Invest in Your Identity
Have you ever thought about your identity? Not just your name and vital statistics, but what and who you are? Where we are in life is based on our identity. Our beliefs are based on that identity. Our future worth and opportunities will also be based on our identity. Many people think that if they change their circumstances (e.g. get a new, higher paying job), their identity will follow suit. This approach is actually backwards: In reality, we change our identity from the inside out and the change in our circumstances follows.
Let me give you two scenarios to illustrate how your identity becomes your reality:
“Those who do not read are no better of than those who cannot.”
Let the Right Ones In
There’s an adage that says you will make the average income of the five friends with whom you spend the most time. For better or worse, we become more like the people who we hang around. Your associations have a lot to do with where you are at in every area of your life. The idea is to create an “advisory board” of friends who will lift you up, challenge you, inspire you, and hold you accountable. Your friends are going to influence you either way, so why not pick the friends who will be a positive influence?
Birds of a feather…. 1. Walt Disney befriended Ray Kroc while the two were working together as ambulance drivers back in 1917. 2. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have become friends and partners in their philanthropy. 3. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were both competitors and friends. They both spoke the same language of doing the impossible. 4. Two of the most influential American authors of all time, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, lived in the same small town and were close friends. Their dialogue helped shape each other’s philosophy. 5. Another famous friendship existed between writers C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The two became the best of friends not just because of their shared belief in the power of myth and writing, but also because of shared religious beliefs. Making the active decision to change your associations can lead to some painful criticism. For example, you realize that if you want to make it to the NBA you need to stop playing ball with your friends at the YMCA and instead start running with players at a much higher level. Your YMCA buddies who can’t relate to your burning desire to go to the NBA may feel like you are leaving them behind, or they may think that you feel superior to them. Some friends may even try to bring you down out of envy of your courage and confidence. Some people simply have no desire to attempt the impossible in life. That’s okay, too. We all get to make choices on how we want our life to be.
“Associate yourself with people of good quality if you esteem your reputation, for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
Very rarely will you have friends who will completely support you for what you’re doing. My father once told me that finding a true best friend is just like finding a great spouse: One special person is worth more than hundreds of acquaintances. A true best friend will build you up and believe in you. Lesser friends, and even family members, may not. Sometimes they are worried that they are being left behind, or perhaps they simply lack your belief.
“People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die.”
Believe it or not, this is where most people hesitate when pursuing their dreams. They let the criticism and doubts of others get to them and they give up. Prepare yourself for criticism or lack of support from people around you and make the decision ahead of time not to let it deter you from your path. Any time you decide to make a courageous change in your life you will have naysayers, even some who are doing it out of love or concern for you. You can’t control the criticism that you’ll get, but you can control your reaction to it.
“Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”
Think of your associations in terms of assets and liabilities. People who are assets are your mentors, your guides to an increased identity. Look for people who have qualities that you want to develop in your own self and learn from them—someone who holds a leadership role in life, for example, who has faith as a cornerstone, has been married for thirty years, and has raised good kids.
“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
It’s not a complex formula: Look for people who have the attributes that you want in your own life. Be selective of your friends. Think about the identity that you want to build for yourself and create associations in your life with people who resemble that identity. Last but not least, keep in mind that people want to associate themselves with others who add to their lives. If you constantly bring value to others, you will be someone who others seek to associate with as well.
“All truth passes through three stages. First it is ridiculed. Secondly, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being selfevident.”
Study your associations. Make a list of the five friends with whom you spend the most time. Remember the key is the most time. How do they influence you in a positive or a negative way?
Your most important associations: finding true mentors. A true mentor is worth his or her weight in gold, but mentors are not easy to find. Think of a person in your life currently or in the past who you believe served as a mentor to you. Let’s take a closer look at that person. There are some keys to look for when determining if someone is a true mentor. A Mentor’s Attributes: 1. They care about you. 2. They’re not afraid to give you tough love. 3. They challenge you regularly. 4. They teach through setting a great example of personal success. 5. They have a great vision and communicate it well. 6. They have a solid foundation of character— an exemplary personal life as well as business life. If you are blessed enough to have someone like this in your life, your job is to become very coachable. Be grateful for your mentor. A true mentor is a rare treasure. Earn your mentor’s respect and show them that their belief in you is well-founded. That will be all the payment that a true mentor needs.
“Only your real friends will tell you when your face is dirty.”
Make a list of the associations that you would like to develop. What pastor, community leader, coach, or entrepreneur do you want to influence you? Then think about ways you can develop your relationship with that person and spend more time with him or her.
