Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Formulas, Secrets, Universal Truths



Graduates, families and everyone who came to celebrate this momentous occasion, thank you for the opportunity to participate.

Thomas Szansz said that boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity is the feeling that nothing is a waste of time. So let’s begin by striking a bargain. If you will choose serenity for the next few minutes (and it is a choice), I’ll try not to waste your time.

Let’s talk about formulas, secrets, and universal truths.

I dedicated my last book to the memory of my grandfather, saying “I wish I had known then what I know now.”

I don’t mean that I wish I had known life’s secrets, nor do I wish that I already possessed the wisdom that can only come from success and failure, tragedy and triumph. What would be the point of living if we knew it all from the start?

What I mean is that I wish I had known better and sooner how to listen, how to pay respectful attention in order to better build my own belief system sooner.  

Here are a few tidbits of the advice that I received before I really paid attention:
                       
            You have two ears and one mouth so you should listen twice as much as you talk.
            Life is not fair; deal with it.
            Successful people make a habit of doing things other people don’t want to do.
            Spend less than you earn; save and invest the difference .
            The workplace is a hierarchy, not a democracy.
            Accept responsibility for all aspects of your life.
            And the one I really did not want to hear on graduation day, “Your education is just beginning.”
        
           
With the great advances in technology since my graduation, especially during the last two decades, I am told I must say something about it. So here is my technology story.  

I arrived at my first job after graduation and took my junior accountant seat at an old oak desk farthest from the 7th floor windows of the oil and gas building in downtown Fort Worth.    

My first assignment was to go down into the basement and make copies of a report. You might think I was put off by such an assignment, what with my freshly minted degree. I wasn’t—I had more serious concerns.

In the basement, I saw this giant machine that I knew must have cost thousands of dollars. I had seen a Xerox machine before, but had never used one. I walked around it a few times, afraid to touch the myriad of buttons for fear I would break it. I was about to panic when a lady about my mother’s age walked in and stood behind me, waiting her turn to make copies.

She saw my red face and asked if she could help. Oh, how I hated to admit that I didn’t know how to use that machine. I worried for days whether she would tell my new colleagues just how green I was.

If I can advance from that point to having my own website and writing regular posts to my blog, then I’m not worried about a generation who likely had computers in their baby cribs. Some of you are probably texting right now.

Here is what does worry me. That in the rush to keep pace, we will forget or never learn basic principles that never change—timeless and universal truths that have been recognized by great men and women for centuries. These truths are more important than technology. Much more important.

I learned these critical lessons, but I wish I had learned them sooner. I have told my wife Jan that I want these words on my tombstone. Could have done more, could have done it better, wish I had. If I had only known sooner.

I had eight jobs in eight years after my graduation. Two companies went bankrupt while I worked for them, one more fell shortly after I left. I got justifiably fired from another.

I felt like the cartoon character who walks around with a cloud over his head. I hope your first decade is better. But it is almost guaranteed that you will experience some missteps along the way, if not downright failures.

I discovered later that each of those failures had taught me invaluable lessons—lessons that led me to run a successful business of my own—even to advise others.

But in midlife, it seemed I had reached a plateau in my career and personal life, and that plateau was not very high. I opened branch offices in three other towns. Two failed, one struggled.

This was the era of learning leadership and business principles through books like  In Search of Excellence, Thriving on Chaos, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,  and just about the time I jumped into shark-infested waters, Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.

A year or so into reading and listening to these great trainers and writers, one of them told me to look in the mirror if I wanted to find the source of most of my problems. So I asked the image in my mirror, “How long before you start applying what you have learned to your own life?”

That look in the mirror led me to self-improvement and positive thinking folks like Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, Brian Tracy, and many others.  They convinced me that certain truths applied to a country boy from Klondike, just like the successful and famous. And they taught me how to set goals.

But I was still a skeptic, dismissive of rah-rah and platitudes. I wanted things to be proven by logic and empirical evidence.  I sought the secret, the formula for success, while doubting that either existed.

W. Clement Stone, a poor boy who made good (very good), took Og Mandino, an alcoholic, under his wing. Og went on to write some of the most successful business books ever published, became editor of Success Magazine, and was one of the best motivational speakers I have ever heard.  One of his books was called The Greatest Secret in the World.

Mandino led me to Earl Nightingale and his recorded message in beautiful baritone called The Strangest Secret. The lights began to come on.

Stone also introduced me to a book that virtually every salesman (but few accountants) knew by heart in those days, Think and Grow Rich, written by Napoleon Hill and first published in 1937.  

Hill had been commissioned by Andrew Carnegie to research and write a book about why successful people succeeded. And Carnegie gave him access to some of the world’s most accomplished people. It took Hill twenty years to complete his book.

My skeptical ears perked up when I heard that. In twenty years, Hill had surely found that elusive formula I was seeking.

So now I had it—Hill’s well-researched formula and Mandino’s and Nightingale’s secrets.

They led me to Dr. Joseph Murphy’s book, The Power of the Subconscious Mind, to Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics, and to Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. They proved to me the connection between mind and body.

My career took a new direction as I took their ideas and weaved them into the message I was conveying to the relatively new financial planning profession as part of my new company.  One night in Canadian, Texas, the Oasis of the Panhandle, I had another awakening.

I did a presentation for local CPA Mike Gardiner. Mike invited all of his clients to the community room of his church to hear me. After the program, I discovered a set of my handouts had been left in a chair. They had been scribbled all over. Beside each of my formulas and secrets, someone had written a biblical verse. Mike’s pastor had occupied that chair.

At Mike’s house, we looked up the verses.  The man had found biblical prose that espoused every principle in my handout. As my plane took flight out of Amarillo, I looked out the window at the desolate but beautiful Panhandle landscape and understood what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said, “All my best ideas were stolen by the ancients”. Humility settled on me like a warm quilt on a cold night.

