"Seemingly insignificant events often determine all of a man's fortune." - Winston Churchill
Pay attention to the little things...
When we look back over the course of a lifetime, it can be easy to see that Churchill was right. What seems small at the time can wind up having a far greater impact than we might ever have expected. So look at even small events carefully and pay attention to the details. Something might be brewing.
Over forty years ago, I had two convenience store franchises. I had the thought of opening my own convenience store, so I went to a real estate office and made some inquiries. I met a kind gentleman, a real estate agent named Charlie Schreiber. He died a long time ago, but my brief time with him had quite an impact on my life. He spent about two hours talking with me, even though it became obvious fairly quickly that I wasn't going to produce any business for him. During the conversation, he suggested that I get my real estate license, something I hadn't seriously considered before. So afterward, I went to real estate school, passed the state test and got my Salesperson's License. I then sold real estate with a broker who was one of my instructors, the late Dick Haven, and his brother Don Haven. To learn as much as I could, I asked Don hundreds of questions, which he answered very patiently.
Since I had already starting teaching business administration subjects in community colleges, I decided to start teaching real estate too. I kept building my teaching experience, and after seven years of teaching as an adjunct instructor, there was a vacancy at Atlantic Community College, near Atlantic City. They wanted to hire a full time faculty member who could teach advertising. I could also teach real estate, so that gave me a leg up on getting the position.
Just prior to that, I was approved to operate my own state approved real estate school. (Don Haven later became one of my instructors. He is the founder of "The Real Estate School" in Cherry Hill, NJ.) I operated my real school for twenty years and supplemented my income quite a bit by doing it. All of that started with the small kindness of Charlie Schreiber's being willing to spend some time to help a young guy out, combined with Don Haven's patience in helping me learn the basics of real estate. In addition to operating my school, I subsequently wrote two real estate principles textbooks and a real estate advertising book.
You never know when something small can lead to something else you never could have envisioned. It's all too common for it only to be recognized in retrospect, so look for the value in every experience you have - "good or bad". It's often there. We just might not be able to see it yet. This can include, what at the time to be some sad events in life, which seem to have no redeeming value whatsoever. It's better to take the long view in life.
Starting Small: You Never Know Where It Can Lead
A graduation speaker at Camden County College's graduation in 2014 was Dr. Walt McDonald, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the global, Educational Testing Service. I'm sharing his inspirational words with you so you will know that, no matter where you are starting from, great things can be achieved.
Dr. McDonald said that he grew up in a poor family in New England. He was sent to live with his brother in Camden, NJ where, as a young man, he worked as a construction worker. He said he was making fairly good money, so he wasn't thinking about pursing further education, but the older construction workers he worked with encouraged him to get an education. One of them gave him some information about a small community college just starting then - the same one he addressed as a graduation speaker decades later. He decided to take a look and began his education there.
After that, he got his bachelor's degree, later earned a Ph.D., and attended the Advanced Management Program at Harvard. When he spoke at the graduation, he held up the degree he had earned from Camden County College forty-two years before. If there was ever an object lesson for students, that from humble beginnings great success can come, Walt McDonald was living proof. So no matter how small a place you are starting from, know that you can find your own success too.
Another powerful lesson: When you see that you have an opportunity to help and encourage someone else, take it. We can be powerful agents in helping others to succeed. What a feeling of satisfaction Dr. McDonald's construction buddies must have felt, knowing that they were the encouragement that made this humble man's success possible. You can help others in the same way in your life. Someone need your encouraging words.
The Power of Small - Linda Thaler Kaplan and Robin Koval
· Create an "action list" - Re-envision your goals into "mini-tasks" you can actually accomplish on a day to day basis
· Be Thoughtful - It's more about the small, thoughtful things we do every day and less about the grand gesture
· Double Checking - A habit worth developing. It can help prevent avoidable, and sometimes critical, mistakes. The authors provided an excellent example of Colin Powell's attention to detail. He accompanied a group of parachute jumpers on a jump. Each jumper was required to check his own chute. After that had been done, Powell decided to check them himself, which some of the men found to be an exercise in overkill. He found one parachute that was not packed properly. Had he not checked it, the soldier would have jumped to his death. Little things can mean a lot. Follow the carpenter's rule: "Measure twice, cut once." The Kaplan-Thaler Group rule: " Read twice, send once."
