Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Play to Your Strengths

The phone rang again.  Feeling the pressure, Jack finally answered.  It had been ringing all morning as the news became public.  Jack answered, and the reporter on the other end said, “What does it feel like to lose 300 million dollars?"  It was a startling question, and he thought about it.  Could it really be that much?  Did he really just lose $300 million in less than a day?

When Jack was growing up, he always had ideas for making things better.  His family never had a lot, which meant Jack had to do odd jobs to earn his own money.  He sold newspapers, delivered groceries, and loved garage sales.  He would go around and buy things from other people, then sell them for a few dollars more.  He dreamed of one day opening his own store.

Jack began thinking of an idea for a store that would sell merchandise without the customers ever physically seeing the products.  He made a few catalogs with less than 20 items in them, and then put the catalogs on display in a small store he rented.  He explained to people in the neighborhood that he could save them a lot of money on products they wanted and would deliver them for free within a couple of days.  All they had to do was come to his store, look at his catalog, place their order, and they’d experience big savings.  It took a while for people to get the hang of it, but Jack was on to something.  Over the next few years, he expanded his catalog to include hundreds of items.  As the business grew, he started to keep the most popular items in a warehouse behind the store to make deliveries faster.  Jack began opening stores in other neighborhoods, and in less than ten years, he had the makings of an empire.

Thirty years went by, and Jack Stupp's company, Consumer Distributors, was worth over a billion dollars.  He was the king of discounted merchandise in Canada and began expanding to the United States, where he faced huge competition from a company called Service Merchandise that had the same basic business model.  Jack was wealthier than he ever imagined, although most of his money was tied up in stock of his own company.  Unfortunately, the bubble was about to burst.  Both his company and Service Merchandise were soon put out of business by a new innovation in discount retailing, led by a company called Wal-Mart.

That's when the phone started to ring.  How did it feel to lose $300 million?  Jack answered, "It feels great!  I never thought I could lose $300 million and still be ok."

I met Jack when I was living in New York, and loved to hear him tell stories.  We were eating dinner at The Russian Tea Room when he told me about his company going out of business and his own loss of $300 million.  I was intrigued and wanted to know what he did next.  How did he recover from such a devastating blow?

I'll never forget his answer.  Jack said, "I focused on what worked well."  He explained that most people focus on their mistakes and shortcomings, and that, when they have a so-called failure in life or in business, the first thing they usually do is lament over what went wrong.  It's not that we shouldn't learn from our mistakes, but he believed it was more important to study our successes.  When we focus on what we do well and repeat that process, success breeds more success.

Shortly after Jack lost his business, he went on Canadian television with an incredible deal.  As thanks for the years of supporting his business, he offered viewers an opportunity to buy a brand new pool table for only $1 more than his cost to buy it and ship it directly to them.  This was hundreds of dollars less than the retail price, and the response was overwhelming.  Within a month, Jack sold more than ten million pool tables, earning him $10 million in profit.  It was more than his competition sold in an entire year.  He also had no store or inventory, as he’d arranged for the manufacturer to ship the tables directly.  It was unheard of, but Jack had simply gone back to what worked for him in the past.

When you find yourself struggling and wondering what went wrong, try thinking back to when something went well.  What worked?  What was it you did that produced the results you were happy with?  Figure out the answer, then do more of that!

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Year for Giving

One question I hear a lot of people asking regularly (and one I used to frequently ask myself) is how to make a new year different from previous ones.  Well, after a long career spent studying and teaching the foundations of happiness and success, one of the best ways I’ve found to start making positive changes right away is to start giving, whether it’s time, money, or simply of yourself.  Giving is a sure-fire way to guarantee that things will begin to look very different in your life… I can’t tell you exactly how, but the universe has a way of noticing and responding to generosity!

Here are two amazing examples of young people who were big inspirations to me coming into 2015…

Rahat, a young magician best known for his hidden-camera prank videos, did something a bit different last Spring:  he played a joke with a happy ending.  He went to a local convenience store and asked the cashier to play along with what he was about to do, then handed the cashier a thousand dollars.  Afterwards, he went out into the neighborhood looking for Eric, a homeless individual in the area who was always friendly and respectful despite his difficult circumstances.

Rahat told Eric that he wanted to help him, but that he didn’t have any money to offer.  He did, however, have a winning lottery ticket he wanted to give Eric.  He said he didn’t know how much the prize was, but that he’d go with Eric to cash it in and see.

The two men walked to the convenience store and presented the ticket.  Eric was in utter disbelief when the cashier counted out ten hundred dollar bills for a total of a thousand dollars.  At first, he simply didn’t believe it, then tried to share the money with Rahat.  Rahat politely declined, and Eric, in tears, said he had been on the streets a long time, and that no one had ever done anything like that for him.

News of Rahat’s generous act and Eric’s attempt to share the money soon spread across the Internet, and moved thousands of strangers to help Eric even more.  Within weeks, nearly $60,000 had been raised in a fund Rahat set up to collect donations to help secure Eric a new home.  Quick to give back, Eric began sharing the accumulated donations with others still living on the streets.

