The Choice is Yours

Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you choose to react to it
To be a sophomore in college without a care in the world, what a blissfully ignorant fool I was.  At that time the fun police had not yet conquered Iowa City, and it was still legal for an 18-year-old to go to the bars.  The rationale for this wonderful state of affairs was that young people just want to dance and socialize.  The reality was that they go to the bars for the same reason everyone else does.  The culture was so lax that bouncers didn't bat an eye as one ID was used to get 5 guys into a bar via the "pass-back" method. 18-year-olds were treated like the adults they supposedly are.  It was glorious.

But at the same time it was all a racket.  Cops would enter the bars and start handing out tickets like shooting fish in a barrel.  Iowa is consistently ranked as a top party school, and I'd wager we also ranked at the top of colleges whose graduates have a criminal record.  Adopting the 'work hard, play hard' philosophy, I quickly contributed to that statistic.  By the end of my sophomore year I had used both of my life-time deferments in the State of Iowa.  The final straw was being charged with a DUI, driving under the influence, when I was neither drunk nor driving.  I put the key in the ignition, I saw cherries, and I took the key out of the ignition.  The single beer that allowed me to blow over 0.0 but far below the legal limit put me in the slammer.  When you're under 21 there is "zero-tolerance" for this kind of thing, so one drink is the same as being blacked-out behind the wheel.  It seemed an injustice at the time, and still does, but little did I know this incident would lead to the best decision I ever made.

I recognized that if I stayed in Iowa City I would not stop going out and drinking with my friends because it was too much fun and too easy to "get away with."  Realizing that a misdemeanor charge for possession of alcohol no longer meant a $100 slap on the wrist, but jail time for violating probation and throwing away the $2,500 I had spent on a lawyer to get my DUI deferred, I did the only logical thing I could: I exiled myself from Iowa City for two summers by joining the Southwestern Company's door-to-door sales program.

What I Learned as a Door-to-Door Salesman

14 hours a day, 6 days a week, cold-calling door-to-door as an independent contractor on straight commission all alone in a state far away from your friends and family.  What's not to like?  I was a book-man, and Yuba City, California was my territory.  I couldn't understand why anyone else would sign up for this, but my reasoning was simple: no matter how challenging selling books door-to-door would be, it definitely beats rotting in jail.  That was my story, and I decided to stick to it.

Once the decision was made that I would finish my summer, that quitting was truly not an option, the next life-changing decision came naturally: I would drink all the Kool-Aid the Southwestern Company served.  Some people warned me to stay clear of Southwestern, they said it was a cult.  But if their cult would brainwash me to succeed and make a lot of money, then sign me up.  Ultimately, by eagerly gulping down the Kool-Aid with both hands, I would be a top first year dealer and bring home over $10,000 in profit my first summer.  But looking back on my door-to-door career I don't think of the money that is long gone, but at the success principles that I was taught, and which I still use today.

All companies talk about core-values, but few walk the walk.  A book-man doesn't hold these beliefs on faith, he knows they are true from first-hand experience.

Cultivating the Habit of a Positive Attitude
"Weak is he who permits his thoughts to control his actions; strong is he who forces his actions to control his thoughts." - Og Mandino, Scroll VI, The Greatest Salesman in the World
It's noon on a Wednesday in California.  I haven't had a sale all day, and instead of being focused on the next door, I'm praying for a "sit-down demo" of my books just to get out of the heat.  But instead of getting invited into an air-conditioned living room with a glass of lemonade, I get the door slammed on my face.  Meanwhile, my friends are back in Iowa City relaxing in the pool and boozing with beautiful women.  What was I thinking?

But Southwestern's sales school prepared me for this.  They told me that the job would be hard, that I would want to quit.  They told me this job would give me my highest-highs and my lowest-lows.  This is what I signed up for.  I looked my sales manager in the eye and promised that come hell or high-water I would finish my summer and see him in Nashville in 11 weeks and not a day sooner.  Would I keep my promise?