Protect Your Credibility Score
Accomplishing the impossible requires you to earn the trust of others. You must prove to those around you that your word and your character can be counted upon. Trust takes years to develop but only moments to destroy. When the people in your life who you interact with know that you can be trusted, you will develop business and personal relationships that stand the test of time. Long-term, successful relationships are key to doing the impossible; nobody reaches greatness alone. You need to be a person who people will want to work with long term. You have to be a bridge builder, not a bridge burner. There is no quicker way to burn bridges than by breaking the trust of those you have worked with. If you lack integrity in your dealings, it will soon be known by everyone. On the flip side, if you are a great partner, people will tell others and they will come back to work with you again and again.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Even a person with the best intentions can fail in the credibility department. Sometimes it’s a question of committing to too much, of not wanting to say no, or of not placing enough value on your word. If there were a formula to run a “credit check” to determine what your FICO score is on keeping your word, how would you do? If you were to run my report in 1997 I would’ve probably scored around 400. That’s because I had big dreams but very little action. I began working on my credibility FICO score as soon as I realized how powerful a person becomes when he starts keeping his word. It starts off with small promises you keep and leads to big commitments where someone will put a lot of trust in you because you have earned it. Do not make any commitments that you are not 100% sure that you can keep. Learn to say “no” or “let me get back to you.” In the end, people will respect you more when your word is as good as gold—and you will respect yourself much more, too. You will eventually get to the point where you and all those around you know that if you say you’re going to do something, it will get done.
“There are seven things that will destroy us: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; religion without sacrifice; politics without principle; science without humanity; business without ethics.”
“Character is much easier kept than recovered.”
You don’t get to this point overnight. Becoming a person who keeps your word starts with doing the little things, like calling someone back when you say you will or arriving to an appointment on time. Once people know that they can count on you, you will be seen as a person whose word comes to pass. You will come to see yourself that way, too. Eventually, if you make a promise to yourself and to others to make a change in your life or achieve a goal, others will believe that you will do it. Make your word your bond, both to yourself and to others, and you will turn yourself into a person who can be counted on.
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
Strengthen Your Greatest Weapon
Why should we stop learning when we finish school at age eighteen or twenty-two, or at age fifty, or ever? It’s funny that we accept that going to college will lead to making more money or getting a better career yet we don’t assume that self-education will increase our success potential. You don’t need a teacher and a university to learn. As a matter of fact, we live in a world where you can have access to just about any book, article, audio file, or video that you want with the click of a mouse. We live in a great age of access on demand. You can educate yourself on history, matters of money, personal development, or just about anything that you want.
“If you stop learning, you will forget what you already know.”
— Proverbs 19:27
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
“One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.”
Reading allows you to shape your identity independently of your current circumstances. You internalize the wisdom and knowledge of the authors who you read. They say that there are two types of experiences that we can learn and grow from: personal experience and the experience that we borrow from others. Reading allows you to learn from mentors who you don’t have access to in your daily life. Learning from other people’s stories of challenges and triumph is far less painful and less time-consuming than going through those challenges yourself. That is why most of the world’s greatest leaders have been avid readers.
“One should never stop being trained. That is a victory.”
Challenge Your Way of Thinking
Sometimes hitting the lowest point in our lives can be the turning point that causes us to challenge and change our current ways of thinking. I had hit rock bottom financially, emotionally, spiritually, and in my relationships. I felt like nothing in my life was going right. It seemed that all forces were aligned against me. Pretty much everything and everyone was to blame, except for me and my decisions.
It was there in my darkest hour that something occurred that changed my life. I realized that it was my way of thinking that had gotten me to where I was, not some set of outside forces that I couldn’t control. It didn’t long to realize I had to change my way of thinking or else life was going to be the same, if not worse, for a very long time.
“You cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it.”
The first thing I did was accept responsibility for my results (or lack thereof). I realized that while I couldn’t control the universe, I could control my own actions and my responses to events. The second thing I did was to allow myself to imagine a better future, with the understanding that I could change to become the person who I envisioned.
I remember hearing once that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people are the questions that they ask themselves. Successful people ask, “What if my dream can become a reality? What if I can achieve the impossible? What if I can design my own future?” Unsuccessful people ask themselves, “What if I fail? What if something bad happens? What if I am not capable?” If you want to change your answers, first change your questions. The right questions will lead to a motivation to follow through on the answers. Your mind will find a way to make what you imagine a reality once you accept that you are not only responsible for your future but are also capable of making that future a reality.
“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
Know Your ”Why
If your “why” is strong enough, the “how” doesn’t matter.
