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John F. Kennedy’s Case for Dreaming Big

This weekend I was reading John F. Kennedy’s speech at Rice University in 1962. You may know it as the speech in which he declared that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

This speech is fascinating because at the time it was given, the United States hadn’t even put a man into space yet. The U.S. was repeatedly getting embarrassed by Russia, whose space program was breaking new ground over and over again. In the space race, the U.S. was falling way behind.

When Kennedy took the stage that day he knew he needed to do something to inspire the American people; to wake the ingenuity and creativity of a country. He knew it would take the strength and support of an entire nation to achieve such a lofty goal.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts from his speech: (you can watch, listen, or read the speech HERE)

“…we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.”

“So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this city of Houston, this State of Texas, this country of the United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward–and so will space.”

“The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”

“For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace. We have vowed that we shall not see space filled with weapons of mass destruction, but with instruments of knowledge and understanding.”

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?”

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

“To be sure, we are behind, and will be behind for some time in manned flight. But we do not intend to stay behind, and in this decade, we shall make up and move ahead.”

“To do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold…But it will be done. And it will be done before the end of this decade.”

The way he presented this vision to the country teaches us three valuable lessons about how we should set our personal goals.

#1 – He set a goal big enough to inspire us.

Short-terms goals are important to keep us moving forward. They can be achieved with just a little more focus and attention. But our overall vision for our life needs to be big and inspiring. We should feel joy and excitement every time we get one small step closer to achieving that vision. Kennedy did not just say, “Let’s catch up with the Russians.” He didn’t say, “Let’s get a man to orbit the moon and return.” He took it 10 steps further by saying we would put a man on the moon, get him back on the ship, blast off back into space, then return to earth. The technology to do most of these things did not even exist or hadn’t even been imagined. But once the vision was in place, things started to happen.

#2 – He identified the problems or obstacles

Kennedy didn’t just flippantly throw out a dream about going to the moon. He basically said, “Look, we are way behind. We’ve had some very public failures. It will take everything we’ve can muster to pull it off. But it is worth doing. If we want to be a world leader, we need to be leading in the space race.” As we look at our vision for life or our long-term goals, we need to identify where we are currently and what are the obstacles we will need to overcome in order to obtain our goal.

JFK Space Race

#3 – He set a deadline

Every effective goal has a deadline. Kennedy was not satisfied with merely saying, “We will go to the moon.” He said, “We will put a man on the moon and return him home before the end of the decade.” When did it happen? July 20th. 1969. When writing your goals, put a deadline on them. This adds a level of urgency in our brain which will push us that little bit harder. It transforms our goal from an abstract wish to a concrete objective.

#4 – He got to work

In the parts of the speech that I left out, Kennedy talked about how he had increased funding to the space program, tripling the amount spent the previous year. He called upon NASA to increase its work load. He told the nation that every working American would essentially be giving 50 cents a week to space exploration. He was telling the country, “Here is the vision, this is the plan, this is when it will be accomplished, we’re all in this together so let’s get to work.”


We all have a bunch of goals, dreams, and desires floating around in our head. They give us hope for our future. They give us something to look forward to. Hopefully they inspire us. The trick is turning them from dreams into action. To do it, we need to follow the points that President Kennedy taught us:

#1 – Find a dream that inspires you

#2 – Locate the obstacles

#3 – Set a deadline

#4 – Get to work

May you have a wonderful journey on the pathway to success!

See ya on the moon!


JFK moon langing

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