Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Never Give Up

Over the years, I’ve written about successful people who overcame hardships on their way to achieving their dreams. I think it’s extremely important to realize that struggling and dealing with adversity is not unique; what is unique is being able to push through difficulties and find a way to triumph.  This doesn’t mean that your story has to start in an orphanage or a poor village so you’ll have the fire in your belly to get to the top.  It just means that you’re not alone in thinking that getting where you want to be is hard.  It is hard, and here are some more examples to inspire you to keep going….

Three months after Sarah returned from college, her mother passed away.  As a distraction to keep her from grieving in less healthy ways, Sarah channeled her energy into working out.  The experience soon became a passion.  Sarah lost 45 pounds and found new energy.  She returned to school for a degree in exercise science and, after graduating, began pulling together plans for a fitness business.  She worked from sunrise till dark, traveling to rented locations to teach classes with a small suitcase and a change of clothes.  Eight years later, she invested all her earnings to create her own studio, Sarah Fechter Fitness, a sanctuary where, today, her clients can go to have fun, work hard, and escape from life, just as she once did.

Olivia never knew her parents, and was adopted and raised by a woman she came to call her grandmother.  When Olivia was only three years old, her grandmother gambled away her savings.  They lost their house, and moved into a leaky shack without running water.  Even so, Olivia was able to enroll at secondary school at the age of 15, supporting herself with tutoring and sales jobs.  She put herself through college and started her own business at age 28 with cash from selling her car.  Initially making sales calls from the back of a motorcycle, Olivia Lum’s company, Hyflux, went on to become the largest publicly traded water company in Singapore, and today is worth over $1.2 billion.

At the age of 38, Tracey was horrified to learn that she possessed the same genetic flaw that had resulted in her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all dying from terminal cancer in their early 50s.  Tracey was determined not to risk her then 3-year-old son growing up without a mother, and so, even though she was healthy at the time, she underwent preventative surgery. Infused with a new passion for living, Tracey Barraclough left her office job to become a marathon runner, competitive body-builder, author, and inspirational speaker.  She remains cancer-free and sent her son to college in 2012 to study sports medicine.

Nadine began her entrepreneurial career with the goal of providing women an opportunity to achieve levels of wealth and financial freedom that had not always been accessible to them.  She created a company, Warm Spirit, which produced a line of pampering products that women could both use and sell.  Warm Spirit transformed the direct sales industry, gaining national recognition with celebrity endorsements from Oprah and Diane Keaton, and developed a nationwide network of more than 30,000 consultants with annual sales of over $16 million.

But then something unimaginable happened.  After a disagreement over a business plan with her key financial investor, Nadine learned that she was being manipulated out of the company she had started.  Due to misplaced trust and a degree of naiveté, she discovered that she actually owned no part of Warm Spirit.  Nadine was forced out of the company into which she had poured everything for 10 years.

In Nadine's own words, "There will be challenges disguised as failures.  Successful people learn from challenges and bounce back.”  In the wake of losing her business, Nadine remained committed to building a global company that would empower women and maintain a high degree of social responsibility. She started over and launched a new company called Soul Purpose. Today, Nadine Thompson has been named one of the most powerful and influential people in the Direct Sales world.

You may have heard me repeat a quote that I like about starting over:  “A setback ain’t nothin’ but a setup for a comeback.”  Living a happy and successful life forces us to pick ourselves up after even the most crushing losses, and push through even the most challenging circumstances.  Which leads me to another favorite quote, this one from Winston Churchill:  “Never, never, never give up.”

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

Humans have been thinking about what happiness means for hundreds of years.  Back in the seventeenth century, a French Philosopher named Blaise Pascal said, “Happiness is, without exception, the motive of every action of every man.”  But it’s only in the last 30 years or so that anyone began really looking into what creates and maintains happiness in people.  Why?  Because in the last few generations, we’ve been able to create enough abundance, safety and health in the world to finally be able to put some serious thought into the idea of fulfillment.  Only a few hundred years ago, an average person’s main goal for their day was just trying to survive!  One of today’s most interesting experts on the subject of human happiness got started in quite an unexpected way…

Dan dropped out of high school without graduating so he could pursue a career as a science fiction writer.  After a few years of working at his craft, he decided to enroll in a writing course at a nearby community college.  He took the bus all the way across town, but when he got to the school, he found that the course was closed.  He didn’t want the trip to be a waste, so he asked the woman at the registration desk what else was available.  She told him that the only class still open was Introduction to Psychology. 