Here are some why questions for you to think about and truly try to answer:
1. Why did you want go to college? 2. Why do you work? 3. Why did you get married? 4. Why did you want kids? 5. Why are you reading this book? 6. Why do you want to be successful? 7. Why do you want to do the impossible? (Do you want to?)
The most common answer I get when I ask people why they work is to pay their bills. What an empty reason to work! The great ones do what they do for their whys. They won’t give up because their “why” is too strong.
For the past ten years I have said that mankind is lazy until something catches his heart. You have to know what you are fighting for. Your why is what fuels your life. If you don’t have a clear picture of your why to get you through the times when you are tired, overwhelmed, or disappointed, you will run out of gas before you get there. Remember, our natural state is to be lazy and to take the path of least resistance, unless we are motivated by the why in our heart. The bigger your goal, the more powerful your why must be.
Consider the story of two friends, Big Mike and Little Mike:
Big Mike and Little Mike have been best friends and neighbors their entire lives. Big Mike plays football for his school, but he is very lazy. His coach searches in vain for a way to motivate him and tap into his potential, but Big Mike seems content to do the bare minimum and ride the bench. Then one day after practice, Little Mike is hit by a car right in front of Big Mike and dies in his arms. The coach expects that Big Mike will need to take some time off from football to mourn the loss of his best friend. But just the opposite happens. Monday morning comes and Big Mike is on the field early, putting 110% into practice. Friday night’s big game comes and Big Mike asks his coach to start him in the game. He plays like his life depends on it; he gets six sacks, four interceptions, and the winning touchdown. At the end of the game, Big Mike’s coach comes up to him and says, “What happened to you? I have never seen you play like that.” Big Mike explains that it was the first game that Little Mike ever got to watch him play. You see, Little Mike was blind and Big Mike wanted to play a great game for his friend looking down on him from heaven. Little Mike was the why that lit the fire under Big Mike.
Could someone know exactly what they want and why they want it and still do nothing about it? The answer is yes. It will all come down to how badly they want it! That’s what separates those who make it in the history books from those who do not.
So the real question is what is your why? What has caught your heart? Is it your wife, husband, son, daughter, mother, or father? Or just the simple fact that you want to make a difference in this world before your time is up? Why is transformative. You’ll start hearing people tell you things like, “I don’t recognize you anymore.” That’s the beginning of the most exciting years of your life because you’ve made the shift towards truly changing your future.
“A champion needs motivation above and beyond wining.”
Work Like It’s 1880
We have all heard the expression “work smarter, not harder.” The reality is that you can’t substitute working smart for working hard; you have to do both. It is important to work smart, and that comes from experience and wisdom; but who has convinced us that there is such a thing as an easy path to success?
If you go to the book store today you will see all kinds of books promising a shortcut for success: “Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days,” “The 4-Hour Work Day,” “Fix Your Marriage in These Five Easy Steps.” We are told that if we just click on this website we will find our soul mate waiting for us.
In business, relationships, sports, or anything else, there is no instant trick that will substitute for hard work and consistent dedication. Maybe you can lose thirty pounds in thirty days; but without hard work, you won’t keep the weight off. There is no magic pill that will allow you to lounge around all day and eat pizza and potato chips and simultaneously stay in shape. There is no five step program to transform your marriage overnight. There is no such thing as a successful plan to “get rich quick.” All these things are possible, but they take consistent effort.
“A mind always employed is always happy.”
One of the biggest challenges facing American prosperity is the loss of work ethic. It seems that there is a taboo against working beyond nine to five. But it wasn’t always that way. When I studied the history of the work day in the United States of America, I was shocked to see how it has dwindled over time and been replaced by drastic increases in leisure time.
“Blessed is the person who is too busy to worry in the daytime and too sleepy to worry at night.”
Elevate Imagination to a Whole New Level
Imagination is one of the things that separates humans from all other living creatures: the ability to see things not as they are but as we imagine they can be. Have you really taken the time to think about the role that imagination plays in your life? Is it a gift or a muscle that can be built with exercise? Where has your imagination taken you?
Think about the imagination that allowed George Lucas to create the universe of Star Wars, or J.K. Rowling to dream up an entire world of wizardry for Harry Potter. Writers and directors by their very nature have powerful imaginations that they cultivate in their art. Books and movies have a powerful effect on our emotions because our imagination allows our minds to treat the fantasy as reality. Have you ever noticed what happens when you watch certain movies? Think about how you feel after watching Rocky. Does a part of you feel like you are in the ring with “The Italian Stallion,” fighting to be a champion? How about when you watch The Notebook? I’m sure no man reading this has ever watched that movie (isn’t that right, guys?), so let me fill you in: A powerful love story makes you think about your high school sweetheart, about the first time you met your wife, or about that individual in your imagination who you can’t wait to meet.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Sometimes the best movies we ever watch are the ones we direct in our own minds. That is the magic of books and movies: The imagination of the creator awakens our own imaginations as we share in the fantasy.
