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Studying Your Beliefs

The process uncovering and shaping your beliefs is never-ending. I think it’s a healthy and worthwhile endeavor. Have you ever taken the time to write down your beliefs so you can really study and examine them? This is one of the exercises that I do in my journal from time to time. As we grow and mature, it’s natural to question old beliefs and sometimes change or modify them.

In order to keep challenging my beliefs in an effort to improve them, I’m constantly reading what other people have to say on the subject. I have a long list of authors who have influenced me greatly. I recently came across Will Durant’s short essay titled “This I Believe” that I think you’ll enjoy reading. It’s an amazing example of how a great writer and thinker clarified his beliefs into a succinct statement. Will Durant, a highly regarded American writer, historian, and philosopher, became best known for his work “The Story of Civilization.” The groundbreaking work includes eleven volumes that were published between 1935 and 1975. Many were written in collaboration with his wife, Ariel. Will Durant also wrote many other books including his first best-seller “The Story of Philosophy” and my personal favorite, “The Lesson’s of History.” I’ve learned a great deal from his writings over the years.

The Durants were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1968 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977. Below is a copy of the essay on beliefs that Will Durant wrote after a lifetime of serious study and reflection. No matter what you believe, I think you’ll find Durant’s essay worth reading and thinking about.

It’s not necessary that you believe what Will Durant chose to believe. What’s important is to decide for yourself what you believe. I have a rule that I never tell anyone else what to believe. I’d rather ask others to tell me what they believe. Then I ask them what they think the consequences will be from having those beliefs. I also love this question: Is what you believe good for you, good for others, and does it serve the greater good?

Using Will Durant’s essay as a model, create your own “This I Believe” statement. Save it and then see if it evolves over time.

* * * * *

THIS I BELIEVE

by

Will Durant

I find in the Universe so many forms of order, organization, system, law and adjustment of means to ends, that I believe in a cosmic intelligence and I conceive God as the life, mind, order and law of the world.

I do not understand my God, and I find in nature and history many instances of apparent evil, disorder, cruelty and aimlessness. But I realize that I see these with a very limited vision and that they might appear quite otherwise from a cosmic point of view. How can an infinitesimal part of the universe understand the whole? We are drops of water trying to understand the sea.

I believe that I am the product of a natural evolution. The logic of evolution seems to compel determinism, but I cannot overcome my direct consciousness of a limited freedom of will. I believe that if I could see any form of matter from within as I can see myself through introspection, I should find in all forms of matter something akin to what in ourselves is mind and freedom. I define “virtue” as any quality that makes for survival, but as the survival of the group is more important than the survival of the average individual, the highest virtues are those that make for group survival: love, sympathy, kindliness, cooperation. If my life lived up to my ideals, I would combine the ethics of Confucius and Christ; the virtues of a developing individual with those of a member of a group.

I was a Socialist in my youth and sympathized with the Soviet regime until I visited Russia in 1932. What I saw there led me to deprecate the extension of that system to any other land. Experience and history have taught me the instinctive basis and economic necessity of competition and private property. I’m not so fanatical a worshipper of liberty as some of my radical or conservative friends; when liberty exceeds intelligence it begets chaos; which begets dictatorship. We had too much economic liberty in the later nineteenth century due to our free land and our relative exemption from external danger. We have too much moral liberty today, due to increasing wealth and diminishing religious belief. The age of liberty is ending under the pressure of external dangers; the freedom of the part varies with the security of the whole.

I do not resent the conflicts and difficulties of life. In my case, they have been far outweighed by good fortune, reasonable health, loyal friends and a happy family life. I have met so many good people that I have almost lost my faith in the wickedness of mankind.

I suspect that when I die I shall be dead. I would look upon endless existence as a curse as did the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew. Death is life’s greatest invention; perpetually replacing the worn with the new. And after twenty volumes, it will be sweet to sleep.

