Too often, we think that those who achieve something really special were born with huge advantages. Yet, if you read stories about the most successful people, the common denominator is not birthright but rather optimism, a tendency to take initiative and action without over analyzing a situation, a confidence that overrides the voices of “realists” and “pessimists” that are ever present, a willingness to take a chance when the odds looks favorable, and a belief that failures are simply little setbacks to learn from on a road of adapting and overcoming every step of the way.
A great way to look at it is “Why Not Me?”
Others become millionaires in less than 10 years. Why Not Me?
Others graduate college with honors, and double majors, and masters, and Phd’s. Why Not Me?
Others change jobs, and careers, until they find a dream gig. Why Not Me?
Others have wonderful marriages, and loving families. Why Not Me?
Others run marathons, learn to fly airplanes, get in killer shape, become published writers. Why Not Me?
Others live without stress. Why Not Me?
Others are genuinely happy, every darn day. Why Not Me?
Of course you can. This is America, the land where the system does not keep the tenacious optimist from success. No one will give it to you on a silver platter, but if you define your goals clearly, create plans with milestones, and get started on the steps others have succeeded with before, you can get there.
For the last few weeks, we have watched the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Sport, especially at the Olympics, is the most obvious lab that proves that greatness requires optimism. Does anyone win a gold medal without hope and belief?
It is hard for me to understand why pessimists and realists think it is better to be a pessimist or a realist.
Far too many people think “the brilliant big idea” is the root of home run success. I believe home runs happen more often with good ideas, not great ones. The home runs come when three elements are applied — full ‘whatever it takes’ commitment, unquenchable positive enthusiasm, and extraordinary dogged persistence.
Success is barely the tip of the iceberg above the surface for the casual observer to see. No one realizes the amount of work it took for the successful to make it to that point. I believe when the going gets tough — really tough — almost everyone quits, because there are plenty of other options. Those options often make logical sense and your friends and family will influence you to take one of them. It is only the rare person who fights the long odds, who believes that she must see it through and prove the naysayers wrong, that ultimately knocks it out of the park.
Never let anyone talk you out of doing what you believe you were born to do.
Over the years, I have often written about the essential requirement to be 100% committed to whatever you are doing. Overcoming adversity demands it, and every one of us will run into plenty of adversity. In my life, I learned this painful lesson as a freshman in college, when — and this is most definitely not my proudest moment — I literally threw away a full ride scholarship because I was not committed to doing my best and doing what it takes to succeed academically. The good news is that after enough anguish and self-appraisal, I learned the lesson. I decided that if it was to be, it was up to me, and no excuses matter. I adapted and I overcame.
My little story pales in comparison to Inky Johnson’s story, for Inky has overcome exponentially greater adversity than I have. This is a story well worth watching, and in my opinion, more than once. It is essential to watch it when you have 10 minutes without distractions. I hope that you enjoy it. I hope that it gives you food for thought. I hope that it changes your resolve to give every day and every endeavor 100% commitment:
Anyone with enough will, and enough belief, and a purpose beyond themselves, can achieve greatness and make a positive impact on others. Anyone.
Be careful about what you believe about yourself, because there are ramifications for every belief that you have.
Imagine seven people facing the same difficult problem: escaping from the top of a burning skyscraper:
Nick believes that he is sharp-as-a-tack smart.
Katherine believes she is resourceful.
Mike believes he is unlucky.
Ashley believes she is not good under pressure.
Beth believes she is tough and determined.
Ian is an optimist while Jen is a sarcastic always-blame-others pessimist.
Can you jump to the end of the story, and imagine how each would approach the immediate, life-threatening problem?
While it is easy to see how these seven people’s beliefs liberate some while they limit others in my life-or-death hypothetical, the same paradigm exists in everyday life.
Imagine the same seven people:
in a tough job situation,
parenting a difficult teen,
having a chance to run for class president,
attending a very competitive university in a tough major,
breaking down in their car in the wrong neighborhood,
deciding to interview for a new position,
losing a leg in a car accident,
running a 5K,
getting a promotion to VP,
running into financial woes,
starting a new company, or
losing 30 pounds and getting into the best shape of their lives.
A person’s chosen beliefs will cause him or her to handle the exact same situation in a different way.
When you look in the mirror, what are your beliefs?Are they conducive to success?
If a girl believes she is pretty and that her beauty will get her through life, what happens when she ages and Oil of Olay doesn’t live up to its hype?What if that girl believed she was ‘creative‘ and ‘unstoppable‘ instead?
