The stories of people achieving unusual success despite all manner of handicaps never fail to capture our attention. They're inspirational to be sure. But they're much more than that if we study them closely. The boy whose legs were terribly burned and who was told he'd be lucky to ever walk again becomes a champion track star. The woman blind and deaf from birth becomes one of the most inspirational figures in the century. And the poor children who rise to fame and fortune have nearly become commonplace.
In this age of unprecedented immigration, we read about and see on television examples of people who arrived in this country without any money and without knowing a word of English and who within a surprisingly short time have become wonderfully successful. In fact, the typical Korean family that has immigrated to the United States during the past 20 years has a higher average income than the average American family that was born and went to school here.
Now how does that happen? Freedom, personal liberty, is the most precious thing on earth. It is also one of the rarest; hence its great value. People who manage to get to America, despite mountainous problems and miles of red tape, often find themselves free for the first time in their lives. It's a joyous, wonderful experience for them. And in this newfound freedom, they set to work to find a place for themselves. They go to work serving their new country and its people. Time means nothing to them.
To them, being free to pursue their own ends in the richest, freest country on the planet is everything. They all go to work. And they work hard and their work is excellent, first-class, as good as they can do it, and it's priced fairly. There's no complaining or sense of entitlement. All they want is the opportunity, and once that's theirs, they make the most of it.
In New York City, a Korean family managed to buy a small convenience grocery store in Midtown Manhattan. The first thing they did was clean it. It sparkled with cleanliness. Then they stocked it with everything they felt the people in their area wanted in the way of things you find in a grocery store. They were open early in the morning; they stayed open late at night. They never failed to smile and give a friendly greeting to their customers. Naturally they became wonderfully successful. They were open seven days a week. One day customers coming to the store found it closed and on the door was a sign giving the reason why. It read, "We've gone to Yale University to watch our son graduate." That's an American story. It's the true story of people who found joy and freedom and in the opportunity to serve their fellow man and make the most of it.
What sets these people apart, people with such vast handicaps such as not knowing the language, not knowing the right people, not having any money, or the boy with the burned legs who becomes the champion runner or a Helen Keller, blind and deaf, who becomes one of the most inspirational figures of our time? What in the world's the answer? The answer, if fully understood, will bring you and me anything and everything we truly want, and it's deceptively simple. Perhaps it's too simple.
The people we've talked about here and the thousands currently doing the same thing all over the country are in possession of something the average American doesn't have. They have goals. They have a burning desire to succeed despite all handicaps. They know exactly what they want; they think about it every day of their lives. It gets them up in the morning and it keeps them giving their very best all day long. It's the last thing they think about before dropping off to sleep at night. They have a vision of exactly what they want to do, and that vision carries them over every obstacle. It's what drives them at every level.
This vision, this dream, this goal, invisible to all the world except the person holding it, is responsible for perhaps every great advance and achievement of humankind. It's the underlying motive for just about everything we see about us. Everything worthwhile achieved by men and women is a dream come true, a goal reached. It's been said that what the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.
It's the fine building where before there was an empty lot or an ancient eyesore. It's the bridge spanning the bay. It's landing on the moon. And it's that little convenience store in Midtown Manhattan. It's the lovely home on a tree-shaded street and the young person accepting the diploma. It's the new baby in its mother's arms. It's a low golf handicap and a position reached in the world of business. It's a certain income attained or amount of money invested. What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.
We become what we think about. And when we're possessed by an exciting goal, we reach it. That's why it's been said, "Be choosy therefore, of what you set your heart upon. For if you want it strongly enough, you'll get it." Amen to that.
It's been said that Americans can have anything they want. The trouble is they don't know what they want. Oh, they want little things. They want a new car; they get it. They want a new refrigerator; they get it. They want a new home, and they get it. The system never fails for them, but they don't seem to understand that it is a system. Nor that if it'll work for a refrigerator or a new car, it will work for anything else they want very much, just as well.
