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Depending on how old you are and what your musical preferences may be, you may recall the three-man Canadian rock band Triumph, which formed in 1975 and gained fairly widespread popularity in the United States in the late 1970s and early '80s. The band featured a unique brand of melodic hard rock, and, for whatever reason, it received some of its most extensive airplay in Texas during my teen-age years. Fortunately for you, I am writing this book and until we come out with an audio version, you will not be required to listen to me sing my renditions of some of my favorite Triumph tunes. Like the band's name suggests, Triumph was at its best when it was singing about what it took to be successful. You could apply the lyrics from Fight the Good Fight or Lay It On the Line to just about any endeavor you are undertaking. But the song that was particularly poignant to me was Hold On from the band's third album, Just a Game. I'm not sure what the exact inspiration was for the song, but I do know that these lyrics have provided some introspective moments through the years: "listen to your heart and hold on to your dreams."
Maybe Socrates, Aristotle or Ralph Waldo Emerson uttered wiser words about perseverance, but that trio couldn't have sung it better than Triumph. If you want to be successful in practically any business endeavor, you'd better be prepared to hold on to your dreams. If you don't, I can practically guarantee you that someone-or some set of adverse circumstances-will snatch them away from you.
I cannot possibly predict how long or winding your road to financial independence will be if you choose to start your own business or if you have decided to dramatically grow your business. But I promise you that it will not happen overnight, and it will probably be filled with numerous potholes, roadblocks, discouraging detours and hazardous conditions. It won't necessarily be a scenic journey, either. Along the way, your path will likely be littered with the roadkill and wreckage of those who abandoned their dreams and lost their drive. I've seen it a thousand times before. Plenty of well-meaning, hard-charging people have started off blazing a course to financial freedom in business, but after a couple of wrong turns or blown tires, they lose their sense of direction and purpose. Some pull over to rest; others are lost forever in a traffic jam that never seems to move forward; and others simply turn around and head in a different direction. Very few ever seem to push forward through the congestion. Fewer seem to have the ability to shift into another gear to distance themselves from the perpetual rat race.
So, what separates the run-of-the-mill businesses from the extraordinary ones? What propels a handful of entrepreneurs to annual income levels that much of the population won't make in a lifetime?
A number of different factors figure into the equation, and we will spend the rest of this book discussing them. I am firmly convinced, however, that the very first thing you need to do-before you make your first contact and before you even begin to contemplate a location, a service, a product or anything else-is to dream. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if you don't spend an ample amount of time dreaming now, then you will probably spend far too much time wishing and working during what should be your retirement years. Dreams are that important.
I suspect some of you analytical types are probably tempted to shut the book right now, skip forward to the nuts-and-bolts material in ensuing chapters or simply write me off as some pie-in-the-sky daydreamer who possibly spent too much time trippin' while listening to Triumph. But hear me out. If you only act on one principle in this entire book, this is the one to wrap your arms around. It's basic; it's rudimentary; and it's probably something that you have heard many times before. But it is literally one of the fundamental keys for taking your "game" from weekend hacker status to PGA-level. It can propel your budget allowances from crumbs to caviar, and it can transform your business from striving to thriving.
I've spent many years studying some of the most successful entrepreneurs and business models in the country. I've watched them from afar; I've quizzed entrepreneurs and employees over lunch; I've analyzed their techniques, their strategies, their offices, their day-to-day routines, their wardrobes and practically everything else. Beyond that, I've read enough self-help, motivational and entrepreneurial books to start my own library. And in attending success/ sales/motivational seminars and conferences, along with industry-specific functions, through the years, I've probably seen more hotel ballrooms than some wedding planners. But if I had to narrow the underlining theme of all of these books, private discussions and mass motivational meetings down to one principle, it would be this: Never underestimate the power of your own dreams.
From personal experience; however, I would take this message two steps further and say: Never underestimate the power of holding on to your own dreams and walking toward them. That may sound like a subtle difference, but it actually makes all the difference in the world. Holding on to your dreams and making them real takes some time and effort; it requires some planning and nurturing; and it is something that very few people in any profession understand. The facts back up that assertion in an alarming way.
For example, according to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Statistics, approximately 2.7 million youths graduated from American high schools between October 2004 and October 2005. If you surveyed those students, I'm sure you would find that the vast majority of them had big, glorious dreams about their financial/ professional future. In fact, a whopping 68.6 percent (1.8 million) of those high school graduates were attending colleges or universities in 2005, providing further evidence that the majority of these youths are serious about their financial future.
