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3 Things Successful People Do
The Road Map that Will Change Your Life
By John C. Maxwell
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 John C. Maxwell
All rights reserved.
The Journey Is More Fun If You Know Where You're Going
Several years ago, as I was thumbing through Success magazine, I came across a study that Gallup did on what people thought it meant to be a success. That appealed to me because I've always been interested in helping others to become successful, and I wanted to know what Gallup had gleaned. Their answers fell into twelve categories, but the number one answer was "good health." Fifty-eight percent of the people identified that with success over anything else. I don't know about you, but I value good health — and after my heart attack I value it even more. But if I had only good health and nothing else, I don't know that I would label myself "successful."
I've discovered that people often find it hard to define success. But if you don't know what success is, how will you ever achieve it? That's why I want to help you identify a definition of success that will work for you: success is a journey.
Let me begin to illustrate by telling you a story. Several years ago, I stood before the seventy-four employees of INJOY — the organization I had founded in 1985 to teach leadership and personal development — and prepared to tell them some news that I knew would be exciting to some and discouraging to others. I was going to tell them that in a year's time, we would be moving the company from San Diego, California, to Atlanta, Georgia.
My friend Dick Peterson, INJOY's president at the time, and I had been talking about the possibility of moving the company for about six months. It had begun as a casual "what if ..." conversation, but then we started giving it more serious thought. We weighed the advantages and asked our director of finance to run some numbers. We talked about the opportunities that such a move would bring. And finally, we determined that moving to Atlanta made sense professionally, logistically, and economically. We knew that if we wanted to go to a new level in our growth and development, not only as a company, but as individuals, we needed to make the change.
In many ways, that was a very tough decision. I never expected to leave San Diego. From the day we moved there from Indiana, my wife, Margaret, and I felt that it was home. It was the only home that our kids, Elizabeth and Joel Porter, had ever really known. But as much as we loved living in San Diego, we were willing to make the sacrifice of moving away so that we could achieve greater success.
Our more serious concern was for the people on the INJOY team. We weren't sure how they would react. San Diego is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and the weather is perfect. Many of our employees were San Diego natives, and they had a lot to keep them there.
As I prepared to talk to the staff, there was a noisy energy in the room. All of us hadn't met as a group in almost a year, and I could see the excitement and anticipation in many of their faces.
"Gang, I'd like to have your attention," I started. "I have a very important announcement to make. In one year from now, we will be moving INJOY to Atlanta." I saw a whole range of reactions. Some looked shocked. Others looked as if they had been punched in the stomach. Jayne Hansen, one of our best customer service representatives, was wide-eyed as her chin dropped, and she coughed out a short breath in disbelief every eight to ten seconds for the first minute that I talked. From our managers I saw relief: they had been keeping their knowledge of the move secret for weeks.
For fifty minutes, Dick Peterson and I explained all our reasons for the move, gave them stats and information on Atlanta, and showed them a video from the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. And we told them that anyone who was willing to go to Atlanta would have a job when he or she got there. Then we introduced two people who had flown in from Atlanta's best real estate agency to answer questions.
Willing to Take the Journey
We weren't sure what kind of reaction we would get from our staff. We were proposing a major move that would radically change their lives. What a surprise it was when more than 90 percent of the team said they would move or at least consider moving to Atlanta! They were willing to take the trip.
That got me to thinking. Why were so many of them willing to be uprooted, leaving behind everything that was familiar, including family and friends, to move all the way across the country? I concluded that they were willing to go for four reasons:
1. We gave them a picture of where they were going.
As Dick, the two real estate agents, and I spoke to our people, we gave them a picture of our future in Atlanta: the positive working environment, the greater number of lives that we would be able to touch, the improvement in their quality of life, and the opportunity that we as a company would have to go to the next level. They could see it all — the benefits to them personally and to the company.
2. We answered their questions.
The prospect of taking a journey can create insecurity and lead to numerous questions. Our people wanted to know where we would be locating the office, what Atlanta's schools were like, the condition of the housing market, the cultural and entertainment attractions available in the city, the state tax structure, and so on. In that first meeting, we were able to answer nearly all of their questions.