“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
But what role does imagination play in real life?
We can sometimes let our imagination run away with us, often in the wrong direction: 1. Where does your imagination take you when the phone rings after midnight? 2. What do you imagine when you lend your car to your sixteen year old for the first time? 3. Where does your imagination take you when you’re walking by yourself late at night and you hear footsteps behind you?
Still, imagination can do amazing things when we let it run wild in the right direction. Imagination is a critical part of daily life; everything starts with imagination. When we are dating, we picture what it would be like to marry that person before we make the commitment. Before we buy our dream house, we must first envision it. Before you build a business, you must first conceive it in your mind.
“Imagination rules the world.”
Before you do the impossible, you must first imagine it. And just as movie directors and fiction writers bring us into their imagination, our imagination has the power to inspire others.
Let me give you an example:
In 1974, UCLA’s basketball team was on an eighty-eight game winning streak. The Bruins seemed unbeatable. Despite overwhelming odds, Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps had faith that his team could beat the undefeated Bruins. He just needed to make his players believe it.
At the end of the first day of practice the week before the game, Phelps asked his team to imagine how beating UCLA would feel. He told them to celebrate as if they had just won the big game. At first his team gave it a half-hearted effort, perhaps thinking that the exercise was corny or a waste of time. But Coach Phelps persisted and each day after practice the team would celebrate as if they had just beaten the Bruins. By the final practice, the team needed no prompting from their coach. After practice they instantaneously burst into celebration, jumping up and down, yelling and hugging each other with the imagined feeling of victory over their legendary rivals.
“The man who has no imagination has no wings.”
By the time of the big game, the Fighting Irish basketball team had envisioned their moment of victory with such passion and clarity that defeat was not an option. Notre Dame scored the last twelve points of the game to defeat top-ranked UCLA 71-70, ending the Bruins’ record eighty-eight game domination. They won after they believed they were going to win. They believed it because they imagined it so many times.
Many leaders have used this inspiring story to show the importance of believing in your people, but I see Phelps as a leader who used the gift of imagination to steer the soul of his team towards doing the impossible.
Be as Curious as Alice
We all remember the story of Alice, the curious child whose inquisitive streak led her down a rabbithole and into Wonderland. The book explains that Alice had to follow the White Rabbit because she was “burning with curiosity.” That same curiosity led Alice to down bottles that said “drink me” and cakes that said “eat me” and enter a strange world that became “curiouser and curiouser.” Her desire to uncover every mystery is one of the things that most children reading the story can relate to.
There are some things that we do as children that we unfortunately do less of as adults. Children are constantly learning and growing. They are curious about the world around them and anxious to learn and try new things. Curiosity is a gift from God that shouldn’t disappear when we become adults. Learning is something that is just as important at age seventy as it is at age seven. Too many of us stop asking questions in life as we get older; we simply lose that childlike thirst for knowledge. Part of the reason is the fact that we are afraid of being embarrassed, looking foolish or ruffling feathers. But at the end of the day, the worst question is one that is never asked.
“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”
Curiosity is not just about learning new facts or information. The great ones don’t just want to learn; they want to learn to do. They become students of those who do things better or differently and learn what they know. Once they have one thing down, they move onto something new, always learning, ever evolving their abilities.
Let me give you a great real world example: Kobe Bryant.
When Kobe Bryant first came into the league, he wanted to learn every part of the game: foot work, outside shot, defense, closing, turn-around shot, posting up, and every other tool of the game. Kobe was a great player even then and a sought-after draft pick. However, critics thought that he made a mistake by not playing college ball to refine his game before going to the NBA. But Kobe understood that he didn’t know everything, and he became one of the best students ever to play in the NBA. While his peers and competitors were excited just to be in the pros, Kobe wanted to be the greatest of all time. One of the biggest differences between Kobe and other players who enter the NBA is the fact that Kobe has never stopped learning.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
Even after establishing himself as one of the great ones in the NBA, Kobe kept evolving his skill set. In 2009, with four championship rings already on his finger, Kobe went to Hakeem Olajuwon to master his footwork. Here’s what Kobe said about working with Hakeem Olajuwon: “I got a chance to work with the greatest post player ever. I’ve always been a student of the game, and he was very patient with me.” Phil Jackson said of Kobe’s drive to learn, “Kobe always comes back with a goal, he doesn’t go through summer playing golf or going fishing. He’s got something in his mind he’s going to work on with his game during the offseason.”