· Take Baby Steps - Thinking small can sometimes overcome far larger problems. This story is worth the price of the book, all by itself:
The US and Canada wanted to build a suspension bridge at Niagara Falls across the river that separated the two countries. For a variety of reasons, the traditional methods of spanning the gap, which are detailed in the book, were not possible. In spite of the greatest engineering minds of the day working on the problem, it was a boy who finally succeeded in making it happen.
A man suggested that a kite, with a long string, be flown over the 800 foot span of the chasm, until it reached the other side. A contest was held with prize money of $10 being offered to the successful kite-flyer, a considerable amount of money then. After months, a boy was finally successful. The Buffalo Daily Courier reported the event on January 31,1848: "We have this day joined the US and Canada with a cord a 1/2 inch in diameter." From that, they continued to run increasingly larger pieces of rope across until they were able to string a crossing cable, to which other cables were interlaced. Six months later on August 1,1848, the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge opened. There's often a way to accomplish "the impossible". It just takes ingenuity and perseverance.
· Thinking Japanese, Change, Kaizen - All kinds of change programs are most successful when participants focus on frequent, achievable little goals. The Eastern philosophy of "kaizen" and Taoist wisdom, both hold a view of success as a continuum rather than a single, distant goal. ( Happiness is also more likely to be found in the enjoyment of the journey, step by step in working toward a an objective, rather than solely in the achievement of the ultimate goal.)
· Details - If you don't get bogged down in the small details now, they may well bob up as big problems later...Pay close attention to the details: "What you ignore becomes more."(I was invited back to my high school to speak to the student body. There was a small detail I should have noticed, but didn't. I had my talk on sheets of papers with me. As I laid it on the lectern, I noticed there was no lip on it. The papers wouldn't stay on it, unless I held them in place with one hand or the other. So I had to give the whole speech tied to the lectern, like an organ grinder's monkey on a chain. So be prepared for anything. If you have an opportunity to check out a venue ahead of time, it's a very good idea.)
· What You Don't Know and Asking Questions - The authors described a man who distinguished himself within his company by never being intimidated by what he didn't know, and having the courage and common sense to just ask instead. As Mark Twain noted: "We are all ignorant - just about different things." Famous Chinese proverb: "He who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes; he who does not remains a fool forever."
(When you start something new, you should always have many questions, but the basic questions will get less frequent as you build your own knowledge. Some people will be patient enough to answer many questions for you. Be thankful for them and express your gratitude for sharing their knowledge and helping you. Others may only be good for a question or two. Sense when someone has had enough and respect that.)
· Making It Big By Thinking Small - "You have to take stock of who you are and what you love, and follow your intuition...The ideas that really soar often come from a small flight of fancy. Being too tied up in a problem, or too invested in a way of thinking, often inhibits us from discovering the next big idea. That's because some of the biggest ideas start very small." (I started my first real estate school class in 1977 with only six students, having little idea then of where it would go. Twenty years later, I had taught over 5000 real estate students, sometimes having classes between forty and fifty students.)
· Creativity - Today, all it takes to launch a business is the ability to see opportunities that others have missed - by harnessing the power of the small...Sometimes it makes sense to forget focus groups (input from others is valuable,but far from the limit of what you need to know), endless research, and sophisticated business plans, and simply to think how a child might solve a vexing problem at hand. (Remember the old "truck stuck under the bridge story? "Experts" were puzzled about how to remove it, until a kid who was watching said, "Why don't you just let the air out of the tires!").
Similarly, an artist I know was asked by a real estate agent to do a painting of a home that had been sold. After he did it, another agent asked him to do another one. He has done over 15,000 of those paintings since. He was wise enough to recognize that there was an unfilled niche and he filled it. Remember the definition of creativity: "Seeing what everyone else ses, but thinking what no one else thinks" Ditto or the developer of velcro, the flip-top toothpaste tube cap, and many others.
· Peter Drucker pointed out that a required step for innovation and re-invention is "systematic abandonment" of the old, even when it involves some things that are still working. The idea is to replace them with something better and more competitive. Make yourself obsolete. Don't let others do it to you. Make others chase you. Don't always be playing catch-up by chasing them.
The Way Of The Small - Michael Gellert
This book offers a more philosophical and spiritual view of the benefits of small. It's very inspirational. Together, both books send a strong message of how we can benefit by re-adjusting common thinking. (By the way, both books are small themselves.)