On the other hand, according to a 2005 study conducted by leading academic scholars from 10 universities and five business experts in personal finance, approximately 30 million workers in America today-one in four-are seriously financially distressed with their personal financial situation. The author of this particular report, E. Thomas Garman, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, went on to say that many of these 30 million American workers "do not even have hope that they will one day catch up financially." Furthermore, according to Steve Rhode, the president of Myvesta, a nonprofit financial health center, "half of Americans are currently struggling to control excessive spending and debt." And finally, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, only five percent of all Americans are financially independent at age 65. The same DOC study indicated that 75 percent of all retirees are forced to depend on Social Security and/or family and friends as their only sources of income.
So, based on those studies, here are the sobering conclusions we can draw from what those 2.7 million high school graduates from the class of 2005 have to look forward to: 675,000 will eventually become seriously distressed about their financial future; 1.35 million will struggle with excessive spending and debt; and only 135,000 will reach the age of 65 financially independent. Or, put another way, more than 2.5 million of today's 2.7 million high school graduates will eventually be relying on Social Security-if it still exists-or family and friends to supply the basic necessities of life. Sobering, isn't it? And remember, we're talking about the high school graduates here. Toss in the dropouts, and the numbers become even gloomier.
What happens to all those dreams of youth? Why do so few realize their financial potential? Why do 95 percent of Americans reach retirement age without financial peace of mind?
Every case is obviously unique, with its own set of circumstances. But I am convinced that the vast majority of people simply lose sight of their dreams. No one ever comes out of high school or college planning to live from paycheck to paycheck. No one ever enters the workforce with plans of declaring bankruptcy, running up huge amounts of debt, being passed over for promotions or watching the years rush by with little to show for them. Likewise, in the insurance industry, I don't know of many agents who enter into the industry hoping to be on the constant agency treadmill where he/she is always between 1,500 and 2,500 policies in force with little-or no-growth. But it happens all the time. I regularly talk to agents who are absolutely miserable about their current circumstance and their future prospects because they can't ever seem to get beyond that 1,500 to 2,500 level. They entered the industry with big plans, but they inevitably become lost in the service work created by those existing policies. Your existing clients throw new problems at you; you manage to find time to replace the 10 percent of the clients who leave you annually for another provider; and you wake up one day-after a few years or, in some cases, after a few decades-with the realization that you are nothing more than a glorified customer service representative. You can't ever really get ahead because you spend all your time talking to, and attempting to retain, your existing clients. Sound familiar? If you are in the insurance industry, I bet it does.
Generally speaking, after a few years on the job most people tend to settle in. I'm not referring to settling down, as when you are done sewing your wild oats. No, this has nothing to do with finding a spouse and no longer spending too much time on a bar stool. I'm talking about settling in to their current circumstances and letting go of their dreams. They begin to settle for the rut; they begin to settle for the four percent raises from their company; they begin to settle for a certain tax bracket and neighborhood; and they begin to downgrade their dreams. Or worse, they lose sight of them altogether.
That's why it is so important to hold on to your dreams. Virtually everybody starts out with them, but the daily grind-mortgage payments, car payments, family living expenses, healthcare costs, time constraints, business disappointments, family issues, stress, etc.-begin to slowly wash those dreams out of the consciousness. Think about your own childhood for a moment.
What was your dream as a kid? Maybe it was to be a professional baseball player. Perhaps it was to be a famous actor or singer. Possibly it was to become president ... of a company or of the United States. What happened to those dreams? When did you allow them to die? When did you convince yourself that they were silly? Was it when you went 0-for-4 at the plate in the biggest game of the season? Was it when your coach told you that you were too slow? Was it when you were benched in favor of the kid with more talent? Maybe your friends or father said you weren't tough enough. Maybe you began convincing yourself that professional baseball was out of reach, after all. Whatever the case, slowly, over time, most kids begin to lose sight of their dreams.
The same thing happens to us as adults, as we allow self-doubts to replace our dreams. We settle for a small sliver of the pie; we lose confidence in ourselves with every rejection; we focus on the bug guts on our own windshield instead of the road ahead. In virtually every walk of life I've seen that those who don't hold on to their dreams will eventually work for-or report to-those who do.