Source: http://will-durant.com/believe.htm

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Alternative Facts

Have you heard the two-word phrase “alternative facts?” I find the idea simultaneously humorous and troubling. The dictionary definition of the word “fact” is “a thing that is indisputably the case.” Synonyms include reality, actuality, and certainty. With that in mind, what are “alternative facts?”

Let’s give credit to Kellyanne Conway for the phrase “alternative facts.” As a counselor to President Donald Trump, she used the phrase on a TV interview last year on “Meet the Press.” When I first heard the phrase, I did a double take. I laughed and said to myself: “Did she really just say alternative facts?” Yes, she did, and some people are actually doubling down and remaining committed to the concept.

Recently, President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani said this in an interview: “Truth isn’t truth.” So now are we supposed to believe that there are “alternative facts” because the “truth isn’t truth?”

I propose we clear this up with an idea offered by Sir Winston Churchill:
“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”

It’s hard to beat that. Old Winston had a way with words!

The purpose of writing this blog is to provide encouragement to search for the truth rather than opinions and/or political manipulation. A search for the facts leads to great benefits and advancement. So if you are in search of the truth, keep looking. Never be quick to accept any opinion or point of view that is offered without evidence. As someone once said, “Don’t be a follower, be a student.” Listen to both sides of the argument and make up your own mind. Rely on the best information you can find. Use your best thinking. Perhaps even consider putting the phrases “alternative facts” and “truth isn’t truth” in the trash can where they belong.

Now let’s go get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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Why?

I love to encourage people. In fact, I believe that when I do it well, it’s the most powerful thing I can do to serve others.  For me, there’s simply nothing like the feeling of offering an idea that has the potential to improve someone’s life and then watching to see the reaction. Here’s the reaction that I’m always working to achieve when I talk with a client. I want the client to ask: “I wonder if what Robert just said would really work? It sounds like the idea worked for him but would it work for me? I wonder if I should try to implement this idea in my own life and see what happens?” That’s the bulls-eye for me!

When I coach, give seminars, or workshops, I love to end a presentation with something that I learned from one of my most important mentors. His name is Jim Rohn, and he inspired a whole generation of personal development authors and speakers. His most famous student is probably Tony Robbins. If you take a minute to Google “Jim Rohn” and learn about his life’s work, you’ll find a long list people who give him credit for changing their lives. Although I’ve had more mentors than I can count, Jim Rohn, along with the legendary Earl Nightingale, are always at the top of my list.

The reason I’m mentioning Jim Rohn is that I want to share an idea with you that was a part of many of Jim Rohn’s speeches. He would often end his speeches with this idea. In fact, I can still remember the first time I heard him share this idea, and my reaction of excitement, wonder, and endless possibilities.

After humbly sharing his remarkable life story and the many lessons that he learned and practiced during his life, Jim Rohn would ask a series of 4 questions. He would begin with the simple question of “Why?” He would basically challenge the audience by saying: Why do all of the things I’ve talked about to improve your life? Why set goals and work to achieve them? Why develop the skills you need to succeed in the world? Why work as hard as possible to become as successful as possible? Why keep pushing forward despite the many obstacles? Why bother to go through all of the work required when you can instead just choose to drift along in life? Clearly the question of “why” is one worth considering.

The answer to his question of “Why?” was always the same. He would say: The best answer to the question of “Why” is the question “Why not?” Why not work to become all that you are capable of becoming? Why not stretch yourself to see what you can become? Why not set some big goals and see if it’s possible for you to achieve them? After a series of these kinds of “Why not?” questions, he would then say: What else are you going to do with your life? You have to stay here until you go so why not become all that you are capable of becoming?

Just the questions “Why?” and “Why not?” would have been enough. I was ready to take action after I heard his message. But wait, there was more. He would then say: “Why not you?” Other people have done incredible things with their lives, why not you? He would challenge you to think about all of the people you admire who have achieved the goals that you want to achieve and by so doing challenge the false belief that others are capable of great things but not you. Instead, he would say that if they found a way to achieve their goals, then why not you?

The final piece de resistance was the question: “Why not now?” He would expand this simple question by saying in essence: Why postpone your better future any longer? Why not get started today on the things that can change your life for the better?

I can still remember my reaction. I realized in that moment that while indeed there were real obstacles on my list of the things holding me back from achieving what I wanted in life, there’s was hope. I just had to admit to myself that I was front and center in holding myself back in life. I needed to change myself if I wanted to change my results. I still remember writing this quote from Jim Rohn in my journal for the first time:

“For things to change for you, you’ve got to change. Otherwise, it isn’t going to change.”

I offer you that same advice. Have I been able to achieve everything that I’ve wanted to achieve in my life? No. Of course not. However, the game isn’t over. I’m still working on the goals that are important to me. How about you? Are you drifting along or are you purposely working to make daily progress? And are you enjoying the journey?

I can tell you that I’ve achieved things that I never thought were possible for me because of incredible mentors like Jim Rohn, and the many ideas that they shared. They inspired and encouraged me. My goal is to try to be useful in life by working to inspire and encourage you.

Take a minute to write down these 4 questions and then review them at least once a day. After say, thirty days, see if you don’t notice a difference. Keep doing this for a year, and then check your progress. I’m willing to bet that these simple questions will help you accomplish your goals while at the same time helping you to become the person you most want to be.

Why? Why not? Why not you? Why not now?

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When Self-Help is No Help

Although self-help principles and concepts can be enormously useful in helping you change your life for the better, I believe there are limits to how much you can achieve using self-help. Granted, you and you alone can do incredible things to improve your life. Nevertheless, you may find that depending solely on your own devices is not always the best path. Self-help can sometimes be wrought with built-in limits.

One limit in the area of mental health involves conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and a host of other challenges. I shutter to think about the number of times I’ve heard and witnessed well-meaning self-help or personal development authors or speakers delve into areas where they lack the proper knowledge or training. I’m sure you’ve heard self-help “gurus” prescribe vacuous success quips and pollyannaish nonsense in situations where medical help would be the best answer.

I’ve had clients over the years where it was clear to me the challenges they were facing ran much deeper than finding your life’s purpose, changing your beliefs, setting goals that are attainable, reaching more financial success, or developing new strategies for your life and business. This is when self-help or life coaching may not be the right approach. Some problems require medical assistance, and  it’s important to recognize the difference and always err on the side of caution. Let’s use depression as an example as it comes up frequently.

Depression comes in many forms but let’s just consider two broad categories: (1) situational depression, and (2) clinical depression. As the name states, situational depression is situation based. Something has happened in your life that is a short-term, stress-type issue. Maybe something bad has happened and you need to find a healthy way to process it. Perhaps you need to change the situation or just change the way you think about the situation. Self-help, or a bit of coaching, might be useful in this case. So far, so good.

However, what if your depressed mood doesn’t get better in a few days? What if the situation gets better but your depression continues? It’s possible that you’ve stepped into the world of clinical depression.

Here’s an except from Medical News Today:

“Clinical depression is more severe than situational depression. It is also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It is severe enough to interfere with daily life.”

“It is classified as a mood disorder and it typically involves chemical imbalances in the brain.”

“Clinical depression can have genetic origins or it may develop as a response to painful or stressful experiences or events, such as a major loss. These major life events can trigger negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, or frustration.”

“Depression can change the way a person thinks and how the body works.”

“Alcohol and drug abuse are also linked to clinical depression.”

Since the lines between situational and clinical depression can get blurry, I can understand why people can be confused. But again, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If you are experiencing depression and it’s been more than a few days, stop the self-help and go get the right medical help.

I’m especially attuned to this topic because there is a history of mental health issues in my family. My mother suffered from depression and anxiety. My father battled substance abuse. And I lost one of my brothers, Paul, on Thanksgiving Day in 2015 as a result of his mental health challenges. His condition was so severe that he tried to take his own life several times. He finally decided to declare himself DNR (“Do Not Resuscitate”) and then refused to take his medications and also refused to eat or drink. Death was more appealing to Paul than the pain of living. So this issue is very real to me.