A similar story unfolded toward the end of the year, when a young art student named Dominique was stranded one night in the British city of Preston after losing her bank card.  As she tried to figure out what to do, a homeless man known in the neighborhood as Robbie offered her his last three British pounds for a taxi to get her home safely.

Dominique was so touched by the kind gesture that she set out to learn more about him.  The more she asked, the more positive things she heard, about Robbie returning wallets untouched to pedestrians and offering his scarf to keep people warm.  She found out that he had been homeless for seven months through no fault of his own, but couldn’t get work due to having no address.

That’s when she decided to change Robbie’s life.  She set up a crowdfunding campaign asking for donations of only £3 — the same amount Robbie had offered her — with the goal of collecting 30,000 pounds to get him off the streets and into his own place.  She even spent a night on the street to raise awareness for the campaign.  Within two weeks, Dominique had raised 32,245 British pounds for Robbie (over $50,000 in U.S. dollars) from hundreds of caring strangers, more than enough to help him get back on his feet.

On the surface, what these stories have in common is how they utilized online donation platforms to help homeless individuals change their circumstances.  But those are just superficial similarities.  The most important commonalities were the selfless giving of both Rahat and Dominique, and how their actions sparked the generosity of countless others.  When you’re thinking about what you can do to make 2015 your best year yet, keep these stories in mind, and realize how just beginning the process of giving can have a tremendous impact on lives all around you, as well as increasing your own happiness in the process!

Until next week...

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015


It’s estimated that identity theft costs society billions of dollars a year.  But I believe an even bigger problem is when we steal our own identities.  When we pretend to be someone we’re not, we lose the energy and focus to pursue our own passions and dreams.  We become so busy trying to fit in or please other people that we lose sight of what really matters to us.  This week’s story is about living a truly authentic life…

Stu was born on Chicago’s South Side.  When he was seven, his family moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  It was a jarring change in culture.

Stu got a hard time from some of the other black kids at his school, who accused him of “talking white.”  In truth, he just spoke with the Midwestern accent of his Chicago home.  Even so, the experience showed Stu how quickly people could focus on anything that looked or sounded different and didn’t fit their idea of what was okay.

Stu attended college at the University of North Carolina, where he played football, joined a fraternity, and worked at the student radio station.  He graduated with a degree in speech communications, and was hired soon after by a South Carolina TV station as a news reporter and weekend sports anchor.

It was there, at his first job on television, that Stu coined the phrase, “cooler than the other side of the pillow,” describing a great sports play made under pressure.  It was just the beginning.  Over the next few years, Stu’s charisma, energy, and natural rhythm on camera continually turned heads as he moved from one small station to a slightly larger one.  It didn’t even matter what he was covering; at one point, he did a piece on a rodeo, and delivered it like it was game seven of the NBA finals.  At each stop on his career path, it was obvious to his co-workers that he was on his way to the top.

At the time, American sports fans who wanted the latest scores, news and gossip got them on ESPN’s SportsCenter program.  The show's format was simple:  two anchors, almost always conservatively-dressed white guys in their thirties, sat behind a desk and reported the latest sports news in the dry style that broadcast newsmen had used for decades.  They had their own personalities, but what they all had in common was a sense of detachment, as if to say, “Everyone relax, it’s just sports.”

Until Stu arrived, that is.  He was 28 years old when he made his debut on ESPN as one of the network's few African American personalities who hadn't been a professional athlete, but what was really different about Stu was his energy.  When he narrated highlights, his voice rose.  He got excited.  He reacted to a slam dunk or touchdown with an emphatic "boo-yah!"  He used words and phrases that weren’t heard on television, and, just by being himself, began to change the way people talked about sports.

Stuart “Stu” Scott was a guy from the rap generation who used the kind of banter and catch-phrases on the air that friends used while watching games.  He’d go from channeling a Baptist preacher to quoting Public Enemy.  His demeanor and quick wit made him a star at a network whose stars were usually athletes, and as hip-hop became part of the pop-culture mainstream, he became known as the man who put the hip-hop in sportscasting.

As Stuart's star rose, so did the resistance to his presence by people who resented his color, his style, and his generation.  But despite criticism and pushback from older sports fans and personalities, Stuart Scott didn’t stop being Stuart Scott.  He was authentically himself from the time he first went on the air to his final broadcast.  In being himself, he was representing the community of people that talked how he talked and saw what he saw.  And the fans loved him for it.

Stuart Scott died of cancer on January 4th, 2015.  The previous year, while in the midst of undergoing treatments that should’ve confined him to bed, Stuart accepted the Jimmy V award for his battle against the illness.  In his energizing acceptance speech he said, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live." 

Stuart will be missed but we can all learn from his life and his words.  Discover who you are, and be the best version of yourself you possibly can.

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams!

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