3. They had experienced personal success in their lives.
As a team, INJOY was experiencing success, and so were the individuals. They were responsible for the company's success and at the same time were enjoying the fruits of that success. They had a sense of purpose. They were growing personally. And they were helping others.
4. They were no longer the same and wanted to continue to have significance.
A couple of weeks before we announced the move, I heard Patty Knoll, one of our employees, say, "I love working for INJOY, helping so many people through what we do. I can't imagine working anywhere else." Once a person has tasted success and realizes that her efforts have significance, it's something that she never forgets — and that she never wants to give up. Making a difference in the lives of others changes her outlook on life and her priorities.
You may be saying to yourself, "That's great. It's good that your people wanted to move to Georgia. But what does that have to do with me? I'm not going on this trip to Atlanta! What about the definition of success?"
It's true that you may not be moving to Atlanta, but you are preparing to go on a journey, the journey of success, and that trip has the potential of taking you a long way — maybe farther than you've dreamed. To take it, you'll need the same things that our people at INJOY needed: a picture of where you're going, answers to your questions about success, knowledge of what success is like, and the ability to change and continue growing.
It's my desire to provide these things for you in this book. I want to teach you what it means to be on the success journey, answer many of your questions, and equip you with what you'll need to change yourself and keep growing. In the process, you'll discover that success is for everyone: the homemaker and the businessperson, the student and the person approaching retirement, the athlete and the local church pastor, the factory worker and the entrepreneur.
The Traditional Picture of Success
The problem for most people who want to be successful is not that they can't achieve success. The main obstacle for them is that they misunderstand success. Maltbie D. Babcock said, "One of the most common mistakes and one of the costliest is thinking that success is due to some genius, some magic, something or other which we do not possess."
What is success? What does it look like? Most people have a vague picture of what it means to be a successful person that looks something like this:
The wealth of Bill Gates,
the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger
(or Cindy Crawford),
the intelligence of Albert Einstein,
the athletic ability of Michael Jordan,
the creativity of Steve Jobs,
the social grace and poise of Jackie Kennedy,
the imagination of Walt Disney, and
the heart of Mother Teresa.
That sounds absurd, but it's closer to the truth than we would like to admit. Many of us picture success as looking like one other than who we are — and we especially can't be eight other people! And more important than that, you shouldn't want to be. If you tried to become just like even one of these other people, you wouldn't be successful. You would be a bad imitation of them, and you would eliminate the possibility of becoming the person you were meant to be.
The Wrong Picture of Success
Even if you avoid the trap of thinking that success means being like some other person, you might still have a wrong picture of success. Frankly, the majority of people misunderstand it. They wrongly equate it with achievement of some sort, with arriving at a destination or attaining a goal. Here are several of the most common misconceptions about success:
Probably the most common misunderstanding about success is that it's the same as having money. A lot of people believe that if they accumulate wealth, they will be successful. But wealth does not bring contentment or success.
Industrialist John D. Rockefeller, a man so rich that he gave away more than $350 million in his lifetime, was once asked how much money it would take to satisfy him. His reply: "Just a little bit more." King Solomon of ancient Israel, said to be not only the wisest but also the richest man who ever lived, asserted, "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income."
Wealth and what it brings are at best fleeting. For example, in 1923, a small group of the world's wealthiest men met at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. They were a "Who's Who" of wealth and power. At that time, they controlled more money than the total amount contained in the United States Treasury. Here is a list of who was there and what eventually happened to them:
Charles Schwab — president of the largest independent steel company — died broke.
Arthur Cutten — greatest of the wheat speculators — died abroad, insolvent.
Richard Witney — president of the New York Stock Exchange — died just after release from Sing Sing prison.
Albert Fall — member of a U.S. president's cabinet — was pardoned from prison so that he could die at home.
Jess Livermore — greatest "bear" on Wall Street — committed suicide.
Leon Fraser — president of the Bank of International Settlements — committed suicide.
Ivar Kreuger — head of the world's greatest monopoly — committed suicide.
