I was honored and grateful to have an opportunity to speak to the graduates of Texas A&M-Commerce at spring 2013 commencement. But the responsibility was heavy. What could I say that would get these mostly young folks to stop tweeting and texting long enough to hear what I had to say? And what could I say that would help them?
So I took myself back to my state of mind when I graduated (back when graduates came to the ceremony horseback). I lacked self confidence, knowledge, and wisdom, of course. I was seeking the secret, the formula for success, while doubting that either existed (especially for a poor country boy like me). I wanted to convince these graduates to begin their search earlier than I had, much earlier. And I wanted them to search for the right things.
Almost twenty years after I graduated, I stalled in my search for formulas and secrets, even after reading and listening to some of the greatest teachers of the time. Their advice helped, but I still could not completely accept that their principles would really work in my life and career. Why? I don’t know. Could have been natural skepticism, or the feeling that a lot depends on luck, or maybe because I felt I had started way behind the pack. I now know it was because I lacked true faith.
Then I began to read stories about their lives and discovered that a lot of these folks had rougher starts than I had.
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. You can hear more about that awakening here.
I began the search for what I should have been searching for all along—timeless, universal, eternal truths. These truths are much, much, more important than technology, formulas, or secrets. And they’re not even secrets.
A few weeks later, a unique door opened for me to attend a school and become a licensed speaker and facilitator with one of my heroes. Two weeks into the school, I stood up in class and told the instructor about the preacher in Canadian; 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 don’t you and the others just come right out and say that?”
He replied, “Would you have believed me or would you have turned away? When you came to us, you were focused on results, not on principles; the what of things vs. the why. You wanted proof instead of truth.” He was right.
I began to understand that life is lived forward, but understood backward.
As I looked back at some of the irrational, highly risky, and atypical decisions I had made, I discovered that I had been guided. I had clumsily and almost unwittingly asked for the guidance through my attempts to improve myself, and it had been provided. That discovery changed my life for the better.
One of the professors who heard my commencement speech asked me to give him some concrete examples of how the principles I spoke of in my address to the graduates applied to my life. So I did. I keep a journal and am a list maker (in other words—I look back a lot these days). I could easily provide dozens of instances where I had been guided without realizing it at the time. Many seemed no more than serendipity to me at the time—the luck of the draw—but they were more than that.
So what has all this got to do with what I do now—writing and selling mostly mainstream novels? Remember what I said about the lights coming on when I heard the true stories behind my heroes? I found this was true as I carried my own message across the country. People remember stories. In his book Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton says, “I had always felt life first as a story; and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.” I certainly am not the story-teller he is referring to, but life is made up of a sequence of stories.
I told the graduates to pay attention to the little things, because you may later realize they were the big things. Telling stories through novels allows me to pay more attention to those things.
So, have I had many blessings and serendipitous events (Godwinks) in this new business? Yes. For example, Home Light Burning my fourth novel, almost entirely came about because of a series of Godwinks. But as in previous careers, there have been many failures and disappointments.
Have any of my books made the best seller list? No, but I have made many new friends and renewed many old acquaintances through my writing. And writing does make me think. It makes me read and enjoy reading more than I ever have.
Will seeking eternal truths and praying make me successful in writing? It doesn’t seem so now, but we won’t know that until we have more time to look back, will we? I am still living this part of my life forward. I expect I will understand it more when I look back.
Joseph Campbell said, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it's not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That's why it's your path.”
When I read that, I thought it conflicted with Napoleon Hill’s formula of self discipline and singular focus, never taking your eyes off your goals. Now I think they are compatible because well, goals are steps along that path that Campbell talks about. That’s why I plan to keep on taking steps that sometimes confuse me, almost content in the knowledge I will understand later.
So are the things I mentioned Godwinks, coincidences, luck, action by my subconscious as the tangible result of setting goals and doing positive affirmations, or are they blessings and answers to prayers? You decide. I already have.