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Success Secrets of Top Motivational Authors

By Francine Silverman

"Whatever your mind can conceive and believe it can achieve." —Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)

"You become what you think about." —Earl Nightingale (1921-1989)

"Fear of failure becomes fear of success for those who never try anything new." —Wayne Dyer

"You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want." —Zig Ziglar

The four most prominent motivational speaker-authors share five similarities that help account for their success:
  1. Childhoods laden with hardships
  2. Insatiable curiosity about human potential
  3. Desire to help others
  4. Backgrounds in careers that required speaking and outgoing personalities, i.e, sales, broadcasting or journalism.
  5. Persistence, persistence
Napoleon Hill was born into poverty in rural Virginia and his mother died when he was 10. Earl Nightingale also grew up poor, in Long Beach, California during the Depression, and his father left the family when he was 12. Wayne Dyer spent the first decade of his life in foster homes and orphanages. Zig Ziglar was born in rural Alabama during the Depression and his father died when he was still a boy.

From an early age, Napoleon Hill tried to find the answer to how people from meager backgrounds with no discernible advantages manage to reach tremendous heights in life. Striving to overcome a handicap of birth of ignorance and superstition, he studied the greats Emerson, Paine, Edison, Darwin, Lincoln, Ford, Carnegie and his namesake, Napoleon and tried to reshape his own character by emulating them. As a mountain reporter working his way through law school, Hill had an assignment to write a series of success stories of famous men and interviewed Andrew Carnegie. The steel magnate then commissioned the young reporter to interview more than 500 millionaires to find a success formula that could be used by the average person. It took Hill over 20 years to produce his ground-breaking book, 'Think and Grow Rich,' in 1937.

In the book, Hill tells a story that illustrates his philosophy that whatever your mind can conceive and believe it can achieve. A man named Barnes was bent on partnering with Thomas Edison. One day Barnes showed up at Edison's door and Edison thought he looked like a tramp. But impressed with the determination on his face, Edison offered Barnes a job in his office at a nominal wage. It was not exactly the golden horseshoe, but when the opportunity did present itself, it turned out differently than Barnes expected. Edison had invented a dictating machine that left his salesmen unenthused. Barnes knew he could sell it so Edison gave him a contract to market the machine all over the nation. Barnes made a pile of money and proved that he could really think and grow rich.

Like his idol, Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale was hungry for knowledge. As a young boy he would frequent the Long Beach Public Library in California, searching for the answer to a question similar to Hills' - "How can a person, starting from scratch, who has no particular advantage in the world, reach the goals that he feels are important to him, and, by so doing, make a major contribution to others?"

As a member of the Marine Corps, Nightingale volunteered to work at a local radio station as an announcer. Years later, he would become host of his own daily commentary program and for three decades was heard on more than 1,000 radio stations across the U.S., Canada, and 10 foreign countries. When he was 29, he read 'Think and Grow Rich' and its message, "We become what we think about," would become his credo. As owner of an insurance company, Nightingale spent time motivating his sales force to greater accomplishments. His sales manager begged him to put his inspirational words on record. The result, entitled 'The Strangest Secret,' reveals the answer to the question that had inspired him as a youth. The recording was also the first spoken word message to win a Gold Record by selling over a million copies.

Zig Ziglar grew up with insecurities and small expectations. As a salesman, he had little confidence until a sales exec told him that if he would only recognize his ability he d become a great one. Ziglar went on to become a star salesman and many of his books focus on improving the self-esteem of sales people around the world.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, author of 20 self-help books, is the only author in the self-improvement section of Barnes & Noble on 82nd Street and Broadway, to have a shelf embossed with his name. Affectionately known by fans as the father of motivation, Dyer began his career as an educator and eventually earned a doctorate in counseling psychotherapy.

He too borrowed from Napoleon Hill, especially the philosophy that we become what we think about. One principle he lives by is to focus on what you want and refuse to let anyone stand in your way. He uses the example of the Wright Brothers. I don't think Orville and Wilbur said to each other, "This thing is heavier than air, so how will it get off the ground?"

How can we emulate these four masters of self-improvement? While we have no control over our birthright, we can expand our curiosity, help others to achieve their dreams, and always keep our eye on the ball.

Francine Silverman is author of 'Book Marketing from A-Z' (Infinity Publishing 2005), a compilation of the best marketing strategies of 325 authors from all over the English-speaking world.
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