Alexander Graham Bell (the Steve Jobs of his day) said, “What this power is I cannot say, all I know is that it exists and it becomes available only when a man is in that state of mind in which he knows exactly what he wants and is fully determined not to quit until he finds it.”  I now knew what that power was.

I told about my encounter with the preacher to one of the acclaimed trainers and authors I was following; about my discovery that his ideas and others were as old as time; about the
Source of the subconscious; about the connection between affirmations and prayer.

His response: “It took you long enough.”

I asked, “Why didn’t you just say so in the beginning?”

He replied, “Would you have believed me or would you have turned away? You were focused on results, not on principles. The what of things vs. the why. You wanted proof instead of truth.”  

That sent me back to the mirror and a serious look at whether their methods worked. I was  surprised to find that many of my goals had already been achieved. Maybe not exactly when or how I had envisioned, but achieved nonetheless. I had just been going too fast to see it.

As I looked back at some of the irrational, out-of-character, and risky decisions I had made, the only explanation possible was that I had been guided. When I left the path, Guidance set me on the path again. All I had to do was ask. I understood then that life is lived forward, but understood backward.

So what are these universal truths?  

In a quarter century of conducting thousands of client interviews and asking about their fondest hopes, dreams and aspirations, one word was repeated most often. That word was freedom, freedom to pursue life’s path with joy.

We all have a purpose in life-a call, if you will. Find yours. It’s okay to find the correct path by making mistakes, taking the wrong path. In America’s unequaled system of free enterprise, search for your particular way of providing value, whether in a good or a service. Money will follow.

When you find your path, follow it, and ask for help to keep you on the path. The only thing that stands between you and what you want is the will to try and the faith to believe it is possible. Don’t delay, as I did, in finding your purpose. 

Find folks who have been-there-done-that and emerged as successes on a personal and financial level. Study what they did. Read their work, listen to them, seek their advice.  Jim Rohn put it another way when he said, “Find out what failures do, and don’t do it.”
           
Success formulas and secrets have been known since ancient times.  But it’s in the implementation of the concepts where the rubber meets the road. One quality possessed  by every person Napoleon Hill studied was self-discipline.

You must choose to do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not. Self discipline is also what keeps you from doing what you should not.  

Read at least one hour a day (tweets and texts don’t count).  We need longer attention spans, not shorter.

If you really desire to be successful at anything, you must engage in deliberate practice.
           
Enjoy the little things, because someday you may look back and see that they were really the big things.
           
Go wide and deep. And no, I don’t mean football. I mean life. You may have within you  the capacity for several careers and endeavors. But if you must choose between wide and deep, go deep.
                       
Daniel H. Burnham said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood.  Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.   

One more story: Renowned author and investor Alexander Green knows about universal truths. He was browsing in a bookstore with a friend when they encountered Nicholas Taleb, the best-selling author of The Black Swan. All three were speaking at a financial conference close by. 

Nicholas’ announcement that he was planning a book on religion prompted an argument with Green’s friend as to whether a particular theological point "was true."

Nicholas pointed to the fiction section of the bookstore and asked, "How about all those books over there. Are they true?"

"Of course not," Green’s friend said. "They're novels."

Green stepped into the argument. "But they are full of universal truths."

Nicholas smiled with satisfaction and said, "Exactly!"

In Green’s book Beyond Wealth, he says, “Seek enlightenment wherever you can find it. It doesn't matter whether the source is ancient, modern, mythical, foreign, mystical, or verified by the latest scientific findings. It only matters that it's true - and that it has some practical application for more skillful living.”

In his timeless book, As a Man Thinketh, James Allen said:

Cherish your visions, cherish your ideals, cherish the music that stirs in your heart, the beauty that forms in your mind, the loveliness that drapes your purest thoughts. If you will remain true to them, your world will at last be built.

I leave you with my own words to remember when you become discouraged:

Enjoy these days of struggle, the best you can.  Because almost surely you will look back on them with fondness. Try to hear the music that sings in all of our souls. On some days, success will seem to reside on a mountain that reaches through the clouds – a mountain you sometimes tire of climbing. But then there will be other days when success visits like a firefly at twilight, elusive and distant at once, then brushing your cheek or resting on the back of your hand, too swift to touch.  Someday, a firefly will land in your palm. Don’t close your hand around it, because the light will go out. Allow yourself to feel the thrill of success changing from stranger to friend, then let it fly away so you can find it again.

10 comments:

ndtttttttttttt said...

EXCELLENT stories. Well done Jim. Makes me proud to be one of your friends.

ndtttttttttttt said...

That last comment came from Dale Talkington of Stillwater, OK

Laci said...

That was awesome! I know the graduates enjoyed it as much as I did.
Laci Northam

Mary C. said...

Jim-It's excellent! Thank you for sharing it with those who could not be there in person. I shall keep it in a folder alongside the 1972 ET commencement address of Dr. Paul Wells Barrus: "The Furnished Mind".
Mary C.

OBSERVER said...

Well done my friend.

EarlStubbs said...

A commencement speech may be the purest art form. You pulled it off with aplomb and skill.

You should write a book.

Claude Nougat said...

Excellent speech, perfect for commencement of course, but great in general! I love the firefly in your hand image...

Doc Turner said...

and the congregation said: Amen!
Brother Ainsworth, you have spoken much of that elusive truth. As I ruminated about your comments, it seemed to me that in a few paragraphs you had more than adequately summarized Ecclesiastes. Nicely done. And the reader said: Amen!
Doc

Jim Ainsworth said...

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting

Jim Ainsworth said...

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting