Dream and dream big, but do the hard work to prepare yourself—even if where you want your dreams to take you is somewhere totally new. Motivation will come if you spend a little time with Chris Cheng. As the season four winner of History Channel’s hit television show Top Shot, Cheng is now a member of Bass Pro Shops’ professional shooting team. He entered the Top Shot competition as a novice, self-taught shooter.

“I was really behind the curve going into the competition,” said Cheng as he spoke at the NRA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. “It was something I really wanted to do after watching the first couple of seasons, so I treated my training like a part-time job.”

Employed at Google at the time, the California tech geek had only a little bit of shooting experience. Chris’ father took him to the gun range for an hour or so as a kid, but the visits were a couple years apart—not exactly a ton of rounds for muscle memory. “I was 28 when I purchased my first gun.”

Most of the other competitors were law enforcement, military, or competitive shooters. What made this young guy think he would get chosen for the show, let alone win it? Where did his confidence come from? The answers and Cheng’s strategy are good advice to all of us, not just for shooting but for accomplishing any of life’s goals.

“I decided to focus on the fundamentals of shooting,” said Chris. “There was no way that I would be able to shoot all the guns that might come our way on the show, with all the unique things they like to introduce.” Chris could have let all that pressure and comparison to more experienced marksmen get into his head. “But I didn’t let it.”

All of us, for any of our challenges, goals, or dreams, could let the pressure of what we don’t know, the gaps in our resume, or lack of specific experience hold us back. Sometimes we might not try, or we let the obstacles get into our heads. Maybe we fold and give up along the way. “Have a heart to be good,” said Chris. “In a humble way with ego set aside, learn about something you’re excited about.”

As an IT project manager, Chris understood organizing tasks, assigning action items, and following a timeline when approaching a goal, so he built a Google Sheet to follow. Here are a few areas that helped Chris stay focused on the tasks at hand.

  • Knowledge. Chris watched a lot of videos to learn information and find tips for improving skill. While working a full-time job, Chris treated his training as a part-time job, devoting 25 hours a week to improving his skills over five months.
  • Mentality. Knowing professional athletes get into a zone, Chris knew he needed a baseline of confidence. He told himself he could win. “That’s not an absence of doubt or fear, but that you can still overcome those,” said Chris. “I told myself over and over, ‘I can do this. I can win.’”
  • A personal development plan. Chris tapped into the experience he had in customer service to stay calm when panic or pressure would set in. “If you’ve ever had somebody yell at you that they weren’t happy with your company and they made it personal, you experienced performing your job under pressure,” explained Chris.
  • Increased focus. For a lot of us who shoot, and perhaps surprisingly to those who don’t, shooting allows us to be in the moment and simultaneously relaxing. “Shooting is my yoga,” said Cheng. “With shooting I can relax and focus. I’m feeling good.”

These elements could be a list for starting a business, joining a team, or taking on any project. Keeping one’s head in the game, gaining knowledge, devoting time and energy, using existing skills—those are all ways to work on a goal, like Chris Cheng’s goal to become a Top Shot.

“I spent five months preparing for the competition and devoted about 25 hours a week,” said Cheng. “What I learned about marksmanship could definitely be applied to skills at work or life.” Good advice for all of us.

Cheng has hung up the IT gig and has a full-time position with Bass Pro Shops as a professional marksman and shooter. List of things to do: Top Shot winner. Check. Professional shooter. Double check.

K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.

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