Dan had never given the subject much thought, but he knew it had to do with human beings and their behavior.  As an aspiring writer, these topics were of interest to him as well, so he signed up.  He had no idea it was the decision that would lead him to his calling in life.

Daniel Gilbert went on to get a Ph.D. in social psychology from Princeton University and began a promising career as a research psychologist.  For about ten years, he researched people’s tendency to focus on others’ internal characteristics to explain their actions, rather than consider external factors.  An example of this would be if you assumed that someone who runs a red light is a bad driver, rather than on their way to the hospital.  Dan was perfectly content with this area of study until a series of unfortunate circumstances led him to a new path.

In a short period of time, Dan’s mentor passed away, his mother died, his marriage fell apart, and his teenage son began developing problems in school.  Not long after, he had lunch with a colleague who was also going through a difficult time.  As they talked, they both realized that, as bad as their situations were, neither of them was devastated.  Daniel realized that, although he was sad, frustrated, and distracted, he was still basically all right.

Realizing this inspired Dan to look into whether anyone else had ever researched peoples’ ability to create their own happiness.  And it turned out that they hadn’t.  This may sound like somewhat dry stuff that only a psychologist could get excited about, but here’s what makes it interesting:  Dan had stumbled onto evidence that people can be happy whether it’s sunny or raining; whether they’re single or in a relationship; whether they’re rich or poor.  For instance, he proved that someone who wins the lottery and someone who loses the use of their legs are, a year after each event, equally happy in their lives.  Believe it or not!

Dan had found a new life’s direction.  What he figured out is that our ability to be happy and okay with our circumstances comes from inside us, a sort of "psychological immune system” that helps us feel better about the situations in which we find ourselves.  That’s a pretty big discovery to make just a few decades ago, considering that humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years!

One of the keys to maintaining our own happiness is living grateful lives, in which we remind ourselves of all we have to be thankful for.  This isn’t quite the same as what Dr. Gilbert talks about, but training our brains to recognize all the wonderful things in our lives will help support our psychological immune systems, allowing it to do its job when times get tough.  So remember the Attitude of Gratitude Mindset – it’s like Vitamin C for your happiness!

Until Next Week,

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Swim with the Sharks

When I was young, I was afraid of the water.  Perhaps it was because I saw the movie JAWS when I was 10 years old. It scared me so much that I couldn’t even walk into a bathroom without wondering if a shark might come up through the plumbing to attack me.  As you can imagine, the thought of going swimming in the ocean was out of the question.

That same summer, my aunt took my younger cousin and me to a beach in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. I worked up the courage to wade into the water.  There was a sandbar that allowed me to walk out about 37 yards from shore and still only be knee deep in the water.  I was talking to a few of the local kids about my fear of sharks when one of them told me that JAWS was filmed in the very waters we were standing in.  Fear filled my chest and, in my head, it was as if I could actually hear the theme music from JAWS playing.  I couldn’t move.

At that moment, I saw a school of fish swimming by and my heart began to race.  As I tried to run back towards the beach, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, because it looked like the fish were miniature sharks circling all around me.  It turned out they were sand sharks, which are basically harmless, but the memory kept me out of the water for years.

A few years ago, I was giving a speech at the Iacocca Institute at Lehigh University and met a young man from Egypt who also had a fear of the water – although his story is very different from mine.  His name is Mahmoud, and he grew up in a small town about four hours from Cairo.  As a child, Mahmoud’s parents had warned him about the dangers of the water, and that he should stay away from it.  This message was tragically embedded in his head when his cousin died in a drowning accident.  But Mahmoud was not going to let any of this deter him. Instead, he decided that he needed to learn to swim.

At 15, Mahmoud got the opportunity to travel to America and enroll in High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Although he had never been in a swimming pool, he asked the swim coach to teach him how to swim.  Within weeks, he was on the team and had started to believe he could accomplish anything. It took seven weeks before he learned to do a flip-turn without swallowing water, but Mahmoud found a new passion in swimming.

After graduation, Mahmoud returned to Cairo to attend college and immediately joined the varsity swim team. Over the years he became a very strong swimmer, and even helped his team win the league championship.  But overcoming his fear of swimming would prove to have an even higher purpose.  One day, while Mahmoud was walking along the shore of the Nile River, he saw a little boy who had wandered too far into the water and was drowning.  Without any hesitation, Mahmoud dove in, fully clothed, and saved the boy’s life.  Afterward, he cried actual tears of joy as he realized the true power of overcoming his fears.

