I have been fortunate to have had many people who encouraged me toward self-improvement. An early example was an employer’s requirement to complete Dale Carniegie’s training to learn “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” As those of you who know me might expect, it did require staying after class a few times. I almost dropped out when I was required to stand up in front of the class and yell with believable enthusiasm, “Boy, do I feel good.” But somehow, I got through it and completed the course. Other than making some great friends in the class and remembering their names for a few months, the long-term affect was not as dramatic as was hoped. I do still remember to “live in a day tight compartment” and that “any fool can criticize, condemn and complain.”
Admittedly, my anti-establishment beliefs ran and still run deep. I didn’t buy their politics, their wars, their attitudes on race or religion, their dog-eat-kennel mentality. I didn’t want to dress like them, talk like them or concentrate on my golf swing. I didn’t want to demure to the “man” or respect a fool for his money or power. And still don’t.
Subsequently, I was encouraged by employers to be Ziglarized, motivated, sold on success, taught to be productive and trained to be a leader. I’ve listened to 10,000 miles of cassettes, read dozens of books, done exercises, been coached, retreated, meditated, counseled and cajoled (George W. Bush wasn’t on tour during my self-improvement phase). Generally, with the same result. As I once said to my wife about technology, but the same is true for me when it comes to self-improvement, “the mind is like a rock. Pour the water of knowledge on it and it looks wet, but almost nothing sinks in.” Okay, I do remember a Ziglar story from “See You at The Top” that I loved – how to train fleas. I love it because I suffer from flea training and still observe friends and their children who suffer from it. It goes something like this:
“To train fleas you place some fleas in a jar with a lid on the jar. The fleas will, of course, begin to jump, repeatedly hitting the lid in their attempt to escape. Wait about 20 minutes. The fleas begin to grow tired of hitting their head on the jar lid. They just give up and will no longer jump as high. Once they become accustomed to the fact that if they jump too high they will hit their heads on the lid. You can remove the lid and the fleas will continue to jump at the same height, never escaping the jar.”
One exception to those who watered my rock was Mooney Player. You’ve probably never heard of him. For much of his life, Mooney was a high school football coach in South Carolina at Saluda High School and Lower Richland. His teams won five state championships in his 18-years of coaching. Ken Burger, executive sports director at the Charleston Post and Courier, said of Mooney,
“He won 90 percent of his games by turning ordinary players into true believers.”*
In 1974, after a year as an assistant coach to Lou Holtz, the University of South Carolina was looking to replace Paul Dietzel and Mooney wanted the job. He campaigned publicly for it, saying that, “if his teams didn’t win at least 10 games, he wouldn’t accept a salary.” Of course, the university would never hire a high school football coach (hired Jim Carlen) and Mooney stopped coaching and became a motivational consultant. That’s when I met Mooney.
Mooney taught me to be productive and helped me learn to communicate without pissing off everyone in the process (I’m still working on that lesson). He didn’t have books or tapes and generally worked from a notebook more fitting for a football sideline. Mooney taught me to establish goals, break them into meaningful steps that could be accomplished and to set priorities. He taught me to plan each day with A, B and C priorities and to only do the A’s. His thinking was if you take care of the big things, the small things weren’t worth doing. I believed him and it works.
That is until you either run out of goals, or you live in “the worst economy since the great depression.” For many of us, business just stopped last year. Those of us who know a thing or two about a lousy economy or depression know that you gotta re-up. Set new goals. Break out the steps. Learn new things. Implement. Stay productive. Keep good habits. Stay busy. Most of us quickly accomplished our social marketing. We updated our sales tools. We streamlined. We planned. We called. We met. We scaled back. And we tried harder.
After a while of not having A priorities that could be accomplished (see training fleas, above) and being bored silly with B priorities, I found myself compulsively accomplishing C priorities. Those easy things to accomplish that fill our lives and have almost no positive consequence, except the sense of accomplishment that comes from crossing things off a list. I’m over that.
I know unemployment will likely worsen. That small business will likely not see an upturn for a year or more. That the worst may be behind us, but the future is going to be awfully hard. I know the stimulus won’t help me much. That health care reform, should it pass, won’t help me until after the next presidential election when it would go into effect. That doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m not looking for Washington to solve my problems. I’m setting new goals. I’m going to break them into daily steps that I can accomplish. And I’m going cold-turkey on the C priorities.
I’m guessing that is how Nero must have felt when he stopped fiddling and looked out to see Rome in ashes. What a mess. Let’s get out the broom and get to work.
*”Looking back at Mooney the motivator.” The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC). 2001. Retrieved November 04, 2009 from accessmylibrary.