As we study the lives of great men and women, invariably we find that they have developed greatness through trial and error. The greatest tributary in the stream of success has been adversity.
Wilma Rudolph epitomizes persistence in the face of adversity. Born about 60 miles from Nashville, Tennessee, she was the 20th of 22 children. At the age of four, she developed scarlet fever, and later contracted polio. She was told she’d never walk. Through the years, she would use furniture to practice walking and eventually she took off the leg braces. She went out for the soccer team, but didn’t make it, so went out for track and field. She told her friends she would be an Olympic champion, and they thought she was crazy. Rudolph went on to win three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
I’ve always been curious about what it takes to be successful. When I asked my dad, who was then in his nineties, about his career in mechanical engineering, he told me that he hated every second, but never thought of quitting because he had a family to support. This gave me an incentive to delve into why some people are successful and others aren’t.
Albert Einstein was a rebellious child. He rejected authority, and was expelled from school. He was rejected for a teaching position at Zurich Polytechnic Institute, so he took a job at the government patent office and started tinkering with mathematical formulas. No one would have predicted that he would change the course of history with his discovery of the theory of relativity.
Michael Jordan could not make the varsity high school basketball team his first try. He went on to become one of the greatest pro basketball players but even at the pinnacle of success he kept working to improve his game. And consider some of his less than stellar career statistics: he missed more than 9,000 shots and on more than two dozen occasions he took what was supposed to be the winning shot and missed it. He has said, “I have failed over and over and over in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
In college, I started selling books door to door for Southwestern, a producer of educational books. It wasn’t the easiest way to earn a living but it taught me a lot about persistence. After eight years with Southwestern, I started my own book selling business, which I eventually sold to Thomas Nelson, the largest producer of Bibles in the United States.
I then got into real estate, buying and selling apartments in Houston, Texas in the 1970s. Everything was fine until 1986, when a new tax law erased my investments. I was completely broke, I had a Toyota that wasn’t paid for and was in the midst of a divorce. While figuring out my next career path, I recalled how my dad had taught me to chart corn and soybean prices. That got me interested in the commodities business.
I applied at 42 different brokers, and only one offered me a job. That was in Dallas, Texas with Merrill Lynch. After making 17,000 cold calls my first year, I succeeded in landing 11 high net worth clients. I enjoyed phenomenal success at Merrill Lynch and later with Shearson Lehman and Prudential, then started my own company, which I sold to a hedge fund in 2008.
When one door closes in life, another opens. We just need to be alert to the possibilities, and believe in ourselves.
High achievers are often regarded with awe and respect. They are seen as extraordinary beings because they accomplish so much. High achievers identify goals, study how to make them happen, plan steps to realize those goals, and then take action.
There are characteristics in their behaviors that anyone can follow:
- Learn everything you can about the subject that intrigues you
- Put your knowledge into practice
- Set a high standard of personal ethics
- Set priorities
- Be courageous and do what is necessary
- Commit to working hard
- Be goal-oriented
- Spread enthusiasm
Remember that lots of successful people were failures at some point in their lives.
Enrico Caruso was told numerous times by his voice instructor that he would never make it on the opera stage. The instructor thought that Caruso’s voice gave out on the high notes and advised him to quit. Caruso had other ideas. He practiced and pushed himself until he walked onto a world stage and was able to move audiences with his extraordinary voice.
Take the lessons about attitude that these people, and so many others, have learned and apply them to your life. Most people you admire and regard as winners experienced bitter disappointment in their lives. Yet one theme appears in all their stories: They never gave up, no matter what anyone else told them. They saw themselves as successful long before it came to be. Their image of the achieving person that they were to be came before reality and the evidence thereof.
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