Q & A Interview

1. Why would a United Airlines pilot want to write children’s books?

How does one explain why or when inspiration strikes? Writing a children’s series was never a goal or intention of mine.

I was fortunate to have another United pilot (Jason Dahl) ask me two questions that offered me a life-changing paradigm shift. When his aircraft went down on 9-11 (Jason was the Captain of United Flight 93) it forced me to reflect more on his challenge to me. It was out of this reflection that the Growing Field book series was born. I named the series the “Growing Field” in honor of his crash site in Pennsylvania. I guess it is safe to say that it is his challenge, and his message, that plays out in every Growing Field story.

2. Had you ever thought about writing books before you became a pilot?

No I had not. I have always enjoyed reading In fact after Jason’s challenge to me I seemed to gravitate more to books on leadership, personal growth and philosophy. It was the seeds planted by these readings that eventually percolated into the messages found in the Growing Field series.

3. How did you teach your own children the values you address in your books?

There are so many ways to approach that question. First I believe children are great impersonators and poor interpreters- which is to say the best thing we can do for our children is to be a great example for them. I will also say that my children have a wonderful mother! J

I also think it is so important to realize that our children CAN understand the concepts of personal growth, self-empowerment and leadership at a very early age. Leadership can be broken down into character traits, beliefs, behaviors and habits. Pick your favorite leaders- and it is easy to recognize the qualities that they possess that make them a great leader. Any of those traits, beliefs, behaviors and habits can be taught, learned, practiced by our children at a very early age. We need only to plant the seed, water it a bit every day and allow it to grow. It has been said that children don’t lack capacity- they lack teachers. I believe that we can all do a better job of teaching and preparing this generation of young people to be the leaders we need for tomorrow.

4. How do your own children feel about their father writing books for other kids?

This chapter of my life has been wonderful to share with my children. They are my biggest fans and also my toughest critics. I enjoy sharing the stories with them to see what they get out of them, to see which parts resonate and also to find which parts of the stories need work.

  1. 5. Do you think children should be taught character education in our schools?

That is a difficult question that can, again, be answered on various levels. Yes I think there are powerful opportunities to teach character education in schools. Our curriculums are rich with people like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Edison, Newton, Bethoven, Martin Luther King Jr., Steinbeck, Thomas Paine and so many others that share powerful character traits that we can all learn from.

I also believe that character education can be more than it is currently. Many times character education is, for lack of a better term, a noun. It is a word on a poster and a poster on a wall. To be as effective as possible we must find ways to make it a verb- an action word. A child could never learn to hit a baseball by reading the word “bat and ball” on a poster. To learn to hit you must give the child the experience of actually hitting the ball. Character education is the same. We must move it from posters and words and actually provide the opportunity to discuss it and then put it into action.

6. The issue of bullying is very serious these days with our kids. How do you think your books will work to teach children differently?

I agree that bullying is a very serious issue today. I also believe it won’t change until we fundamentally change how we approach the problem. Let me give you an example…

Finish this statement…”We cannot love someone else until we love________.” The answer: ourselves.

If a child lacks self esteem (does not hold him or her self in high esteem) they lash out at others in various forms of bullying. You can give them all the books you want on sharing, caring, being nice, playing well with others, etc., but the cure will be temporary at best because the root of the problem has not been addressed.

So the question becomes, “What if…we start working on the self esteem (internal) early and helping our children build strong mental constitutions? This is where the Growing Field focuses. Each story focuses on personal growth behaviors like the recognition of unique gifts and abilities, how to start discovering your own gifts and talents, how to plant own personal “seeds of success” and make dreams come true, the importance of working towards goals, overcoming personal adversity and never giving up on yourself or your dreams. All are internal messages to build critical self-esteem.

If we teach our children these concepts and ideas…I believe bullying will be addressed more effectively than the approach we currently take.

7. Why would your books appeal to “children of all ages?”

Abraham Maslow gave us the “hierarchy of needs.” We all remember that at the bottom are the basic human needs….food, safety, shelter. At the top is the most important of his human needs and the one all people have- self actualization. Maslow defines this as the need to understand we CAN become more than we are. That not only is there something we can become… there is something we MUST become.

