I attended, as one of the required parents, a school dance to which my teenage son had been invited. I happened to be watching him from across the room, when I noticed him staring at a pretty girl standing on the sidelines of the dance floor. Well, I walked over to him and asked him why he didn’t ask the pretty girl to dance. And he kind of blushed and said that she’d probably say no. I mentioned to him that by not at least asking, he was guaranteeing his failure. By asking, he had a 50/50 chance of succeeding. Then I walked away. A few moments later I saw him approach the girl, say something to her, and she smiled, nodded her head, and pretty soon they were dancing. I managed to catch my son’s eye, and he grinned at me as though to say, “That’s not a bad, Dad.”
I often wondered how many people guarantee their not doing something simply because they don’t give it a real try. They’re whipped before they even start. There’s a book published by Reader’s Digest Press titled The Fear of Success by a Dr. Leon Tec. Dr. Tec is a psychiatrist, who, in the book, reveals the origins and patterns and how to conquer the fear of success, which he says is a very common condition.
He writes, “The fear of success can be defined with simplicity. It’s an unconscious fear of what one consciously considers important and desirable. To understand the fear of success, it’s necessary to consider this variable of our personality in connection with two other adjacent variables, the fear of failure and the wish to succeed. The fear of failure may be defined as the conscious fear that a person’s incompetence will result in specific mistakes. The wish to succeed may be defined as a person’s conscious drive for effective accomplishment of an indicated task. Now the fear of success may be seen as the person’s unconscious fear that his success is not justified and that he’s a fraud. These three variables to our personality are not static and fixed in their relation to one another, but are in constant flux. They operate in an intertwined and dynamic fashion.”
Now when my son hesitated to ask a pretty girl to dance, he was acutely conscious of all sorts of imagined shortcomings, the way he looked, the way he danced, and so on. We’re always fully conscious of our shortcomings when considering something new and strange.
A man came to see me this morning who for years has been wanting to go into a particular kind of business. He loves that business; he knows it; he’s dying to begin it. He even has a location picked out and has checked to find that it’s indeed available. But, well, he wanted to talk to me first. He wanted, I suppose, assurance that he was doing the right thing. Now I’m fairly sure that if I’d told him it was a ridiculous idea and to stick with his present job, he might have done it, at least for another year or so, but I told him that I could see no valid reason why he shouldn’t go right ahead. I thought his idea was a good one and one that would succeed in the market he had selected. So he left my office beaming, and I think he’ll go ahead and do it. He is, as we all tend to be at times, afraid of success.
I’m reminded of the lyrics of the song that go, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The same thing might be said about the ventures we dream of doing. It’s better to do them and take our chances than to stand forever undecided on the sidelines.
I read a magazine article recently that gave Henry Ford credit for inventing the assembly line. He did not invent the assembly line. As far as it’s known, it was invented by Eli Whitney, the famous inventor of the cotton gin. He didn’t use the assembly line system for the manufacture of cotton gins, for which, incidentally, he never made a dime; the gin became immensely popular, but his design was openly pirated and he received no royalties.
The invention of the assembly line came about when Eli Whitney received a contract to manufacture rifles for the government. He made the parts interchangeable, another important invention of his, and used the assembly method to manufacture. For the first time in the history of so-called civilization, the part of one product would fit another. Before that time, each piece was made by hand and no two parts were exactly the same.
Henry Ford also gets credit for having invented the motorcar. He didn’t do that either. The automobile was invented by the German Karl Benz, who named it after his daughter, Mercedes, hence Mercedes Benz. What Henry Ford did do, and none of this is an attempt to in any way diminish his tremendous contribution to industry and people everywhere, was apply Eli Whitney’s assembly line system to the manufacture of motorcars. That had never been done before. And, just as important, get the price of the car within the range of the average family and working person. That, Henry did do, and with such enormous success that he quickly became one of the world’s richest men and founded an empire that’s today one of the world’s largest.
Henry Ford has often been castigated for his faults, of which he had a goodly share, just like the rest of us. But he was a mechanical and automotive and production genius, and it’s perfectly understandable that he could not have the same pre-eminence in every field of knowledge. What he did do was begin what was to become the most important industrial industry on earth, and make it possible for millions to own and operate their own automobiles, instead of just the very wealthy. Sometimes we feel a little sorry about that, but he did do it. And even though he really didn’t get started in the business that was to become so successful until he was in his 40s, he did live to enjoy his accomplishments and his immense wealth.
People are often confused about what it takes to achieve outstanding success in life. It isn’t necessary to invest or begin anything new. It’s the person who can put a good idea into productive action who’s important in our society; societies themselves are a dime a dozen. Henry Royce, who developed the Rolls Royce automobile, didn’t invent anything either. He simply tried his best to perfect something. You don't have to invent writing to become famous and rich as a writer, and it’s the same in any field. Frank Sinatra, as far as I know, never wrote a bestselling song in his life. But he became rich and famous because of his rare talent in selling the songs written by others.
You don’t have to start anything new. In fact, it’s best not to. You won’t have the years of agony of trying to sell a new idea, which people tend to resist with all they can resist with. Just give them an idea they’re already sold on, but make it better.
The reasons there’s just as much opportunity lurking around today as ever before, in fact, a good deal more, is because there are so many things we are accustomed to and will buy. All you have to do is make one of them, just one, better.