Perhaps that's best. People come in all shapes and sizes and with goals of infinitely varying specifications, if they have goals at all. Once a person fully and emotionally understands that the goals that are important to him or her can become real in his or her life, well it's like opening a jack-in-the-box: All sorts of interesting and exciting things begin to happen. Quite often we become truly alive for the first time in our lives. We look back at our former lives and realize we were shuffling along in a kind of lock-step, that we were actually taking our cues from those about us in the unspoken assumption that we're all alike — when nothing could be further from the truth.
We are not all alike. Each of us is different, with different genetic profiles, different wants in life. What will wonderfully satisfy one particular family and represent complete success for them would be considered failure for another family. All because of their different aspirations, their different plateaus in life, the difference in their lifestyles, upbringings, education. Every facet of our environment as youngsters has an effect upon us and helps to set our course in life.
The youngster who knew poverty as a child might aspire to be wealthy. He might overcompensate because of the desolation in his youth. While another young man raised in an upper-middle-class family who always had just about everything he wanted might settle for a very middle-class adulthood. Things we've always had aren't as important to us as they are to those who have been without them.
We talk about freedom and how dear it is to those who never had it. Most Americans take it for granted and never even think about it. If you ask most Americans what the most important thing in the world is for a human being, chances are they'd seldom come up with freedom. Yet as Archibald MacLeish wrote in his find play, The Secret of Freedom, "The secret of happiness is freedom. And the secret of freedom, courage."
To understand the subject and the importance of goal setting, we have to realize that it's the very basis of any success. It is in fact the definition of success. The best definition of success I've ever found goes like this, "Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal. Or in some cases the pursuit of a worthy ideal." If you'll give these definitions some thought, I think you'll agree with me, success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal. It's a beautiful definition of success. It means that anyone who's on course toward the fulfillment of a goal is successful.
Now, success doesn't lie in the achievement of a goal, although that's what the world considers success; it lies in the journey toward the goal. We're successful as long as we're working toward something we want to bring about in our lives. That's when the human being is at his or her best. That's what Cervantes meant when he wrote, "The road is better than the inn."
Quite often romantic stories end with the loving couple getting married. That's just the beginning of the real story. When the young person stands before his school's president or principal and receives the diploma, that's called commencement. That's the beginning. It's an important milestone to be sure, and congratulations are certainly in order, but where are you going from there? Once a person has realized the goal for which he or she has so assiduously toiled, that's wonderful. It's time for a rest and some self-congratulations. There's time to savor the achievement. But we're no longer successful by my definition until we set a new higher goal toward which to work. We're at our best when we're climbing, thinking, planning, working. When we're on the road toward something we want to bring about.
I don't mean by this that we should become workaholics; far from it. In fact, it's been well established that the most successful men and women manage to live in a wonderful state of balance with lots of recreation. Take that word recreate apart when you've got some time, and you'll find it interesting. And they get lots of rest. The mind works best when we're properly rested, and our minds are the best and most important parts of us, regardless of what we choose to do. Did you ever hear an athlete say it's about 90% mental? Whatever the percentage really is, in a good game of golf or tennis, it's very large. Our mental attitude can make all the difference between winning and losing.
With our definition, success being the progressive realization of a worthy goal, we cover all the bases. The young person working to finish school is as successful as any person on earth. The person working toward a particular position with his or her company is just as successful. If you have a goal that you find worthy of you as a person, a goal that fills you with joy at the thought of it, believe me, you'll reach it. But as you draw near and see that the goal will soon be achieved, begin to think ahead to the next goal you're going to set. It often happens that a writer halfway through a book will hit upon the idea for his next one and begin making notes or ideas for a title even while he's finishing work on the one in progress. That's the way it should be.
We are at our very best and we are happiest when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goals we've established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.
Most people, when they think of the word success, tend to equate it with lots of money. Sometimes that's a natural part of the goal and tells us how well we're doing. But not always, by any means. Success is whatever we want it to be, that is worthy of us. That's why I commented earlier that success may also be defined as the pursuit of a worthy ideal.