“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”
Kobe Bryant is just one example. Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs kept asking “what if” questions that first enabled and then revolutionized personal computing. The secrets of the universe or the secrets of better footwork and everything in between are all available to those who want to learn. You just have to start with the desire to learn and grow. Then get in touch with your inner Alice. Ask why and how and who can I learn from? The great thing about healthy curiosity is that it doesn’t ever need to be satisfied; you can keep learning and trying new things as long as you live.
Break Away from the Old You
There are two types of people in the world: those who wait and those who do. Those who wait spend most of their lives in the planning stage, getting ready to do something. They talk about their dreams in terms of “someday.” Those who wait are waiting for that perfect moment when all the stars align for them to go after their dreams. They say things like “I will do it… after my kids are older… when I have enough money… when I have more time.” The reality is that “someday” never comes and the person who waits misses every opportunity while holding out for that perfect moment.
Doers understand that time flies. We get one shot at life. Whatever it is that you want to do with it, don’t wait until the opportunities pass you by. We never feel completely ready for life’s big decisions; but in taking the leap, we push ourselves to the next level.
It’s funny how sometimes having nothing to lose gives you the motivation to make a big change
“Do not wait; the time will never be just right. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”
Decide to Be the Chosen One
Being a “Chosen One” doesn’t mean that your name is Jesus and you can walk on water; that’s not what this chapter is about. It’s about being someone with a calling to be the hero, someone with a higher purpose. Those who do the impossible want to be the chosen ones. They desire to be the solution to the problem. They thrive on people relying on them. They enjoy delivering on their promises. They seek out responsibility. This mentality might not make sense to everyone, but this is one of the things that makes the chosen ones different.
There are twelve guys on a basketball roster, but the chosen one is the player who wants the ball when the team is down two points with only four seconds left to play in the championship game. If he makes the shot he gets all the glory, the praise, and the press. But if he misses the shot, he gets the crowd’s disappointment and the feeling of letting his team down. You see, being the chosen one in any arena comes with a price.
Imagine the pressure in an NBA championship game to make that winning shot. Most people will never feel the burden or the glory of shooting the winning basket in the NBA. But we have the opportunity to be the hero in other ways. Our country, our economy, and a lot of families are facing challenging times. When times are hard, heroes rise up. Tough times don’t create heroes, but challenges reveal the hero inside of us. Even though a chosen one will get the glory, that isn’t their number one motivation. A hero wants to make an impact and leave a legacy. He has a sense of responsibility to a cause.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. ”
What is your cause? If you decide to become the chosen one, what are you “chosen” to do? This book is not about telling you what your crusade should be. That has to be a personal decision based on the fire inside you. Have a clear picture of what you feel chosen to do and make that your purpose. Your life will never be the same, and it will be more exhilarating than you can imagine.
Go ”All In” with One Industry
We are living in times where everyone is looking for the latest and greatest thing. But if you look at history, whether one hundred years ago or ten years ago, the great ones all devoted their passion to one thing and stuck with it. The reality is that if you try to do too many things, you will do none of them very well. The great ones are not those who pursue every opportunity or try everything that interests them. They are dedicated to a path and they are not distracted by every new, shiny object that catches their eye.
In poker, going “all in” is when you bet all your chips on one hand. It can be a sign of how strong your hand is, or it can be a bluff; but either way, the player is 100% committed to that hand. Becoming one of the greats at anything means being willing to put all your chips in the pot and make that industry your “all in” choice.
“Think enthusiastically about everything, but especially about your job. If you do so, you’ll put a touch of glory in your life.”
When you think about Michael Jordan, one sport comes to mind. Jordan dedicated himself to basketball and become one of the best players in NBA history. At one point, Jordan took a break from basketball to go back to his favorite childhood sport of baseball. It didn’t work out very well.
Just like a successful marriage means going all in with the right person for the rest of your life, being great at something means marrying the right industry or activity. Donald Trump married real estate. Steve Jobs put all his chips into Apple and innovative consumer technology products. Mohammed Ali went all in with boxing. He didn’t quit in the middle of his career to try his hand at football. Those who choose to do the impossible don’t commit to their path for five years; they commit for twenty years, or for life.
Being great at anything takes time, commitment, and consistency. We all know those people that join everything—the person who tells you how excited he is about an opportunity in the travel industry, and six months later he is selling you on the newest, greatest weight-loss product.
The great ones first choose an industry, then they commit to it 100%. They want to develop something that is around long after they are gone. Alexander the Great only lived thirty-three years, but here we are still talking about him 2,300 years later. If you want to build a legacy that will outlive you by centuries, commit to your path, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do you part.