Special guest-star post today… by my old buddy David Garfinkel (“Garf” to those us lucky enough to be close friends).
Garf has been my First Choice as “wingman” for the last half-dozen seminars I’ve given (including the Copywriting Sweatshops, the Hot Seat Marketing Makeovers, and particularly the Simple Writing System main event).
So, while I’m traipsing around Australia, scrambling to meet my seminar obligations while driving on the wrong side of the road in 3 major cities…
… I’ve asked Garf to write a guest post for y’all.
Without further ado… here ’tis:
Want To Know The Dark Secrets Behind Monster Success?
It’s Not Pretty.
By David Garfinkel
The Big Lie.
People say it different ways.
It usually starts out: “It must be nice to… “
And then they finish it with…
“… be born into a rich family.”
“… have such a natural talent.”
“… have genes that make you look like a god (goddess).”
And so on.
Well, part of it is true.
Some people are damned lucky. They don’t face the same struggles regular people do.
But an ugly and dangerous assumption lies underneath all of this.
You see the assumption played out in movies. In schoolrooms. In glossy magazine articles.
You hear it in the rumbling, grumbling soundtrack of your own subconscious mind. Hey, the powers that be have spent enough money, time, and effort spreading this Big Lie into the mass consciousness, everywhere you turn. Of course it’s going to be embedded in your deepest thoughts.
The assumption goes like this:
If you’re lucky enough to __________, your future success is pretty much assured.
But if you’re not, tough luck, Charlie.
(Fill in the blank with: “be born rich,” “have natural talent,” “be unusually well endowed,” etc.)
Oh, sure. People read the rags to riches stories. They memorize Think and Grow Rich. They spend thousands on coaching and seminars.
But deep down inside, many people still believe it won’t make any difference. Because the cultural myths have their unconscious minds in a choke-hold.
The funny thing is, I have seen both sides of this. I grew up very middle class, not rich, not poor, but surrounded by some of the most privileged people on the planet. Right outside Washington, DC. Huge, dripping wads of comfortable, quiet old money, just a few neighborhoods away.
And yeah, the people born with silver spoons who stuck with the program — went to the right schools, took the right jobs, joined the right clubs, moved back into the right neighborhoods — continued with their nicely furnished lives.
But there was a catch. They were cogs in a machine of great uniformity. Human animals in a herd. Marching to a very unforgiving drummer.
The Japanese have a saying: “The nail that sticks out, gets pounded down.” And that saying is as true in land-of-opportunity America as it is in the land of the Rising Sun.
Because even for the very privileged, once you decide to go for your own version of monster success, all the perks are gone. Membership has its price, and you never know how high that price was until you decide to play by different rules.
I didn’t really start to discover this hidden set of fences and pastures until after I left my corporate job as San Francisco Bureau Chief for McGraw-Hill World News in 1985. Thus began the ride of my life, and it has taken me 24 years to start to see clearly what The Big Lie is all about.
Fact is, where you were born or what you were born with has a lot to do with perks and little or nothing to do with world-class performance.
And world class performance is what monster success is all about.
My life has taken me to a place where I’ve decided:
Being really, really good at doing what’s most important to you is where fulfillment comes from.
At least in the business part of your life.
Still, world class achievement does not necessarily equal happiness. I’ve recently read two up-close-and-personal books about people who admit to large swaths of misery in their lives.
One, Warren Buffett, who jockeys between being the richest and second richest guy in the world.
The other, legendary British publishing magnate, poet and libertine Felix Dennis. In his book, he rails over and over that monster success will not make you happy.
But misery of the rich and famous aside, both of these men still prove the point about what makes a world-class performer. Neither was born into great privilege. Both found a formula and followed it and became top performers, out of the herd, up to the alpha position, whether they wanted it or not.
I suspect they were not going for alpha status. I think what happened was: They heard the call to express themselves fully, and they answered the call.
In any event: What’s the formula for monster success?
For the answer, let’s take a side trip to another century. Two other centuries, actually.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. They made a movie about him. Using his middle name (Amadeus). Maybe you saw it last century, in 1984, when it first came out.
The gist of the movie was: That Boy Was A Genius!
Take a look:
“Mozart is the ultimate example of the divine-spark theory of greatness.
“Composing music at age five, giving public performances at age eight, going on to produce hundreds of works, some of which are widely regarded as ethereally great and treasures of Western culture, all in the brief time before his death at age 35. If that isn’t talent, on a mammoth scale, then nothing is.”