For example, I can't imagine anyone being more successful than an outstanding teacher who's striving to know more about the art of teaching and the subject matter that will catch the interest of his or her pupils, who understands that every student is different and learns at a different rate of speed. Joy and satisfaction come to us from serving others, and there are literally millions of ways of doing that. For those whose goals involve the serving of great numbers of people, chances are they'll be richly rewarded indeed. In fact, for many, a goal is a certain level of income or a certain amount of money in an investment account.
A goal is an individual thing, as individual as the person him- or herself. Since no two people are exactly alike, it stands to reason that no two of us will have exactly the same goals. One thing a goal must do, however, is fill us with positive emotion when we think about it. It must be something we want very much to bring about. The more intensely we feel about a goal, the more assuredly the idea buried deep in our subconscious will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.
I once used the quotation, "No one gets rich without enriching others." I received a letter from a man in Utah who wrote, "How about those who get rich in the drug trade or those who produce and sell pornography? How do they enrich others?" It was a good question, especially in these times. I wrote back to him and told him that my definition of success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal. Certainly people in the drug and pornography business will not qualify as successful. What they're doing is counterproductive and destructive and involves, in the case of drugs, the enslavement and death of thousands.
And I went on to say that while our needs are few and relatively simple, our wants, in this incredibly affluent society, are virtually endless. By meeting those wants, whatever they may be, we serve others, not always for their benefit, nor to our own, nor would I call those in drugs and pornography successful, nor do their riches amount to much if they're apprehended and sent to prison. But I did stop using that quotation. It is possible to get rich without enriching others. But for most of us, it's not the way we want to go.
It's nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others. But whatever our goal happens to be, if we stay with it, if we're fully committed to it, we'll reach it. That's the way it works.
It's estimated that about 5% of the population achieves unusual success. For the rest, averages seem to be good enough. Most seem to just drift along, taking circumstances as they come, and perhaps hoping from time to time that things will get better.
I like to compare human beings to ships, as Carlyle used to do. It's estimated that about 95% can be compared to ships without rudders. Subject to every shift of wind and tide, they're helplessly adrift, and while they fondly hope that they will one day drift into some rich and bustling port, you and I know that for every narrow harbor entrance, there are 1,000 miles of rocky coastline. The chances of their drifting into port are 1,000 to 1 against them. Our state lotteries wax rich on such people; so do the slot machines in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. They look to luck but don't seem to realize how steeply the odds are stacked against them. Someone wins from time to time to be sure, but the odds are still there.
But the 5% who have taken the time and exercised the discipline to climb into the driver's seat of their lives, who've decided upon a challenging goal to reach and have fully committed themselves to reaching it, sail straight and far across the deep oceans of life, reaching one port after another and accomplishing more in just a few years than the rest accomplish in a lifetime.
If you should visit a ship in port and ask the captain for his next port of call, he'll tell you in a single sentence. Even though the captain cannot see his port, his destination for fully 99% of the voyage, he knows it's there. And then, barring an unforeseen and highly unlikely catastrophe, he'll reach it. All he has to do is keep doing certain things every day.
If someone asks you for your next port of call, your goal, could you tell him or her? Is your goal clean and concise in your mind? Do you have it written down? It's a good idea. We need reminding, reinforcement. If you can get a picture of your goal and stick it to your bathroom mirror, it's an excellent idea to do so. Thousands of successful people carry their goals written on a card in their wallets or purses.
When we ask people what they're working for, chances are they'll answer in vague generalities. They might say, "Oh, good health" or "happiness" or "lots of money." That's not good. Good health should be a universal goal. We all want that, and should do our best to achieve and maintain it. But happiness is a byproduct of something else. And lots of money is much too vague. It might work, but I think it's better to choose a particular sum of money. The better, the clearer our goal is defined, the more real it becomes to us, and before long, the more attainable.
Happiness comes from the direction in which we're moving. Children are happier on Christmas morning before opening their presents than they are Christmas afternoon. No matter how wonderful their presents may be, it's after Christmas. They'll enjoy their gift, to be sure, but we often find them querulous and irritable Christmas afternoon. We're happier on our way out to dinner than we are on the way home. We're happier going on vacation than we are coming home from it. And we're happier moving toward our goals than even after they've been accomplished, believe it or not.