"If we could only see what makes us great, perhaps we wouldn't need to be great by our inflation or grandiosity... in our greatness too, we should exercise modesty, self-restraint, and a reliance on inner worth rather than on external brilliance." (As many of our writers have said already, it's not about the ego, it's about simplicity and humility.)
"In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves...self-discipline with all of them came first" - Harry S. Truman
"Perseverance is essential when you are faced with a daunting task or are in a situation in which you feel inept. The ability to endure may mean the difference between failure and success."(In order for us to achieve a state of well-being and happiness, we also have to discipline ourselves to take action until we have completed what we need to do.)
"Perseverance implicitly reveals two skills that must go hand-in-hand: keeping our goal, however distant, fixed in our mind, while focusing upon the step immediately in front of us." (As I write this, I see my goal as having the material here ultimately communicated to you, hopefully for your benefit, but I still have to finish this section, and the next, and the next, to make that happen.) But "the skill of keeping a clear goal in mind enables us not to fall victim to the opposite problem of persevering too long. As the adage goes, 'Genius is knowing when to quit.' " That's something you'll have to deal with on you own personal adventures, knowing what the proper balance is. Ask for advice about that if you get stumped about whether you should continue on the same course, or call it a day and move on to something else.)
"Watch the little things; a small leak will sink a great ship" - Benjamin Franklin
"Moreover, watch the right little things, for they will be the ones that will go wrong."
"The secret of getting ahead is to get started" - Mark Twain
"Like the salmon who needs to return to its place of origin and give birth, we too must sometimes go against the flow in order to truly go with it. Life is difficult and we must battle our fears or laziness, and when others disapprove of our changes, we must battle their resistance too. It is important to know when to go with the flow and when to go against it. Happiness is more often the fruit of hard work, than the result of fortuitous things that happen to us. (While pursuing our goals, it's important to keep the whole picture in mind and to keep it balanced. Only you can say what the right balance is for you. We also might get lucky sometimes, but it's more important to be good at what we do and to keep doing it.)
"When you think you've lost everything, you find out you can always lose a little more." - Bob Dylan
(It's important not to get down on yourself when things aren't going well. But don't ever say, "What else can go wrong?" You might find out. Much of what's said in this website depends on the maintenance of a positive attitude, so if you get knocked down, re-right yourself and keep going. Remember the famous Japanese proverb: "Fall down seven times, get up eight.")
Make Your Bed - Admiral William H. McRaven
Admiral McRaven is a former Navy Seal, now retired Navy, and man of great accomplishment. This pithy, 125 page book has many stories of SEAL training, military life and success. What I have shown here are what Admiral McRaven attributed accomplishment to, ways that you can use in your own life:
1. Start Your Day with a Task Completed
If you want to change the world... start off by making your bed. Making my bed was not going to be an opportunity for praise, It was expected of me. At the end of the day it would be a reminder that I had done something well, something to be proud of, no matter how small the task. As a former Navy Seal, McRaven handled many things well in his career. It is not just in combat, but daily life, that needs the same sort of structure. (Those who handle the little things well are likely to be trusted to handle larger things well too.)
2. You Can't Go It Alone
If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle, the need to help you find someone else to help you through the difficult tasks. No SEAL could make it through combat alone and by extension, you need people in your life to help you through difficult times. (But you often have to do the asking, when you know it needs to be done. I know that anything I achieved in my life was a result of others who have taught me along the way. It takes a team of good people to get you to your destination in life. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depended on others. As we go through life, it is good to remember, and to be grateful for, all the shoulders we have stood on. It is also good to be a set of those shoulders for others.)
3. Only the Size of Your Heart Matters
If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart. Determination and grit were always more important than talent.
4. Life's Not Fair - Drive On!
If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward. It is easy to blame your lot on some outside force, to try to stop trying because you believe fate is against you. Sometimes no matter how hard you try, no matter how good you are, you still end up as a sugar cookie. Don't complain. Stand tall, look to the future, and drive on.
