Posts Tagged hard work

Nothing Wrong with a Fat Pocketbook

Hillary Clinton recently went to great lengths to save herself from the embarrassment of being financially successful. Her problems started when, in an effort to appeal to the masses, she said that she was “dead broke” when she left the security of the White House. Apparently, poverty polls well.

At one time, I was on pretty shaky financial ground myself, owing much more than I had in assets and earning very little from my fledging business. It’s a story common to many entrepreneurs. You sacrifice and risk comfort, because you believe in your enterprise, but I don’t think that I was ever “dead broke.” I saw true poverty in Africa – people crammed into tiny tin shacks and scavenging along the roadside. That’s “dead broke,” and it’s a far cry from being a former First Lady who can command hundreds of thousands from a speech.

Senator Clinton’s missteps really don’t bother me, but her shying away from success does. Success should be celebrated, especially in a country that was the setting for Senator Clinton’s rise from the Chicago middle class to United States Secretary of State or President Clinton’s rise from a broken home to United States President.

Imagine if Senator Clinton had pointed out that success can be fleeting, but can be recaptured with concentrated effort, instead of trying to sell the idea that two very successful people were destitute. She could have inspired others whose financial success had ebbed. She could have given us hope.


Dr. Shane Lopez of the Gallup Organization wrote a thoroughly researched and critical book, Making Hope Happen, based on his research on hope. Lopez defines hope as the energy and ideas that drive people to change their circumstances, and he champions hope as an extremely powerful tool that everyone can use in response to life’s challenges, such as losing a job or receiving a dire health prognosis.

When we have hope, we see the challenges before us as temporary and beatable. Hope inspires us to push on when life gets difficult. Hope provides a powerful psychological benefit that lifts our spirits, increases our self-esteem and provides us energy. Without it, we’re almost destined to struggle.

One of my greatest sources of hope is the success of others. Seeing others succeed affirms my faith that exceptional things can be accomplished with exceptional effort by exceptional people. It’s a belief that my parents instilled in me at a young age.

My fourth grade year was filled with challenges. It was the year that my parents decided that my physical condition wasn’t something that I would grow out of, like we hoped. That meant frequent three-hour trips from Loup City to Omaha, to see the state’s top neurologists and orthopedists at the Nebraska Medical Center. These trips were never fun, because they invariably entailed painful tests, like muscle biopsies and nerve conduction tests, and a lot of anxiety about my future. To that point, I was a kid with a slight limp. Now, there was talk of brain tumors and muscular dystrophy. Through it all, my parents never allowed me to lose hope.

In spite of the uncertainty and anxiety, they helped me imagine a bright future for myself. They encouraged me to initiate conversations with my doctors and to imagine myself as a physician. When we saw the big houses on the bluffs of the Elkhorn River on the drive in, they told me that I could have a similar home, if I worked hard. They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or unworthy of success. They never told me that life would be easy or that I should expect anything that I didn’t work for, but they gave me hope for a promising future.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to have close friendships with many high achievers who earned their success through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I admire their accomplishments and approach toward their work, and they inspire me to higher standards.

I wish that we saw more messages like that from our leaders and that success would return to high esteem. Imagine what could happen if we valued hope over pity and jealousy.

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Succeed with an Immigrant Attitude

A recent CNN/Money poll revealed that more than 60% of Americans don’t believe that “The American Dream” is attainable. Although the poll was conducted without a concrete definition of the American Dream, its results are concerning, because it reveals that pessimism is overtaking optimism.

Most consider the prospect of the American Dream as a source of optimism, and for the most part, most generations have been able to improve their economic condition over the course of their lifetimes. Perhaps this improvement deluded us into thinking that the American Dream was to be expected with little sacrifice, almost entitled.

When we feel entitled, we misunderstand challenges. Instead of seeing challenges as learning opportunities, we see them as annoyances. We respond to opportunities, and we whine about annoyances. Opportunities advance us, while annoyances bog us down. Over time, annoyances become pessimism.

Zig Ziglar wrote and spoke about what he called, the Immigrant Attitude. The Immigrant Attitude is a belief that hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and thrift will pay dividends.

The Immigrant Attitude is more than a theory. First-generation legal immigrants are typically more successful than their native-born counterparts. They are three to four times more likely to become millionaires, and though they are only 11% of the United States population, they comprise more than 40 percent of the Ivy League student population.