That's why it's so important to set new goals as soon as the current one is realized. And we should never stop this process. All the days of our lives we should be engaged in moving toward, earning, and looking forward to a new plateau on which to stand, a new goal to accomplish.
If you, like so many Americans, don't know what it is you want sufficiently to name as your primary goal, I recommend you make out a want list. Take a note pad, go off by yourself, and write down the things you'd really like to have very much or do. One might be a beautiful new home or a trip around the world, a visit to some special country or place. It might be a yearning for a sailboat or motor yacht, or if you're an avid fisherman, you might want to go salmon fishing in Alaska or trout fishing in New Zealand. It might be a business of your own or a particular position with your company. It might be a certain income that will permit you to live the way you'd like to live. It might be a certain city or town where you'd like to live. Just write down everything you can think of that you would really like to see come about in your life. Then when you've exhausted your wants, go over the list again and number the items in the order of their importance and make number one your present goal.
Do this until it become a habit and a knit way of thinking and doing things. Believe me, the system works; it works every time. Life plays no favorites. If anyone can succeed, and millions do, so can you. Of one thing you may be sure, you will become what you think about. If your thinking is circular and chaotic, your life will reflect that chaos. But if your thinking is orderly and clear, if you have a goal that's important for you to reach, then reach it you will. Take one goal at a time. That's important. That's where most people unwittingly make their mistake. They don't concentrate on a single goal long enough to reach it before they're off on another track, then another, with the result that they achieve nothing — nothing but confusion and excuses.
I started looking for the so-called secret of success when I was 12 years old. I read every book I could find on the subject. I studied psychology and sociology. I studied the great religions of the world, and I read the world's greatest philosophers. And all of a sudden, many years later, I realized that in the hundreds of lives I'd studied, in the countless books I'd read, a plain and simple truth had kept appearing. It's believed that no one can learn anything until he or she is ready for it. And apparently I was finally ready in my late 20s to finally see for the first time the secret I had searched for for so long. It was simply this: We become what we think about.
You see, you are at this moment the living embodiment of the sum total of your thoughts to this point in your life. You can be nothing else. Similarly, five years from now, you'll be the sum total of your thoughts to that point in time. But you can control your thoughts. You can decide upon that on which you wish to concentrate, about what you think about from this point forward, and you will become that, you will realize that goal is yours, anything on earth can be sure. That's why having a goal toward which to work is so very important; it gives our minds a focus and our lives direction.
By thinking every morning, every night, and as many times during the day as you can about this exciting single goal we've established for ourselves, we actually begin moving toward it and bringing it toward us. When we concentrate our thinking, it's like taking a river that's twisting and turning and meandering all over the countryside and putting it into a straight, smooth channel. Now it has power, direction, economy, speed, several billions of human beings would give anything they have to enjoy the freedom and personal liberty you and I take for granted — to have the right to choose their work and their goals, to enjoy our bountiful standard of living, our educational system. To know the peace and privacy of our homes and have laws which protect the citizen rather than persecute him.
We have it all. Yet in the midst of our plenty, millions lead unhappy, aimless lives. They live in tiny prisons of their own fashioning. These are the people who don't know that each of us, each one of us, not the economy or fate or luck or the breaks, each one of us is in charge of his or her own life. Each one of us is completely responsible.
As Carlyle put it, "The person without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder. Have a purpose in life. And having it, throw such strength of mind and muscle into your work as God has given you." He also said, "A person with a half volition goes backward and forward and makes no way on the smoothest road. But the person with a whole volition advances on the roughest and will reach his or her purpose if there be even a little wisdom in it."
So decide upon your goal. Insist upon it. Look at your goal card every morning and night and as many times during the day as you conveniently can. By so doing, you will insinuate your goal into your subconscious mind. You'll see yourself as having already attained your goal. And do that every day without fail, and it will become a habit before you realize it. A habit that will take you from one success to another all the years of your life. For that is the secret of success, the door to everything you will ever have or be.
You are now and you most certainly will become what you think about.