5. Failure Can Make You Stronger
If you want to change the word, don't be afraid of "The Circus." During SEAL Training, The Circus was held every afternoon at the end of day's training session. It was another two hours of additional calisthenics, combined with non-stop harassment by SEAL combat veterans who wanted only the strong to survive training. In life, you will face a lot of Circuses. You will pay for your failures. But if you persevere, if you let those failures teach you and strengthen you, then you will be prepared to handle life's toughest moments. My past failures strengthened me, taught me that no one is immune from mistakes. True leaders must learn from their failures, use the lessons to motivate themselves, and not be afraid to try again or to make the next tough decision. You can' t avoid The Circus . At some point, we all make the list. Don't be afraid of The Circus. (Grow from it.)
6. You Must Dare Greatly
If you want to change the world, slide down the obstacle headfirst. One of the SEAL tests involved a timed obstacle course that included a rope slide down from a tower. Most candidates came down the rope hand over hand, dramatically slowing their time. The best times happened when a SEAL recruit risked it and just went down the rope headfirst. McRaven's instructor said, " When are you going to learn Mr. Mac? That obstacle course is going to beat you every time unless you start taking some risks?" It was a simple lesson in overcoming your anxieties, and trusting in your abilities to get the job done.
Assuming risk was typical of our special operations forces. However, contrary to what outsiders saw, the risk was usually calculated, thoughtful and well-planned. (These are the kind of risks you should consider taking to advance your goals. I'm not talking about being foolhardy, but just more courageous in taking more sensible risks.)
Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present, but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life.
7. Stand Up To The Bullies
If you want to change the world, don't back down from the sharks. Without courage, the bullies of the world will rise up. With it, you can accomplish any goal. Bullies are all the same; whether they are in the school yard, in the workplace, or ruling a country in terror. (In this section, McRaven spoke about interactions he had with an ultimate bully, Saddam Hussein, after he was captured.)They thrive on fear and intimidation. Bullies gain their strength through the timid and the feint of heart. In life, to achieve your goals, to complete your night swim (as they did in the potential presence of swimming with sharks) you will have to be men and women of great courage. That courage is within all of us. Dig deep, and you will find it in abundance.
8. Rise To The Occasion
If you want to change the world, be your very best in the darkest moments. Our objective was to swim two thousand meters underwater from a starting point across the bay to the anchored vessel. This training had the highest potential for someone to get hurt or die. The chief petty officer in charge of the event said, " Tonight, you will have to be at your very best. You must rise above your fears, your doubts, and your fatigue. No matter how dark it gets, you must complete the mission. This is what separates you from everyone else." (What will separate you from everyone else in your life?)
A massive C-17 aircraft, its ramp lowered, stood by to receive the remains of a fallen warrior. This was a Ramp Ceremony. It was our nation's way of recognizing their sacrifice. It was our last salute, or final thanks, and a prayer to send them on their way home. At the head of the casket, the pastor bowed his head and read from Isaiah 6:8 :
"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us? And I said, Here I am. Send me!' "
At some point, we will all confront a dark moment in life. If not the passing of a loved one, then something else that crushes your spirit and leaves you wondering about your future. In that darkest moment, reach deep inside yourself and be your very best.
Chapter 9 - Give People Hope
If you want to change the world, start singing when you're up to your neck in the mud. Hell Week was the seminal event for the First Phase of SEAL training. It was six days of no sleep and unrelenting harassment by instructors. If one person could sing while neck deep in the mud, then so could we. If that one person could endure the freezing cold, then so could we. If that one person could hold on, then so could we. Hope is the most powerful force in the universe. We will all find ourselves neck deep in mud someday. That is the time to sing loudly, to smile broadly; to lift up those around you and to give them hope that tomorrow will be a better day.
Chapter 10 - Never, Ever Quit
If you want to change the world, don't ever, ever ring the bell. I stood at attention with the other 150 students beginning the first day of six month SEAL training. The instructor said, "You will be tested like no time in your life. Most of you will not make it through. I will see to that. I will do everything in my power to make you quit. And there will be pain. Lots and lots of pain. But let me tell you something, 'If you quit, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes anything any easier." Six months later, there were only thirty-three of us standing at graduation.
Life constantly puts you in situations where quitting seems so much easier than continuing on. Life is always full of difficult times. But someone out there always has it worse than you do. (In times like these, rather than focusing on your own problems, it can always be helpful to find someone who is far worse off than you are and to help them. That puts your own problems into proper perspective and makes it easier to overcome them.)
Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden, and never, ever give up - if you do these things, then you can change your life for the better...and maybe the world!