graduation, finishing college and securing gainful employment. In many ways, it formalizes what I have already been doing for more than a decade at MTSU.

How did I end up living my own dream? It didn’t happen without struggle. But my parents taught me that the way you take on the world is to become an educator, marry an educator and educate other people and along the way I finally figured out how to channel that.

It was at that point in the conversation that my mom put her arm around me, smiled and said, “Son, I think you were lost.”
And to her point, I was. So I proceeded to tell her some of the things I thought I had found along the way. In that spirit, here are just a few of the lessons I learned while getting lost on the path from nightmare to dream.

  1. I found my voice – the intersection of talent, passion, conscience and need in the world.
  2. I found a way to solve problems and make decisions that became the foundation to my self-directed, self-selected coaching model.
  3. I found how use adversity to accelerate growth.
  4. I found that if you wanted something you had to ask for it and you had to do that in person.
  5. I found that stories sell while facts tell.
  6. I found that people change for two reasons – pain or potential.
  7. I found that if you want something you can’t let anyone stop you – including yourself.
  8. I found confidence to be the memory of success. (Thanks, Denis Waitley.)
  9. I found that if you will be the best at what matters most, it’s the only strategy you will ever need. (Thanks, Joe Calloway.)
  10. And I found that success is about advancing confidently in the direction of you own dream and to endeavor to live a life that only you can imagine, where you will find uncommon success in common hour. (Thanks, Henry David Thoreau.)

I say I found these because they are all ideas that someone shared with me along the way.

Explore these ideas both for yourself and for the millennial you are engaging, coaching and teaching to be better than you. Teach them to live the nightmare, then live the dream. Who knows what you may find. And when you do, you will (like your millennial protégé) “Go Your Own Way!”