So, here's my challenge to you: Don't just dream; hold on to your dreams and focus your actions toward achieving them. Visualize them. Make them have feeling. The very best way to start is by writing them down. Ever since I was a kid, I have been a big believer in writing down your dreams and goals and then revisiting them regularly. In fact, the person who first truly convinced me about the power of writing down my dreams and goals was a woman named Pat Lockett-Smith, who was my teacher in a high school study skills class. She made a profound impact on my development that I have never forgotten, and today, she happens to be one of my clients. How's that for applying what you learn?
Pat helped me to refine my goal-setting skills, but it was something I had been doing for years. In fact, not too long ago, I was reminded about the power of writing down your dreams and goals when I came across a sheet of paper that I had written as an adolescent. My parents lived in the same house for about 30 years, and my mother saved practically everything. She's a pack rat in every sense; the kind of person who will purchase new furniture, but won't part with the old furniture for sentimental reasons. When she was finally forced to clean out the house a few years back, however, she filled up four or five boxes with my stuff from school. As my son Spencer and I went through the boxes to determine if there was anything worth keeping, we found report cards from my grade school days, drawings from kindergarten, etc. We were laughing and giggling at what we found, and we came across a goal-setting sheet I did in the seventh grade. I had written down these things that I wanted:
A big house
A good-looking girlfriend
An AC-Cobra (sports car)
After reading the list, my son fell on the floor because he was laughing so hard. He then looked at me, smiled and said, "Dad, you've got everything you wanted except for more patience." In addition to paying a wonderful compliment to his mother-my "hot" girlfriend-turned-wife-and slamming me about my occasional lack of patience, Spencer quickly realized the power of writing down your goals. At the time, I had an AC Cobra sitting in the garage of my dream house. And inside that house was the woman of my dreams. I'm still working on that "more patience" issue-and I may for the rest of my life. But I was really taken aback by the awesome power of writing down your dreams and goals. I had no idea at the time I wrote those things down how I was going to attain those things. But I truly believe that when you take the time to write down your goals, your subconscious will find a way to fulfill the image your mind is painting.
So, what are you waiting for? If you haven't already done so, write down your dreams and goals. Do it now. Pull out a notepad, open up the laptop, or e-mail yourself on your PDA. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate; it doesn't have to be well-written or entertaining; it doesn't even have to make sense to anyone but you. It just has to be written down for it to ever become real.
Okay, if you actually took the time to stop reading and jot down your goals, you are now part of an elite sector of society. (If not, do it now). In the course of attending those various seminars I mentioned previously, I was rather astonished to learn that only about five percent of the population actually takes the time to write down their goals. Interesting number, huh? Let's see: Five percent of the population writes down their dreams and goals and five percent of Americans reach their retirement age financially independent. Coincidence?
I think not. Writing down your dreams and goals is a paramount step toward achieving them. Then, regularly revisiting them-no matter how lofty they may seem today-makes those dreams and goals seem far more attainable than impossible. And by "regularly revisiting them," I'm not referring to when you're cleaning out your desk drawers or-in my case-when your mother finally cleans out her attic. This should not be an annual thing, either, as so many do when they make New Year's resolutions. Not even monthly. I'm talking about going over them weekly or even putting them in a place where you will at least see them daily. I am referring to cutting out pictures of your dream house, your new storefront, your ideal vehicle or your fantasy vacation destination and putting them on the refrigerator or your mirror. This will help you visualize your dreams and then keep those visions in front of you. Seeing these dreams and goals keeps you focused; reading them regularly keeps you on track toward reaching them; and it greatly increases your resolve to handle the obstacles and objections that will inevitably come your way. By firmly determining what you want, you will figure out what you must give up-sleep, time, effort-in order to get it.
The entire writing/reviewing process takes very little time, but it forces you to visualize your goals; it creates a commitment on your part; and it serves as your roadmap to success. Perhaps most important, that simple act prevents you from settling, compromising or completely losing sight of your dreams. You WILL NOT be derailed by a few rejections, financial hard times, frustrations or any other series of disappointments if you keep your dreams in front of you. On the contrary, your subconscious will help you find a way to make happen what is constantly in front of you.
Excerpted from GAME PLAN by WARREN BARHORST RUSTY BURSON Copyright © 2010 by Warren Barhorst with Rusty Burson. Excerpted by permission.
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