The Dot on the Left: Life Lessons on Moving from Below Average to Ahead of the Curve by Dave Swanson

Reviewed by Ray Palen

The Dot on the LeftWhen readers turn to a self-help book they are looking for something new and different. There have been thousands of books written about overcoming adversity, striving to improve yourself, finding strength from within, etc… The question when promoting these self-help books is not only how to market them but finding something unique that no one else has written previously.

Dave Swanson’s self-help/inspirational book entitled THE DOT ON THE LEFT: Life Lessons on Moving from Below Average to Ahead of the Curve is not as much another primer or how-to book. Rather, Swanson simply tells his own story and how he overcame adversity, negativity and labels others wished to place upon him and instead listened only to his inner feelings as he pushed himself to succeed at every goal he set for himself.

This is a great start, but to really grab readers and keep them engaged you also need to have some credibility beyond just a good story. Swanson has that in droves. In addition to being a published author he is also a motivational speaker and former U.S. Army infantry platoon leader. He knows about real adversity as he survived over 100 firefights while deployed to Sadr City, Iraq. There’s an old adage that states ‘there are no atheists in fox-holes’! Well, to survive the type of warfare this man was faced with required much more than faith alone. Dave Swanson sounds like the type of person I want to listen to when he has something to say.

The forward to this book is written by author Bill Murphy Jr. who penned the Best-Seller IN A TIME OF WAR. Murphy states that Dave Swanson’s story will resonate with you. He themes Swanson’s story as ‘Where you start in life is not where you have to end up’. Swanson definitely embodies this. He recognizes that many people allow themselves to become either victims of their own environment or what other people say about them rather than refusing to make excuses and just going for it regardless of what anyone says.

Murphy also states that THE DOT ON THE LEFT teaches us that exceptionalism isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you work for — resilience is a daily exercise and leadership is a practiced art. Swanson’s story is divided up into different chapters each outlining a section of his life. Right from the top he indicates that we all have dreams, but only some of us turn them into actual goals that we truly pursue with the effort they require. I am a big baseball fan and regular visitor to the Baseball Hall Of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. One thing I read continously about the inductees into the Hall is that they were not just great physical specimens with an above-average skill-set. There are millions of kids playing ball in this country today who can meet that description. What set the members of the Hall Of Fame apart from their contemporaries was their mental strength.

It is this theme that runs throughout Swanson’s book. The title of the book was from a shaming Swanson received by ruining the curve of his SAT Prepster course by his extremely low math score that resulted in a single dot on the left side of the Bell Curve. Swanson took complete ownership that he was ‘the dot’. He was not going to let this fact define him or get him down. He had dreams of College and other future success that were indicative of his having a stronger SAT showing. Instead of hanging his head and accepting that he was not any good at math — he strove to improve himself and move that dot.

Winston Churchill is quoted at the top of a chapter with the following phrase: “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”. One thing Swanson wanted in his youth was to be great at basketball. He just didn’t know how. He was never going to be the biggest or fastest guy on the court — but what could he do to catch the coaches attention and make him realize he needed to play Swanson? He recognized, even then, that most teen-agers feel sorry for themselves. His story on how he got past this to achieve glory on the court is inspiring. The thing I liked best is when he sought out the best players on street courts around town and matched himself against them. The only way you are going to get better is by playing against the best.

Swanson also talks about creating a social circle of amazing, supportive people. If this is not your family then you need to look beyond to keep yourself around people with positive energy. He is also a person of faith but realized that we pray in our time but God answers in his time. This meant that leaving your fate up to faith alone was not enough to get you where you wanted to be. He prayed to get through the hell of basic training after deciding to join the armed forces. It’s obvious these prayers were answered as Dave Swanson is still around to tell his story, but he’ll be the first to tell you that a lot of that is due to his own intestinal fortitude and strong mental make-up.

Whatever life threw at him, Swanson understood the importance of gratitude. He claims this is one of the biggest secrets to having a fulfilled life. Also, gratitude could be towards anything you chose to believe in . He was grateful for the great teachers in his life who pushed him and involved him in the learning process. He also recognized that no one drove him more than his own siblings. He points to inspirational films like the terrific football drama Rudy and how easy it was to be moved by that man’s story.

Swanson follows up his narrative with a Life Lessons Cheat Sheet. It is here that he offers up questions and topics to refer to when working towards your own individual goals. THE DOT ON THE LEFTis not so much a blue-print on how to be successful. Instead, it shows one persons life view taken from his own personal experiences and how at every difficult turn he chose to rise above and continue reaching for his goals even when others might have thrown in the towel. Based on Swanson’s track record and individual success he has more than earned the credibility required to be a mentor we can all learn from.