Are you experiencing any mental health challenges that are out of the reach of the latest self-help book, or a new-to-the-scene motivational speaker, or an exciting life coach? If self-help or pop-psychology isn’t working, the sooner you get medical help the better. Remember that all improvement begins by telling yourself the truth. So how are you doing, and how are you feeling? No, really, how are you feeling? The healing starts with the truth.

No matter what problems you may be facing, there is help available. Maybe a great life coach is all you need to help you see yourself from the outside looking in. Just make sure you choose the right person for your situation. We are all too close to ourselves to really see ourselves as we really are. Shakespeare captured this idea best when he wrote:

“The eye sees not itself but by reflection or of some other means.”

So get the right person to give you both an outside look and an inside look if necessary. Make sure that, if you need a complete inside look, you get the right professional with the best medical training. New discoveries are being made everyday. Never lose sight of help that might be closer than you think with your family and friends. Tell your family and friends how you feel, and always remember to keep the faith. The help you need is available, and it’s within reach.

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The Limits of Self-Help

Are you interested in self-help? Have you ever read a self-help book, listened to a self-help program, or attended a self-help seminar? I can’t imagine that you are reading this blog if self-help is not a huge priority in your life. In other words, I’ll bet you’re a person who is interested in self-guided improvement be it intellectually, economically, physically, or emotionally. You want to improve and you want to be in the driver’s seat of making that improvement. Am I right?

You want to control your life. You want to make your life better. You want to direct your next breakthrough and be responsible for the next personal and professional transformations that you need in order to reach the next level of success. You want to summon the iron will and steadfast courage to overcome the obstacles that stand in your way.

I can promise you that this is exactly who I am. I’ve been hooked on self-help ever since I learned I could make a difference in how my life turns out. From the moment I learned that I could make choices, the game of self-help was on. I wanted to make the best choices, and I wanted to win the game. I was ready to play. I was all in.

I instinctively knew how the game was to be played. It is based on a very simple idea. The fundamental belief of self-help is the belief that you can make yourself better. That’s it, and I agree.

Now here’s the question: Can this idea be taken too far? I’ve learned in my own life that it can. In fact, I’m embarrassed to tell you that while I have worked extremely hard to make everything about my life the best it could possibly be, the major advances that I’ve made have come from others helping me. It’s true. My major successes have come from Other-Help, not Self-Help.

Now I don’t want to say that I haven’t played a major role in this game I’m playing called MY LIFE, but I’m saying that self-help is not enough, not nearly enough. My guess is that self-help has not helped you through the most difficult times in your life such as those times when everything just fell apart and you were so disillusioned that you didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Haven’t you had times when you’ve been so lost and alone that you couldn’t decide what to do next? If not, then you may be an alien or you may have some special super powers I’ve never witnessed in anyone that I’ve ever met or read about, and that’s a lot of people.

I’m willing to bet that you understand what I’m talking about in terms of the fact that self-help can only take you so far in life. Self-help does indeed have its limits. It’s not enough to get you where you want to go and it most certainly will not provide you with the lasting achievement and fulfillment that you desire.

Self-help is definitely part of the formula involved in getting what you want but without the help of others, the game is over. The victory is both lost and hollow no matter what the achievement.

My suggestion is to make a list of the people who have helped you the most in your life. After each of their names, write down what they’ve done for you. Just this simple exercise will lead you to the underlying truth behind the game of life, which is this: Life is a team sport, and you can’t win a team sport by yourself!

So let’s add more people to your list who you may have never considered. For example, what about all of those opponents you’ve faced in your life? Did any of them make it on the list of people who have helped you in life? Why or why not?

