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If You Don't Stand for Something, You'll Fall for Anything

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman

A short time ago, Jim Rohn, one of the greatest personal development experts of all time, passed away. He wrote dozens of books and recorded dozens of motivational cds, but he boiled all his work down to one sentence. He said, "Each person's personal philosophy is the major factor in how his or her life works out." Of course he had to learn that lesson the hard way, but once he did, he dedicated his life to helping others learn it the easy way.

When Jim was 25, he was broke and broken. He was being hounded by creditors, and he was being haunted by his messed-up relationships. But as Jim so often said, it never would have occurred to him to blame his philosophy for all his problems. Instead, he blamed his relatives who were always putting him down, and he blamed his cynical neighbors who wouldn't give him any money. He blamed the government, the high tax rate, the weather, the traffic, and just about everything else for his lack of success.

Then Jim was fortunate enough to get a job with a boss who coached him in the laws of success. His boss asked him to write down all the reasons for all the failures he had had. And Jim did. When his boss looked at the list, he said, "There's just one problem with this list. You aren't on it."

Like many of us, Jim got defensive. He said, "You don't understand. Things cost too much." His boss replied, "No, you can't afford them." And Jim protested, "That's all they pay." His boss countered, "No, that's all your worth."

As long as Jim played the blame game, as long he held the victim philosophy, he was going nowhere. He was stuck and powerless. But as soon as he changed his philosophy, his life, work, and record of success turned around. In essence, Jim went from thinking like a loser to thinking, "If it is to up, it is up to me."

You see ... it is not the circumstances in your life that determine your destination. It is your philosophy. As western novelist Louis L'Amour wrote, "Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be... Everyone has it within his power to say, 'This I am today, that I shall be tomorrow'."

I agree with Jim Rohn and Louis L'Amour. Your philosophy of life and work will be a MAJOR factor in the quality of your life and work. And many organizations have grasped this fundamental truth. As I speak across the country and around the world in numerous organizations, I hear them talking about their corporate philosophy, purpose, vision, mission, and values. And frequently I'll see them post those things on the walls or put them in every employees' handbook.

That's great. It's important and it's healthy. But too often I see these same philosophies, purposes, visions, missions and values as too wordy, complex, unclear, and uninspiring. In fact, if you asked 5 different employees to quote those things back to you, in some companies you would get 5 different versions, and in other companies you'd only get blank looks.

I'd like to suggest you need to make it real simple. Don't get too hung up on what you call it ... a philosophy, purpose, vision, mission, or value. All you're really talking about are two things: 1) what you believe about success, and 2) how you're going to get it. If you clarify those two things, you'll be in great shape.

And it's one of the keys I teach in my "Journey to the Extraordinary" program. It's one thing Paul Schmall, the Vice President and Chief Engineer of the Moretrench American Corporation, commented on. As Paul noted, "The most powerful thing that I brought home from the 'Journey' was a clear sense of purpose. I now have my purpose written out, and I think of it every day. And I have given your 'Purpose CD' to many people. It hits everybody like a ton of bricks. Your message has an overtone of a deeper God-driven purpose. I love it. It's very real and very meaningful. I commend you for it."

So how do you get a philosophy or clarify your purpose?

1. Spend some time to think and write down WHAT you believe about success.
If you went to the self-help section of a bookstore, you could easily find a couple hundred books on success. But the only definition of success that really counts ... is yours. Have you taken time to think about? I hope you have ... because if you haven't taken the time to define success, chances are very good you'll end up somewhere else. What does success mean to you? Financially? Relationally? Occupationally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Think about it. Brainstorm all your possible answers, and then write down everything that comes to mind. Don't worry about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Just write, write, write as fast as you can ... capturing all your thoughts. On your second or third draft you can weed out the nonsense and refine your definition of success.

And you don't have to rush it. You may engage in this exercise several times over several weeks. And you may add some "good stuff" you learn from other sources.

That's what I did. For example, part of my philosophy is MAKING EVERY DAY COUNT. I hate wasting time. And I found a great quote from Dr. Heartsill Wilson that helped me reinforce that part of my philosophy. Dr. Heartsill said, "This is the beginning of a new day. I can do with this day what I will. I can waste it or use it for good, but what I do today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be lost forever leaving in its place what I have traded for it. I want it to be gain and not loss, good and not evil, success and not failure, in order that I shall not regret the price that I have paid for it."

Another part of my philosophy is MAKING SURE I KNOW ... and especially ... KNOW WHAT'S MOST IMPORTANT. Some ignoramus said, "Ignorance is bliss." No it's not. As Rohn so often noted, "Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is poverty, tragedy, illness, and devastation. What you don't know will hurt you."

That's why I'm always going to conferences, reading books, and listening to educational CDs. I want to know more, learn more, and out of that, especially know what's most important in life. I don't ever want to lose my focus. So I incorporated the following list into my philosophy. It says:

Three things in life that, once gone, never come back:
  1. Time
  2. Words
  3. Opportunity

Three things in life that can destroy a person:
  1. Anger
  2. Pride
  3. Unforgiveness

Three things in life that you should never lose:
  1. Hope
  2. Peace
  3. Honesty

Three things in life that are most valuable:
  1. Love
  2. Family
  3. Kindness

Three things in life that are never certain:
  1. Fortune
  2. Success
  3. Dreams

Three things that make a person:
  1. Commitment
  2. Sincerity
  3. Hard work

Barbara Heiden from Cargill was able to clarify her purpose/philosophy at the "Journey" and got an incredible return on her investment as a result. She writes: "It's been several weeks since I attended your 'Journey to the Extraordinary' experience, and I wanted to update you on how things are going. Using your affirmation techniques, I am eating well-balanced meals, losing weight, and have more energy than ever! I got a new job that pays a great deal better, and even applied your techniques to our family finances for a net gain of $125,000.00. I loved the 'Journey,' and as you can tell, I have made some very positive changes. Thanks!"

Once you've taken some time to think about and write down what you believe about success, there's a second part to getting your philosophy in shape. You've got to ...

2. Clarify HOW you're going to get it.
In other words, it's not enough to simply have a philosophy. You've got to live by it. Helen Keller, the blind/deaf author and lecturer knew that. She said, "Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."

So I'd recommend the daily duo. In the morning, take 2 minutes to think about or read over your philosophy. Think about your upcoming day and HOW you're going to live out your philosophy at home and on the job. And then in the evening, take 2 minutes to think about HOW well you lived out your philosophy and where corrections might be needed in the future. The daily duo will help you stay on track, on purpose, and on philosophy.

Another way to help you live out your philosophy is to adopt a set of action statements. The more you reflect on them, the more you'll behave that way. That's why I personally like the creed of the Optimists' Club. You can't go wrong if you adopt their creed. It says:

Promise yourself...

  • To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
  • To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
  • To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
  • To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
  • To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.
  • To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
  • To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
  • To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
  • To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
  • To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

Now the ball is in your court. Take some time to figure out: 1) what you believe about success, and 2) how you're going to get it.

Write down the words "Success is ..." and then write out 50 different endings to the sentence. You'll be on your way to having a philosophy that works for you.

As a best-selling author and Hall of Fame professional speaker, Dr. Alan Zimmerman has taught more than one million people in 48 states and 22 countries how to keep a positive attitude on and off the job. In his book, PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success, Dr. Zimmerman outlines the exact steps you must take to get the results you want in any situation. Go to Alan's site for more information.


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