Why? Because they’re optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the United States. They are optimistic, because they recognize the true high value of opportunity. Their appreciation of opportunity often comes from their experience with adversity. Persevering through adversity is a lifestyle for them.

I had my own optimism and appreciation tested a couple of years ago, while on safari in Africa. After a successful morning of hunting, I was enjoying a cool beverage in the shade. A young Zimbabwean named Pretty was waiting on me.

Pretty opened the conversation by asking me about my trip to camp just two days earlier. It’s really hard to find the positives of a 17.5 hour flight and five-hour bus ride, so I said something to the effect that I was glad it was over, and I wasn’t looking forward to the trip back.

“It’s my dream to fly to the United States,” she said. “There is just so much I could do if I was able to get there.” Pretty then told me how she had fled Zimbabwe for South Africa, leaving twin boys behind, during her native country’s political turmoil.

I began to feel really small. I was in Africa, on vacation from work and enjoying being pampered by my hosts. She was in Africa worried sick that she wouldn’t have enough money to support herself, let alone see her children again. I was leaving in five days to return to my comfortable life and its trivial worries in the world’s most prosperous country. She wasn’t sure what would happen to her in a few weeks, when the hunting season ended.

I think of Pretty when my day in the office doesn’t go so well or I find myself fretting over something petty, like a hail-damaged car. I picture Pretty with a huge smile, taking it all in and making the most of it.

If an immigrant were in your shoes, behind your desk, with the same 24 hours in his day, would he be more successful? If the answer is yes, consider adopting the Immigrant Attitude.

“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes the solutions, knows about difficulties, but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but exceeds the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.” ― William Author Ward

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Be the Exception

With his recent New York Times editorial, Russian president Vladimir Putin reignited debate on American exceptionalism. He said that it is blasphemous to think one group of humans to be exceptional and that we are created equal under God. He is right. We are created equal before God, but some do more with what they have. They are exceptional.

Every parent will recognize this phrase or some variation of it: “But, my friends don’t have to do that!” My kids used that at the beginning of this last summer when Lynda and I introduced our summer academic plan for them. It wasn’t particularly intense – some reading and writing, and math workbooks – two hours per day, tops. To kids anxious to leave the classroom for the pool, however, doing academic work in the summer months was about as attractive as a movie party featuring a PBS documentary on economics. And, because their friends didn’t have to do anything of the sort, it was unfair to ask them to do it.

That’s when we discussed exceptionalism, starting with a review of the meaning of the word, exception. When it’s nice enough to drive with the windows down in January in Nebraska, that’s an exception. When a student does extra reading not assigned by her teacher, that’s an exception. When a gym member faithfully exercises, rarely missing workouts, that’s an exception. An exception is anything that is clearly different from the norm.

If my kids want to have exceptional lives – lives with abnormal amounts of happiness, success and freedom – they must extend exceptional effort. Doing just what their friends do or what the teacher requires isn’t going to lead them to their goals. That thinking will lead them to where most people live – somewhere between near contentment and frustration – because most people do only what they have to do or want to do.

To get exceptional results, you need exceptional behavior, habits and effort. My son can tell you about this, because we discuss it often. He wants to go to medical school to be a plastic surgeon. I asked him how many plastic surgeons he knows. He knows none. I told him that it sounds like a pretty good career and that I heard that plastic surgeons make some pretty good money. “So,” I asked. “Why aren’t more people plastic surgeons?” “Because most people can’t make it through the school part,” he told me. Precisely!

Just getting into medical school is a tremendous task for most people. It requires not only intelligence, but also a discipline applied to academics that very few possess, and that’s just to gain acceptance to medical school. Once you are in medical school, that discipline and focus is continually tested. The process is strenuous, and thank God for that. When I need a physician, I want the absolute best.

My friend Jeff is an example of that. Jeff paid his way through college with summer work in his dad’s landscape business and scholarships. During that four-year journey, he received only one grade that wasn’t an A – in an English composition class, even after rewriting his final paper. His hard work and dedication in medical school earned him a post-MD fellowship in interventional radiology. Shortly after graduation, Jeff started his own practice, turning down the instant gratification of signing bonuses with steady employers.

Jeff dedicated more than 12 years of his life to studying for a medical career. While his friends were out in the bars and chasing girls, he was studying. In fact, at the end of his educational odyssey, I was sitting with him in a blind hunting turkeys the week before his board examination. He had a book with him to study, and he left after lunch.

That’s exceptional, and if we hope to have exceptional lives, we have to be the exception.

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