Haven’t the people who challenged you the most also caused you to grow the most? How about writing down the names of your so-called “adversaries” along with a list of what they “helped” you learn and achieve. It’s been said that we learn more from failure than we do from success. Why? Because while we celebrate in some way when we achieve something, it’s when we fail that we are forced to ponder. What happened? Why did I miss my target? How can I get back on the right track? What can I learn from what happened? I know that I can succeed, so what’s the answer that I need? What else can I read or who can I ask for help? Asking questions leads to answers, and it often takes failure to get us to ask the questions we need to succeed.

As is so often the case in life, a change in perspective is needed when we miss one of our goals, and maybe it’s time to rethink self-help alone. It’s refreshing to turn things around now and then and look at life from a different perspective. There’s no need to stop studying self-help principles, just don’t limit yourself because there are a lot of people who can help you if you’ll only ask. You can also expand your reading to include books with the topic “Other-Help” to your library. That may not be a category in the bookstore but you can start with biographies and autobiographies of what people did who achieved what you want to achieve, and maybe you can even meet those people. The answers are always within reach and others will help. People are standing by to help you if you’ll only ask.

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The Magic Word

One of my first mentors in personal development, Earl Nightingale, referred to the word “attitude” as both “The Magic Word” and one of the most important words in the English language. As with much of what Earl wrote and talked about, he was right on with this idea.

As a life-long student of success and failure, I’ve found that our attitude is the single greatest factor in determining how we experience life. It’s not an overstatement to say that it’s the strongest force behind the results we achieve.

Your attitude is a mixture of your philosophy of life, your beliefs, your expectations, and your emotions. What you feel and experience in life is primarily coming from your attitude, your outlook on life.

Perhaps attitude can best be defined as a settled way of thinking or feeling about someone or something, typically in a way that is reflected in a person’s behavior. It’s hard to obtain good or great results in life without a good or great attitude.

How would you rate your attitude? As with all success concepts, attitude is not the only factor involved in what you achieve (or don’t achieve), but it’s right up there at the top.

Consider for a moment the attitudes of the people you’ve been around most of your life. Would you describe the general attitude in your environment both past and present to be poor, good, or great? Think about the attitude of your parents and other relatives as well as all of the people you are around on a daily basis right now. And how about the attitude that you bring to your environment? Would you describe it as poor, good, or great?

When clients tell me about the environment they experience on a daily basis, I often suggest the following method for sorting things out. If your environment, including the people you are currently around, reflects a poor attitude, consider using some strategic disassociation; if your environment is good, but not what you most want in your life, consider limiting the negative associations. If your environment is great, look for ways to expand your association with those people that most inspire you to grow. This is one of those concepts that is deceptively simple, yet all encompassing when it comes to how we experience life.

For the next 30 days, try cultivating a great attitude in all of your dealings with the world. I can promise you that this won’t be easy at first, especially if this isn’t something you have spent a lot of time previously thinking about or working on. However, if you’ll keep at it for a sufficient amount of time, you’ll soon discover that you are developing a new pattern of behavior that will impact every area of your life in ways that you can’t even imagine.

Work on making your attitude better every day and watch as new levels of synchronicity and serendipity come your way. We tend to get out of life what we expect, and our attitude is the key.

Focus your attitude using these two key words: Gratitude and Expectancy. First, be grateful for where you are in life and what you’ve already accomplished. In some ways, you’ve already won the grand prize in life. A scientist would tell you that your appearing on planet earth is beyond calculation or comprehension, especially if you happened to show up in a free country. So you’ve already won the lottery.

Second, expect the best. Cultivate an attitude of hopeful expectation. Work on expecting the best from life and watch how having great expectations leads to having even more to be grateful about.

Finally, commit the following three Earl Nightingale quotes to memory as a way to lock in place this most important idea:

  • “Our attitude toward others determines their attitude toward us.”
  • “We can let circumstances rule us, or we can take charge and rule our lives from within.”
  • “Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”

Earl was often referred to as the “Dean of Personal Development.” It’s certainly not hard to see why.

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I Think, Therefore I Am

You’ve undoubtedly heard the well-known idea attributed to Rene Descartes that says “I think, therefore I exist” or “I think, therefore I am.” But what if Decartes’ famous dictum or equation doesn’t provide a complete answer?