The Growing Field series speaks to the child in each of us that still desires to know that we can become more than we are. These ideas, which have been shared by so many leaders are timeless and speak to each of us on a different level. For that reason this series has found an audience far outside of what we thought would be our target and has now touched children as young as four, junior high students, high school students, college graduates and even executives and sales teams.

We all need reminding once in awhile that life is without limit and we are without limit. I guess that is why Secretary of Education Richard Riley said that “Everyone can benefit from the seeds to be found in the Growing Field.

8. When you do public speaking engagements, what thoughts do you want the audience to leave with?

In each of my presentations I share a message I call “Conscious Leadership.” The message contains four simple elements that I believe we all must address if we are to have our own personal success. It is a series of stories that I hope make them laugh, make them cry…but most importantly make them THINK! Think about their ability and their possibility. Think about the impact they are making on the world around them and to know that their own masterpiece called “life” is without limit.

What I want the audience to leave with was best summed up by a young third grade boy after one of my presentations. He approached me and said, “Mr. Hoog, I think I know what it is you’re trying to tell me.” I asked him to share and he said this, “I think you are telling me that I can be the Captain of my own life.” That is still the best I have ever heard it said- I wish I could take credit for it.

Regardless of my audience, which now includes kindergarten through college students, business executives to board members, community volunteers to teachers or coaches- I want them to leave the presentation with a renewed outlook on life and their role in making a difference in it.

What two questions did Jason ask you that changed your life?

The annual check ride at an airline is a big event. In order to keep your job you must pass the event. As such, you study for months in preparation. I was well prepared but did not expect these two questions.

In a very conversational tone he began by saying, “My experience tells me that people talk about other people for four reasons; You are dying, you are dead, you are one of the best in your field, or you are one of the worst in your field. No one cares about the middle. My question for you is- why don’t I hear people talking about you?

I was not sure how to answer the question and gave him my favorite “CHL” (confused husband look). When I did not answer he followed it up with this, “Mark, my job as a leader and evaluator for this company is to sit with our other leaders, of which you are one of, and determine if they get to stay. So you tell me, “Why should you get to stay?”

I thought I finally had an answer. I explained that I was on time, was safe, knew my airplane and knew my procedures. He looked at the co-pilot and asked him if he did those same things. The co-pilot responded that he did. Jason looked back at me and said, “Maybe we should let your co-pilot be the Captain today.”

It was the first time I had ever stopped to think about my role, my responsibility as a leader. Jason knew that I understood what the company expected of me. What he wanted to know was what I expected of myself. It is a question I have come to appreciate and a question that changed my life.

As a result I began doing things differently to make an impact as a leader. As a result of that I was invited to work in our training department as an evaluator- guess who they assigned as my mentor? Jason Dahl.

We became more than colleagues and peers. We became friends. He was the type of person that was always asking you about the contribution you were making in various areas of your life.

He came to see me in late August of 2001. I had just been promoted and had just sat in my new office complete with the name plate. Jason was the first one to come see me. He said, “Congratulations.” I asked for what. He said, “People are talking.”

I stopped him and asked if he had any idea the impact he had made on me by the questions he had asked me years before and he said something I will always remember. He said, “You know Mark, all of us are dying…it is just that some of us are doing something about it.”

We talked for a long while and he left. He stuck his head back in and said one more thing, “Mark…don’t forget to tell those you love that you love them…you never know when it will be your last chance.”

Two weeks later he went down as the Captain of hijacked United flight 93. United asked that I go tell his wife and teenage son of the accident.

It was his son’s eulogy that most impacted me and he did it with a Dr. Seuss book.

It was that event, that eulogy, that signature made on me by Jason that produced the seeds which have now become the Growing Field series.

One of the things I love about how the Growing Field series is how that message found its way into the series. In one interview the reporter asked me what messages are found in each Growing Field story. When I realized this I broke down.

-The first is the motivational message

-The second is that each story begins by telling children they are spectacular

-The last is that every story ends with 3 words…I Love You. The last thing I heard from Jason.

9. Have you ever considered writing a book for children who are afraid to fly?

I am working on that one right now….not really. Actually it sounds like a good idea- do you mind if I take it? J