Even Greek millionaire Aristotle Onassis, who retained his wealth and died at a ripe old age, recognized that money isn't the same as success. He maintained that "after you reach a certain point, money becomes unimportant. What matters is success."
A Special Feeling
Another common misconception is that people have achieved success when they feel successful or happy. But trying to feel successful is probably even more difficult than trying to become wealthy. The continual search for happiness is a primary reason that so many people are miserable. If you make happiness your goal, you are almost certainly destined to fail. You will be on a continual roller coaster, changing from successful to unsuccessful with every mood change. Life is uncertain, and emotions aren't stable. Happiness simply cannot be relied on as a measure of success.
Specific and Worthwhile Possessions
Think back to when you were a kid. Chances are that there was a time when you wanted something badly, and you believed that if you possessed that thing, it would make a significant difference in your life. For me, it was a burgundy and silver Schwinn bicycle. One Christmas morning when I looked under the tree, I saw my vision of what a bicycle ought to be. That was back when bikes were bikes. They were solid as tanks. And mine had everything I could ever want on it: mud flaps, chrome, bells, lights — the works. For a while it was great. I loved that bike, and I spent a lot of time riding it. But I soon discovered that it didn't bring me the success or long-term contentment that I hoped for and expected.
That process has repeated itself in my life. I found that success didn't come when I became a starter on my high school basketball team, when I became the student body president in college, or when I bought my first house. It has never come as the result of possessing something I wanted. Possessions are at best a temporary fix. Success cannot be attained or measured that way.
Charles McElroy once joked, "Power is usually recognized as an excellent short-term antidepressant." That statement contains a lot of truth because power often gives the appearance of success, but even then, it's only temporary.
You've probably heard the quote from English historian Lord Acton: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Power really is a test of character. In the hands of a person of integrity, it is of tremendous benefit; in the hands of a tyrant, it causes terrible destruction. By itself, power is neither positive nor negative. And it is not the source of security or success. Besides, all dictators — even benevolent ones — eventually lose power.
Many people have what I call "destination disease." They believe that if they can arrive somewhere — attain a position, accomplish a goal, or have a relationship with the right person — they will be successful. At one time, I had a similar view of success. I defined it as the progressive realization of a predetermined, worthwhile goal. But over time I realized that the definition fell short of the mark.
Simply achieving goals doesn't guarantee success or contentment. Look at what happened with Michael Jordan. In 1993, he decided to retire from basketball, saying that he had accomplished all the goals he had wanted to achieve. And then he went on to play baseball in the minor leagues — but not for long. He couldn't stay away from the game of basketball, and he came out of retirement two times to play several more years. Playing the game, being in the midst of the process, was the thing. You see, success isn't a list of goals to be checked off one after another. It's not reaching a destination. Success is a journey.
The Right Picture of Success
So how do you get started on the success journey? What does it take to be a success? Two things are required: the right picture of success and the right principles for getting there.
The picture of success isn't the same for any two people because we're all created differently as unique individuals. But the process is the same for everyone. It's based on principles that do not change. After more than twenty-five years of knowing successful people and studying the subject, I have developed the following definition of success:
Success is ...
knowing your purpose in life,
growing to reach your maximum potential, and
sowing seeds that benefit others.
You can see by this definition why success is a journey rather than a destination. No matter how long you live or what you decide to do in life, you will never exhaust your capacity to grow toward your potential or run out of opportunities to help others. When you see success as a journey, you'll never have the problem of trying to "arrive" at an elusive final destination. And you'll never find yourself in a position where you have accomplished some final goal, only to discover that you're still unfulfilled and searching for something else to do.
Another benefit of focusing on the journey of success instead of on arriving at a destination or achieving a goal is that you have the potential to become a success today. The very moment that you make the shift to finding your purpose, growing to your potential, and helping others, successful is something you are right now, not something you vaguely hope one day to be.
To get a better handle on these aspects of success, let's take a look at each one of them:
Excerpted from 3 Things Successful People Do by John C. Maxwell. Copyright © 2016 John C. Maxwell. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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