Behind successful people, therein lies stories of great trials, failures and challenges before they experience crucible moments of breakthroughs. These stories are often untold to the masses unless we take the conscious effort to look out for such individuals, and ask them.
One thing is for sure, one cannot make it there on his/her own. When we dig deeper, there is always support that comes from people who nudge us along through role modelling, coaching and mentoring.
Thanks to Success Resources, Leaderonomics got some of our burning questions to Denis Waitley, a notable author of international best sellers like Seeds of Greatness and Being the Best, answered.
Here are some of his responses to our questions.
1. Who is your role model, and how has this person impacted you?
Growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression and World War II, my family was poor. My father was absent, and my mother was indifferent. I struggled with insecurity and marginal self-esteem. However, I used this adversity as my fuel to learn how to become successful.
I used to ride my bike 20 miles every Saturday to my grandmother’s home. We shared a very special relationship. We planted a small orchard, vegetable and flower gardens together.
She told me, “Plant apple seeds and you get apple trees. Plant weeds and you will harvest weeds. Plant the seeds of great ideas and you will get great individuals.”
She often reminded me that weeds don’t need watering to thrive. They grow uninvited and are very difficult to get rid of. She would say, “Focus on where you want to go, not on where you’re coming from.”
Her words and actions still resonate with me today. She recognised my small accomplishments and encouraged me to model my actions after the authentic lives of individuals who changed the world by helping others succeed.
2. What was your greatest lesson in life, and how has that helped you as a person and a leader?
I have learnt two great lessons.
Firstly, “I’m as good as the best, but no better than the rest.” This means that I respect myself, but am not impressed with myself. Everyone I meet is of equal importance, and I don’t live by comparison.
Secondly, “Failure is the fertiliser of success.” To me, failure is an event, not a person; it is a learning experience and a temporary setback; it is a detour, not a status. I would rather fail in doing something noble than succeed in self-worship.
3. What drives you in life?
I am driven by the thought that I am planting shade trees for future generations, under which, I myself may never sit. I believe that my mission is to offer the seeds of greatness to my family and to everyone I meet. I prefer to be a servant leader than a celebrity icon.
My goal is to pass on my values rather than the material valuables I have accumulated in my estate. Money is no different to me than knowledge. Neither is money of any importance unless it’s shared for a worthy cause.
4. Failure is spoken in a positive light these days. However, it is not easy when we experience it ourselves. How can we remain optimistic, regardless of how difficult it gets?
I love to quote this: “I had the blues because I had no shoes until upon the street, I met a man who had no feet. ‘Good morning,’ he smiled. ‘What a lovely day it is.’ And, in that instant, we come to understand, that our problems and failures seem nothing compared to his.”
The best way to remain optimistic in the face of setbacks is to stop stewing and start doing. In other words, get out of yourself and delve into serving and helping others with greater needs. When we do that, we reinforce positive feelings about our own worth and our ability to solve problems. It is often easier to help others in need than to help ourselves.
When I’m down, I visit a children’s cancer ward, veterans’ hospital, or shelter for the homeless. I also listen to inspiring music and have meals with people who have faced similar failures or roadblocks.
Instead of complaining, I hang around optimists who offer encouragement. Most of all, it is important to visit your own BAG (Blessings, Accomplishments, Goals) during those inevitable setbacks. Blessings are things you take for granted, Accomplishments are progress you already are proud of and Goals are passions that are driving you forward.
No matter how great my own problems, I always realise that what is in my BAG, I would not trade for what is inside any other person’s baggage.
5. If you could turn back the clock, how would you do things differently, and why?
I would be fully engaged in the moment, not simply pursuing lofty goals of the future. I would listen more and talk less. I would ask more questions, rather than offer my opinions. I would enjoy what I had, rather than seek enjoyment in things, places or comforts I didn’t have.
Most of all, I would be there in person for those I love. Time spent with is far more precious than money spent on. My children and grandchildren relish our memories, and none of them is tied to material gifts. I have learnt much from Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you will die tomorrow and learn as if you will live forever.”
6. Your advice for people who want to emulate your success.
Fame and fortune are illusions. Quality of life is mostly about how and with whom you spend your time, in what environment and in what state of health. Chase your passion, not your pension. Loving what you do and doing what you love, that benefits others and yourself, is a worthy destination.
Don’t be seduced by applause, photo sessions and autographing your works. Happiness cannot be earned, lived in, travelled to, worn or consumed. It is a more spiritual experience of living every moment with love, joy, grace and gratitude. Pharaohs, emperors and kings seem to have missed the point. Self-respect is different than displaying one’s accolades.
7. What sort of legacy do you want to leave behind, and why?
I am engaged in living my legacy, rather than leaving one behind. The problem with legacies, buildings and streets named in one’s honour is that they have little or no significance to future generations.
While you are alive, set a worthy example by your actions and that will be your legacy in action. Those who perceive you as their role model will have your legacy within, and so you will live on.
Be uplifted by Waitley’s inspirational interview, exclusively on The Leaderonomics Show!