Many people accept the beliefs handed them by family, teachers, coaches, and friends, but each of us has the freedom to choose. You must be careful when you decide what you believe. You must question everything. You must plan ahead and be deliberate when helping your family and close friends develop their beliefs.These beliefs can serve them well, or undermine their efforts. If you have influence, you can help or hurt their chances.
You can see examples all around. Does a person believe that he is a great speaker or does he believe that he wilts in front of a business crowd? Did Shaq believe he could become a better free throw shooter (probably not)? Did Sylvester Stallone believe he could be a success at acting (obviously yes)?
I believe that I can choose and cultivate my own beliefs. This belief-about-belief is all empowering. Do you believe that you can change and choose your own beliefs?If so, do you have some current beliefs that are limiting your potential? It might be high time to take an inventory and re-consider.
There have been a lot of articles and books written about applying big business success formulas — like branding for example — to a person’s personal career. Maybe there’s some truth to it. After all, the companies that differentiate themselves, the companies that stand for a clear ideal (want a safe car, buy a Volvo…) tend to survive and flourish.
I have started to think about this idea in a different light: What is an individual person’s lasting, sustainable competitive advantage? Companies, after all, try hard to find an edge that would help them take marketshare from their closest competitors.
I think I know the answer.
First, consider this quote from management hall of famer, Jack Welch:
An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.
I would like to transform this statement into my own:
An individual’s willingness and desire to question everything, to seek knowledge, to synergize it with current challenges, to gain insights, to learn lessons without always enduring the scars of experience — and then — to proactively change his or her approach, to experiment with optimism, to dare to fail, to strive for the new and the great, is the only possible competitive advantage a person has.
Fortune is on the side of the optimist: 98% of people do not like to change, fear change, or at a minimum, avoid change.
Therein is the gold plated opportunity, available to the optimistic few.
I.M. Optimism Man
PS. I was thinking about personal differentiation a few years ago — this article is well worth reading. Combine these thoughts of proactive learning, embracing change, and living with integrity, and you are sure to go places.
It is way too easy to let other people think — and make conclusions — for you. We are often quick to accept myths, and propagate them to others, as though they were God-given.
Myths are all around us.
We only use a small percentage of our brain. Not true.
Men and women are dramatically different. Not so much. In truth, the differences are actually statistically small when it comes to language ability, spatial reasoning, and many other factors, with a large percentage of women outperforming the average man on all factors except for physical strength (and vice versa on the factors where the average woman outpaces the average man).
Left handed people are more creative. Nope. Visual learners vs auditory learners. Everyone has a major lean one direction or the other, right? No, not right. Mozart makes you smarter. All this is myth because differences that are measured and detected are negligible in scale and biased by the test itself.
Flying isn’t safe. Actually, it is crazy safe. Crashing is not safe — ok, that one is true. Filtering your water or drinking bottled water will make a positive impact on your health. Doubt it, given the water quality in most American cities. Now, if you drink more water because you focus on your water, that’s a different discussion. Location matters: If you are in Africa, water quality takes on a whole new level of concern — filters matter. Vitamins will give you more energy. Unfortunately, not supported by any proof. Aroma oils, or the SleepNumber bed, will help you sleep. Only if you believe it, and your belief is what matters, not the pricey bed, oils, and atomizers.
Want another 1,000 myths busted? Watch Mythbusters — I love a show that questions prevailing wisdom.
Unfortunately, few humans do their own research. The wisdom of crowds is perhaps, not so wise. Google makes it easier than ever to try to dig one or two layers deeper — but of course, you have to question the motives and perspective of the articles you find as well.
My point is simple. When you hear a “fact” spoken with great authority, it is wise to question it. I have found that perhaps as many as 1/2 of these facts are tainted, or the differences exaggerated so much so that making decisions based on them is foolish. I realize that I often don’t get to the truth, but thinking it through, the process itself, is always helpful in the end.
One of the “facts” I strongly disagree with is that a person “can’t beat the stock market averages” so therefore, go ahead and invest in mutual funds, invest with (expensive) professional investment counselors and brokerages, and invest in ETFs. The implication is that you should simply strive to be average. The people that push this one make their living by selling their services to you.
Stock investing returns, and almost everything in life, follows a normal distribution, a bell curve.
If you find your own way to stay above the average even by a few percentage points, your returns over 20 or 30 years will greatly outpace a person that is dead-on average, or a few points below. I believe that is possible by just paying better attention and following some principles in your approach.
The funny part of the myth is that if most people believe they can’t beat the markets, that actually improves the odds for people that believe that they can.
Investing is but one example. Questioning everything opens up new possibilities and new understanding. It is well worth adopting on every aspect of your life.
Life offers great possibilities to be an outlier if you believe you can be an outlier. But that’s a future post.