Last week, my wife and I went to hear Dr. Wayne Dyer give a talk. Before he began, he greeted several people standing in front of us.  A woman with cancer approached and asked Dr. Dyer how he had gotten through his own battle with cancer.  He said, “They didn’t cure me of my cancer, they cured me of my fear.  Where there is fear, there is no love.  Where there is love, there is no fear.  There is only love or fear, and it’s up to each of us to choose wisely.”

What fears are holding you back from living your dreams?  Stop thinking about how things are and start imagining how they could be.  As Walt Disney once said, “All your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.”  Sometimes all it takes is dipping your foot in the pool, and sometimes you have to dive in.  Either way, it’s time to realize that every dream you have resides on the other side of fear.  Now turn off the JAWS theme playing in your head; it’s safe to get back in the water.

Until Next Week…

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dying to be Broke

When Edward was just a child, making money was of serious interest to him.  He made his first investment at 11 years old, buying just three shares of stock for $37 each.  The stock’s value went down at first, but Edward held on.  It finally turned around, and he sold his shares for just a small profit – but regretted the decision later when the stock shot up to nearly $200 a share.  It was Edward’s first lesson on patience in investing.

By age of 13, he was running his own business.  He sold chewing gum, Coca-Cola, and magazines door to door. He also detailed cars, delivered newspapers, and distributed his own horseracing tip sheet.  And, when he filed his first tax return, he took a $35 deduction for business usage of his bicycle.

Throughout the next decade, Edward would attend college to study economics, work briefly for a professional investment firm, and purchase his first home.  Following his instincts, he sought out undervalued companies with solid management teams and strong products in order to invest in them.  He was frugal, patient, intuitive, and did his homework.  Over the next fifty years, this approach made Warren Edward Buffett the most successful investor of the 20th century.

But then what?  What does a person do when they’ve literally become the wealthiest person on earth (which Warren Buffett was ranked in 2008)?  Buy an island?  Build a spaceship?  Pay whatever it takes to get us another season of Breaking Bad?  Some of us might do those things.  Warren Buffett, on the other hand, decided to give his fortune away.

Warren never made extravagant purchases.  He and his wife certainly never wanted for anything, but they lived an essentially normal life.  His children rode the bus to school, grew up in the same house that Warren bought in 1957 (and still owns), and attended public school.  He’d talk to the family a bit about finances, but more about his general philosophy on life.  He also believed in letting his kids fail and succeed on their own, telling them things like, “You don't have to swing at every pitch,” and then leaving them alone.  In this way, he made sure that their successes would be entirely their own.

For most of his adult life, Warren had it in mind to donate his money.  As early as his late 20s, he began talking to his wife about doing so, explaining to her that there would be a lot of money coming in their life.  At the time, she laughed.  But, as years passed and his statement about the wealth they’d amass gradually became fact, they agreed to find the right avenues to give it away. 

Warren’s view is that it would actually be selfish to keep the wealth in one’s own family when there are so many people struggling in the world.  It wasn’t that he wanted to deprive his children; he simply wanted to give them just enough so that they’d feel that they could do anything, but not so much that they’d feel like doing nothing.

At the age of 34, Warren started a foundation, into which he funneled millions of dollars each year that would be directed toward a variety of charitable causes.  He also started separate foundations for each of his three children; not for their own use, but to run when they were of age, giving them each the opportunity to direct a portion of the family wealth toward humanitarian efforts of their choosing.

In 2006, Warren Buffett demonstrated the Live to Give Mindset as powerfully as anyone ever has, announcing his plan to give his personal fortune, billions of dollars, to charity.  More than 80% would go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world’s largest transparent charities, which focuses on world health issues and education.  He also made staggering gifts of several billion dollars to each of his children’s foundations.  At 84 years old, he is on track to have just enough left for funeral expenses by the time he passes away.

Many people spend their lives trying to get, get, get.  And yet, when you look at an example of one of the most successful individuals in history at “getting,” you see a man who, for more than fifty years, has been focusing on how to give, give, give.  You’re never too young or too old to start thinking about what you can do to serve others while pursuing your own dreams.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams,

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