The book entitled “Descartes’ Error” by Antonio Damasio takes on Descartes’ famous pronouncement with the idea that our feelings and emotions are much more important than ever imagined. In other words, Damasio believes that it is wrong to think that only minds think. You may want to read that statement again: It is wrong to think that only minds think. What if our feelings and emotions play a key role in the way we think and what if our feelings and emotions are actually at the core of our thinking making them required for rational decision-making? I find his hypothesis extremely fascinating.

It’s always interesting to take something that is considered an undeniable truth and then dig in deeper to see if what we’ve been told, or if what we’ve come to accept or believe, might require more analysis. Antonio Damasio’s book might change the way you think about the mind as well as how you think about thinking itself. What if our feelings and emotions are actually the most important parts of who we are and how we live? What if they are more important than our thoughts and/or what if they somehow guide our thoughts? What if feelings and emotions are actually at the root of our thinking?

I personally believe that a great deal of what we think about comes from the questions that we ask ourselves on a daily basis. But what if even the questions we ask ourselves are bubbling to the surface based on our feelings and emotions? This is indeed an intriquing area of study.

So if you want to stretch your mind with some interesting concepts and ideas relative to thinking and the mind, I recommend reading “Descartes’ Error.” It might change the way you view yourself and the world around you.

Just for fun, think about this for the next 30 days and see if anything changes in your life:

“I FEEL, THEREFORE I AM.”

It’s more than just a philosophical mind bender. Giving your feelings and emotions more significance might lead you to a completely different life. In fact, what if your feelings and emotions are the most intelligent part of who you are? And what if they are trying to tell you how to live a better life but you’re just not listening?

I was going to end by saying “it’s worth thinking about” but maybe it would be more accurate to say “it’s worth feeling.”

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Finding Your Place

Years ago, I remember Earl Nightingale relating a story about finding your place in the scheme of things. It seems that a marine biologist was working to save a group of seals that got caught in a fishing net. He was able to save all of the seals with the exception of one who turned out to be pregnant. While the marine biologist was unable to save the mother, he was able to save the baby seal who he decided to take home to give special care. The baby seal not only survived but actually thrived. In fact, the seal became something of a family pet. The seal enjoyed being with the family and took a special liking to the man’s young daughter.

The seal learned to play with balls and rings along with numerous tricks that included singing (or barking and grunting as the case may be) when the young girl would play the piano. Over time, the girl and the seal became constant companions. But the marine biologist began talking with his daughter about the seal and the fact that it would soon be time to return him to his true home, the ocean. His daughter didn’t like that idea and tended not to think about it.

But eventually, the time had come to return the seal to the ocean. The father took his young daughter and the now fully grown seal on a boat ride back to the place where the seal had been found. The girl knew it was time for the seal to go home but she was very sad about what was about to happen and tears flowed down her young face. Surprisingly, the seal didn’t seem very excited about being out on the water and nuzzled up against the girl with what looked like tears forming.

When they reached the desired location, the man and his daughter worked to help the seal into the water but the seal didn’t want to go. He kept trying to back away from the ocean but the dad and his daughter kept working to get the seal into the water. Suddenly, they were able to get the seal in the water all the while listening to barking sounds of sadness from the seal. But then something interesting happened.

As soon as the seal hit the water, he was immediately transformed from an awkward and lumbering creature on the land, into a thing of pure beauty and grace in the water. The seal realized as soon as he hit the ocean that this was the place he was meant to be. This was home. And as the girl watched him dart about the boat with style and ease, she knew it as well. Even though she knew she would miss him, she knew that he was where he was meant to be.

I often think about this story when I think about finding our place in the scheme of things. It’s not always easy to find our way in life, and sometimes it’s downright scary. But have you ever noticed how many great things in life often come from a dive into the unknown? Have you ever noticed how things that seem really scary often turn out to be just fine, and you look back and ask yourself why you were so afraid?