Most of my articles are one-topic-at-a-time but today, I’m simply going to take a random stroll through my brain for the top thoughts I have as I face 2015. I hope that you find a spark in just one or two of them.
We live in the best of times, bar none.
There has never been more opportunity to succeed in a hurry. More than 50% of the humans on the planet have been networked together. Many of us are fortunate enough to carry a magical smartphone that acts as a battery-powered always-on star-trek-inspired ATM to the vast and ever-growing knowledge-base on the network, indexed by Google. The world is not yet a pervasive knowledge utopia, but dang, this is awesome.
Not everyone appreciates it. My kids think that unlimited, always available information at your smartphone fingertips was simply the way it was. They can’t imagine 1984, although I have briefed them on that stone age before 99% of us had cell phones.
Why not make 2015 your best year ever, the year you really take advantage of some great opportunity?
Optimism makes you or breaks you.
If you do not believe in your plan, your vision, and your abilities, you will never get more than a few steps out the starting gate.
You have to believe that you can — and — belief is a conscious choice one must make. Has anyone won an Olympic event without believing that she can? Has anyone started a new company that rocketed to stardom without belief? Has anyone performed on a national stage without having faith in themselves? On a smaller scale, has anyone become the captain of their sports team without belief? Would Rudy have had his moment in the Notre Dame sunshine without optimism?
Do you believe? It is not an option if you want to strive for greatness!
Every important mission deserves a plan.
Planning — specifically written planning — with key milestones and target dates, improves a person’s chances of success by a wide margin. Why? Because the act of writing it down helps logical thought. Writing it down helps one’s commitment level. Writing it down helps you visualize the future. Every plan should answer the “why do I want to do this” question, because why is always more powerful than what. When you know why you want to do X, the finish line is easier to reach. Having a written plan better enables you to solicit the advice of others, which helps debate the logic even farther. Dates in ink help prevent procrastination.
Sure, plans might change — in fact, they usually do change — but creating a plan (here’s how), having a plan, working the plan, adjusting the plan, is important none-the-less.
Do you have a mission in 2015? If so, where’s your written plan?
Ideas are sparked by… books… not TV.
I’ve come to realize that books are far more thought provoking that any other media because they are usually a deep plunge into a topic. I find that I come up with more ideas — usually unrelated to the book that I’m reading — while reading a good book.
Want fresh ideas in 2015? How many books will you commit to read?
Most of us come up with our one best idea and run with it. Yet, there is a lot of evidence that people rarely come up with the best idea without trial and error. I think 2015 should become the year all of us come up with our two best ideas per problem or challenge, and test both. The second one might come in first more often than we realize. Then, after you know which idea is a winner (lets say B), come up with a new A for the next A/B test and keep fine-tuning and improving.
All it takes is a bit more work to improve your chances of success.
Are you willing to create more than one idea or approach, then test and measure to achieve better success?
Ask for Advice
People love to give advice. Yet often, we don’t ask for it, and when we do, we don’t listen attentively, we don’t take notes, and we don’t mull it over for a few weeks. Wise is the person that can learn from others. There is a lot to be learned if one is willing to ask good questions.
There is also a great side-benefit to asking for advice. People will feel that you value their opinion more. This results in better, deeper relationships.
Why not ask more people for advice?
One Great Resolution
People make fun of resolutions because so few people follow through. Instead of a huge list this year, make just one, but make it stick. Write it down in a plan, with milestones, with target dates. Put a reminder card of this resolution everywhere. Check off the milestones. You will feel great when you succeed by December.
What is your one resolution that really matters to you?
Make the right choices and I’m certain that you will have a great 2015. Above all things, please realize that optimism is a choice, and optimism is the jet fuel you need to live large and achieve much in life.
Too often, one faulty thought enters the mainstream, is picked up as a soundbyte and disseminated by the media, and multitudes are affected by it. In this case, the thought was issued in 1966 by 32 year old Carl Sagan, when half the appliances in the USA were avocado and linoleum was in. The rest of the scientific community latched onto his quote and started doing math, coming to conclusions like the universe must be populated by thousands of planets that support intelligent life. Even today, “the math from the 60’s and 70’s” persists in many of our high school teachers.
As knowledge evolved, that math started to change. Here is an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal this month. I don’t know if its 100% right (that’s hard to find) but it seems well worth considering.
I.M. Optimism Man
Preserved from the Wall Street Journal…
Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone?
In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself.
Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 27 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.
With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing.
What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.
Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”
As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here.
Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.
Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?
There’s more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.
Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all “just happened” defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?
Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term “big bang,” said that his atheism was “greatly shaken” at these developments. He later wrote that “a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”
Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that “the appearance of design is overwhelming” and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said “the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here.”