Those are the words of my brother in curmudgeonliness, Geoff Colvin, whose book Talent is Overrated is the inspiration for much of what I’m writing here.
Colvin goes on to tear the popular assumption apart:
Mozart’s father Leopold, a famous composer and performer himself, enrolled his son into a home school boot camp of performing and composing at age three.
Leopold was deeply interested in how to teach music to children, and had published a book on the subject the 18th-century year Wolfgang was born (1756).
Wolfgang’s early compositions were often “corrected” (read: rewritten) by Dad before they saw the light of day — and many of them were not original anyway.
Mozart’s first “masterpiece,” Piano Concerto No. 9, was composed when he was 21.
Colvin concludes: “That’s certainly an early age, but we must remember that by then Wolfgang had been through eighteen years of extremely hard, expert training. [I added the italics].
“This is worth pausing to consider. Any divine spark that Mozart may have possessed did not enable him to produce world-class work quickly or easily, which is something we often suppose a divine spark will do.”
Colvin also looks at the world’s greatest investor. Warren Buffett loves to say he was “born to allocate capital,” financial short-hand for, “I was given the divine spark that told me exactly the best investments to make.”
Uh… not exactly, says Colvin. Buffett bought his first stock, Cities Service preferred (Citgo today), at age 11. But he didn’t really start to shine as an investor until 15 or 20 years later.
Oh, one other thing. Dad was a stockbroker. So there mighta been just a little home schooling on the subject.
And a few years after getting his Master’s at Columbia in New York, he went to work for investment legend Benjamin Graham on Wall Street. But not right away.
First, Graham had turned Buffett down to work for free on several occasions.
And this in the light of Buffett being the only student ever to receive an A+ from Graham in his investment class at Columbia.
Are we starting to see a pattern here?
A few years ago, Bonnie St. John was a client of mine. One of two Olympic medal winners who have hired me.
Bonnie won the silver and two bronzes in downhill skiing at Innsbruck, Austria, in 1984.
She started skiing with some interesting challenges. She grew up where there was no snow (San Diego).
African-American people like her weren’t especially welcome on the slopes (especially in those days).
And… wait for it… she only has one leg.
(Yep. That means one-legged skiing. She won her medals at the Paralympics.)
Bonnie’s mom wasn’t a skier, but she was a teacher — a high school principal, in fact.
And Bonnie was so intent on skiing that she somehow got herself into a very white prep school in Vermont which, in addition to great academics, had world-class ski coaches on the faculty.
Is monster success more a matter of hard work and study under great coaches and teachers — and less a matter of talent and accidents of birth?
It’s starting to look that way, more and more, according to research, and according to what I have observed about the top performers I have met and worked with.
But what about The Secret?
Isn’t it true that all you have to do is visualize something, including great achievement, and it’s yours?
“You must begin to do what you can where you are, and you must do ALL that you can do where you are.
“You can advance only by being larger than your present place. And, no man is larger than his present place who leaves undone any of the work pertaining to that place. [I added the italics.]
“The world is advanced only by those who more than fill their present places.”
Damn! Sounds like you’re going to have to do the work after all.
But wait! What do those words have to do with The Secret?
Well, quite a bit, actually:
Those words in quotes are from the first paragraph of Chapter 12 of The Science of Getting Rich, by Wallace D. Wattles.
Rhonda Byrne said The Science of Getting Rich was her inspiration. Byrne wrote the book and produced the movie The Secret. She told Oprah Winfrey on her show:
“Something inside of me had me turn the pages one by one, and I can still remember my tears hitting the pages as I was reading it. It gave me a glimpse of The Secret. It was like a flame inside of my heart. And with every day since, it’s just become a raging fire of wanting to share all of this with the world.”
See for yourself:
Memo to Rhonda:
Gotta be careful with those tears and all that fire when you’re reading. You could miss a very important paragraph.
So. What does this all mean?
You’ve got to decide for yourself. Me, now I don’t feel so bad when I think back at all the people who called me “workaholic.”
And personally, I’ve never had a problem seeking out the best teachers, coaches, books, seminars.
I do know my natural talent and early success took me only far enough to get in trouble. Just before I started to live the ideas I’m ranting about in this post, I learned about creating success in your imagination, so it could manifest effortlessly on the physical plane.
But fortunately, somehow, when I learned how to visualize I never drank the Kool Aid. I never completely believed great things could be accomplished without doing any work.
What about you?