The seal was afraid to get back into the ocean because he had somehow forgotten that it was his home. Upon hitting the water, though, he immediately experienced how his special gifts fit perfectly with this environment. He could move through the water as if by magic. I believe we can each have the same kind of experience if we’ll have the courage to uncover our special gifts even if it means jumping into the unknown and experiencing some uncertainty to explore who we are and what we are meant to do.

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The 10,000 Hour Rule

Have you ever read the book “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell? He is the same author that wrote “Tipping Point” and “Blink” among others. I was recently having dinner with a friend and he mentioned the book “Outliers” that I originally read when it first appeared on the scene in 2008. We had a fun conversation discussing the book.

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. After our dinner conversation, I decided to reread the book which is often a great idea if you are dealing with a book of substance. Gladwell’s book certainly qualifies in that regard.

Gladwell’s position in “Outliers” can be summed up with this statement: Success and failure are often not the result of what seems obvious at first glance.

I really like this idea. After literally decades in the personal development industry, I can tell you that a lot of what is taught is not only wrong but utter nonsense. There is always more to success (and failure) than meets the eye. I’m not going to spoil “Outliers” in case you haven’t read it, but I will give you a couple of my favorite points as well as something that I think would improve the book. (To get the most out of a book, it’s helpful if you don’t assume that everything an author says is correct. It’s always better to have a healthy skepticism that allows you to debate the points based on your own knowledge and experience.)

One of the people Gladwell discusses in the book is Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. He writes about how most people credit his success to his amazing intelligence. And while it’s certainly true that Gates was gifted with the raw material for high level thinking and analysis, he also was the recipient of many other benefits that aren’t usually mentioned. For example, he came from a wealthy family where education was held in high regard. He was born at just the right time for the computer revolution. And perhaps one of the greatest benefits he received was access to state of the art computers at a time when they were quite rare.

Gladwell did an outstanding job of looking into the many factors that influenced the enormous success of Bill Gates. Certainly, Bill Gates gets a lot of the credit for his achievements but he can’t claim all of the credit. In fact, had certain factors not been present, he may still have been successful on some level but certainly not into the billions and billions. That kind of success, which Gladwell labels an “Outlier” or way out of the norm, requires a mix of factors that more often than not requires just plain good fortune or luck.

Many people that study personal development or success, don’t like the idea of luck. They want to control everything. Even one of my early mentors Earl Nightingale would often say: “Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity.” In some ways, I think Earl used to think that you could control opportunity by getting prepared but that’s not always the case. You can certainly influence opportunity and/or be ready for when it appears, but you often can’t control it. Great opportunities often resist being forced or controlled. What I like to say is that many of the doors in life that lead to opportunity can only be opened for you by someone else.

Luckily, there is plenty of good fortune around if we will prepare ourselves for recognizing it when it does appear, but trying to control everything isn’t going to be a winning strategy. The people that think they can control everything usually end up old before their time because of the unnecessary stress and anxiety their approach to the world has brought about.

It’s good to remember that there are things outside of our control. It is possible to be a part of what one writer called “The Lucky Sperm Club.” Yet if you live in the United States it might not be a bad idea to conclude that you’ve already won the “Lucky Sperm” lottery. Not that there aren’t other great places to live on planet earth but it’s hard to beat the opportunities that have resulted from the combined brainpower of our Founding Fathers. I sometimes wish they were still around to keep us on track, but that’s not the case. It’s now up to us to keep freedom and opportunity alive.

Getting back to Gladwell’s book, there is one concept that I liked very much that has actually been presented by others. Gladwell calls it “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” It basically states that extraordinary success usually doesn’t happen for someone until he or she puts in at least 10,000 hours of practice. For example, Bill Gates was able to work on programming high-end computers for 10,000 hours before most people knew anything about what these computers were capable of. That put him in an enviable position. It’s the kind of advantage that is hard to compete with if you don’t have it. Those doors were opened for him.