The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something—or Someone—beyond itself.
Mr. Metaxas is the author, most recently, of “Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” ( Dutton Adult, 2014).
Regret is often the product of not taking a chance, not embracing an opportunity, when we had it. While people offer a lot of excuses for why they missed out as they express regrets, the underlying truth is most often a failure of courage. If you are not making mistakes, it is a clear indicator that you are not trying enough new things. But it takes courage to try anything new, to embark on any new exciting journey, to try a road less traveled by the rest of the human herd.
The hardest step is always the first — getting started comes before getting motivated — and getting started takes courage.
Nothing gets in people’s way more often than fears, and fears are usually quite silly once one looks back on them and sees them for what they really are. It is often more than just the fear of failure that prevents people from trying the new. Others have fear of success, for with success comes far greater responsibility. Others yet fear change or the unknown, simply because they assume the the unknown is worse than where they are today. Small minded people fear people that are not like them, or people that think differently than them. In every case, those who decide to risk in the face of small fears or large fears, expand their lives and their horizons. This is courage and like every key to success, courage can be learned, courage can be practiced, courage can be expanded through experiences.
This is not to say that all fear is bad. Fear is what drives prudent decision-making, in other words balancing the chance of success versus the chance of failure. But those without courage allow themselves to become paralyzed. Fear prevents so many things that are good. A person with a fear of rejection doesn’t stick their hand out and introduce themselves to new people. Similar fears convince people to not try out for the team, to not run for class president, to not put in for that promotion, to not decide to have kids, to not be all they can be. In each of these cases, the upside potential usually outweighs the downside risk but those who have not developed the courage to take risks, shrink away from opportunities.
All the great leaders of the last century have observed the extraordinary importance of courage. Winston Churchill, perhaps the greatest leader during world war two, proclaimed “Courage is the first of the human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others.” He is right. I have often written about the crucial importance of integrity. Is it possible to be a person of integrity if you do not have the courage to stand up for what you believe is right? Is it possible to have extraordinary character if you don’t have the courage to stand up to peer pressure? Your faith will be tested, as will your sense of duty. Even your purpose will be questioned and you will have to have to courage to swim against the ever-changing winds of “popular” thinking.
Courage takes practice. One doesn’t typically have the courage to speak in front of an audience of thousands if they have never spoken in front of an audience of five, then ten, then thirty. One doesn’t step onto a basketball court and hit two game winning free-throws unless they have played thousands of games first. The trick is to take every small opportunity you can, at least every one that makes prudent sense along the road of life, so that when the time comes, you have the experience and the courage to give it your best shot.
Fear is often driven by perceived risk, not necessarily actual risk. Irrational fear is driven by an irrational perception of risk and it leads to paralysis or irrational failure. Healthy fear — lets call it apprehension — is healthy, because it is driven by an accurate assessment of risk. It does not immobilize us, but helps us make good decisions when it is critical that we must. A great example is a person trapped atop a burning building. While most of us have a fear of heights, the prudent and courageous person can evaluate the situation, and decide that sliding down a wire over the yawning abyss is less risky than staying put on top of the inferno.
Courage therefore is not lack of fear but rather mastery of fear and risk. Mastery of fear and risk starts with doing your research, your homework, evaluating your situation. Preparation helps an extraordinary amount, yet many people are lazy and do not prepare. Using my example of speaking in front of a large crowd, it is far easier to master your fear and succeed if you have developed great material, written down a crisp opening, made some backup notes to keep in your pockets, and practiced your speech once or twice. Courage is bolstered through preparation.
Preparation may not put you completely over the top, but it makes that last bit of courage far easier to muster. Courage allows a person to become decisive, to grab opportunities that others do not, to take chances when the odds are good.
Take every prudent risk, face the world with courage, and your world will be a far bigger place, with far more expansive horizons, with plentiful opportunities. Don’t listen to your peers for you must realize that smart, courageous people are rare – most everyone you will know will have far more limited horizons than you.
The world can be your oyster if you embrace it. Envision yourself courageous. Take smart risks. Embrace opportunities with little hesitation. Most importantly, realize that courage requires practice.
Here is a quote I love:
What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?
Embrace opportunities. Life is better when you have the courage to live life large, with few regrets.
Belief is always more than half the battle. During these Winter Olympics, no moment proved this point more clearly than USA’s T.J. Oshie versus Russia, in the overtime shootout.
Click on the video below. Here is how T.J. Oshie built his mental momentum, long before stepping onto the Olympic ice in Sochi.
Optimism alone doesn’t bring you a gold medal. Goals, hard work, practice, determination, talent, family support and more — all matter too. But, without belief, you will not get there. Believe you can, and you can.