Yet here’s the thing that I believe Gladwell doesn’t recognize clearly enough. Bill Gates had just the right mind and temperament for this kind of work. In other words, Bill Gates had a Unique Talent that he was helped to develop. If he would not have had that talent, the opportunity would not have been as valuable.

It’s no different than someone like Mozart whose first words were “G sharp” at age two. Seriously, age two! Supposedly the little guy heard a pig squealing and exclaimed “G sharp.” When his father ran to the piano to check, he discovered the little guy was right. Now that’s a Unique Talent!

But recognize that Mozart’s dad was a musician and could appreciate this kind of talent and helped the little guy develop it to the fullest. Little Mozart wrote his first piece of music at age 4 but who but a musician parent would even recognize such scribbles or be able to help him develop his gifts to the fullest?

Mozart’s father got him the best education available at the time and got the little prodigy performing throughout Europe. But this is worth remembering. We don’t remember Mozart for his early compositions or performances. What we remember is what happened after Mozart put in his 10,000 hours. That’s when he became a genius unlike the world had ever seen. After his 10,000 hours he began creating music that will surely live on forever. So even Mozart had to put in the time.

It’s not unlike Tiger Wood’s dad recognizing that his son could hit a golf ball wherever he wanted it to go. No doubt Tiger had an incredible Unique Talent but it was his dad that spotted it early and helped him to develop it to the fullest.

So allow me to suggest a new success formula:

SUCCESS = UNIQUE TALENT + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

It’s up to you to find your Unique Talent and start practicing it. This is especially true if you weren’t lucky enough to have a dad who spotted your Unique Talent at age 2. I certainly wasn’t. I was undoubtedly just drooling on myself at age 2.

But luckily it’s never too late with Unique Talent. The chances are excellent that the right opportunity will come your way if you do your part. It’s not guaranteed, but the odds are in your favor, unlike the Mega Millions State Lottery. Besides, you can’t lose by focusing on your Unique Talent. It’s what you are meant to do, and the best rewards in life always come from doing what you are meant to do.

We all have a song to sing or a book to write or a company to start or a child to raise or a foundation to launch or some other noble thing that only we can do. Your exact genetic make up has never before appeared on planet earth with the exact environment that exists right now. Take advantage of it while you can. It’s a mistake not to. There is no better way to enjoy your ride on this beautiful blue island in space.

Here’s the formula you want to avoid:

FAILURE = INCOMPETENCE + 10,000 HOURS OF PRACTICE + OPPORTUNITY

Maybe we shouldn’t label that failure but it certainly can be called “Nose to the Grindstone Living.” There is a better way. You have a Unique Talent that you can use in the service to others and become extraordinary in your own right. Now’s the time to take action.

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Your Constant Companion for Both Success and Failure

You may have come across this short piece somewhere in your personal development studies. I think it’s a classic. It beautifully reflects one of those great ideas that never fails to help keep us on course. I don’t believe the author has ever been identified but he or she really understood something that eludes the vast majority of people. It expresses something that most people either never learn or learn the hard way. Ask yourself if you really understand the full consequences of what the author is saying here. I’m sure after reading it you will agree with me that the sooner each of us learns who our constant companion is the better.

* * * * *

I am your constant companion.

I am your greatest helper or heaviest burden.

I will push you onward or drag you down to failure.

I am completely at your command.

Half the things you do might just as well be turned over to me and I will be able to do them quickly and correctly.

I am easily managed — you must merely be firm with me. Show me exactly how you want something done and after a few lessons I will do it automatically.

I am the servant of all great people and, alas, of all failures, as well.

Those who are great, I have made great.

Those who are failures, I have made failures.

I am not a machine, though I work with all the precision of a machine plus the intelligence of a person. You may run me for profit or run me for ruin — if makes no difference to me.

Take me, train me, be firm with me, and I will place the world at your feet. Be easy with me and I will destroy you.

Who am I?

I am habit!

– Author Unknown

* * * * *

You may want to do what I’ve done with this piece. Frame it so you can read it every day.