While it is possible some people are born with a positive attitude, for most it only comes through force of habit.  And how does one make positive thinking a habit?  By first changing the existing habit of being negative.  Thus, we were taught to launch a pre-emptive strike against the negative thoughts that were sure to come by saying positive phrases out-loud.  It might make you look like a crazy person running around talking to yourself, but you're crazy like a fox.

So every morning at 5:59 AM we'd shoot out of bed saying "Great day", "Today is the best day of my life", and "I love my job".  We'd have post-it notes with these cheesy one-liners all over our room and the bathroom mirror to remind us to say them out-loud.  And before we'd hit our first house of the day, we would read aloud one of the scrolls from Og Mandino's The Greatest Salesman in the World.  Scroll III, "I will persist until I succeed", and Scroll VI, "Today I will be master of my emotions", were my two favorites.  And that wasn't the end.  In between every house, all day long, the positive phrases were a constant companion.  Every time I could feel a negative thought like "this sucks", "this isn't for me", or "I want to quit" coming along, I'd counter-attack by shouting a positive phrase from my arsenal of one-liners.

By the requisite 21 days needed to form a habit, the negative thoughts occurred less and less, and the positive phrases became more and more natural.  When someone would ask "how are you doing", the quasi-negative answer of "not bad" would be naturally replaced with "today is the best day of my life".  Was it really?  Objectively maybe not, but the motto was "fake it till you make it".  If you say "today is the best day of my life" long enough, you will begin to believe it, and then amazing things begin to happen.

"Our lives are not determined by what happens to us, but by how we react to what happens; not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life.  A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes.  It is a catalyst...a spark that creates extraordinary results".  No surprise that Successories, the company that makes these inspirational posters, was founded by a book-man.

Control the Controllables

While there are obvious benefits to cultivating the habit of a positive attitude, including health benefits, a positive attitude is not necessarily an end in itself.  Life is full of tragedies, and sometimes it is impossible or inappropriate to find the "positive" in those situations.  This is where the book-man motto "Control the Controllables" comes into play.

When despite your best planning life doesn't go your way and the unfortunate happens, you are left with the choice of how to respond.  Your options are divided into two logical categories: the things you can control, and the things you cannot control.  This may seem self-evident, but by consciously analyzing your situation along these lines you immediately improve your situation.

Why worry about something you can't control?  What does it buy you?  It might make you feel better to call up a friend or family member and relate the story of the horrible thing that happened to you, but how has that materially changed your situation?  With this attitude towards things you can't control, the mere act of identifying them automatically frees you of any further injury they could cause.  The bad thing happened, it's over, it's done with, now what?  At least the bad thing that you can't control won't make matters worse by taking up your time thinking about it and keeping you from acting on what's truly important: the things you can control.

In the middle of my first summer I was struck with an ingrown toenail which required a surgical procedure at the local hospital to have the offending piece of nail removed.  I couldn't do anything about the fact that the ingrown toenail happened, I couldn't do anything about the pain, and I couldn't keep up the pace I had grown accustomed to.  Those were the things I couldn't control.  But I could control my attitude, and I could decide to get back to work and get as close as possible to 30 demos a day.  While the temptation existed to milk the injury for all it was worth and maybe spend a few days on the couch to rest up, I decided to work the hours I pledged, even if that meant limping door-to-door.

As I discovered, even though I sold far more books on other days, I was most proud of those few days I spent hobbling around with a bandaged toe.  I was even more focused on getting "sit-down demos" instead of "door-demos" then before, as every invitation inside meant an opportunity to change my bandage and soak my toe in warm salt-water as the doctor instructed.  Ironically, maybe some of the sales I got were due to sympathy and wouldn't have been achieved without the injury!  Words from sales school rang true: act with integrity by doing what you say you will do, real success is doing your personal best, and if the path you're on isn't a difficult one, then you're going in the wrong direction.

The Power of Taking Responsibility

With a positive attitude and a mindset of "controlling the controllables", the next lesson I learned on the book-field was the power of taking responsibility for my actions and my attitude.  But first I have a story that can only be told by Mort Utley, National Speakers Association Hall of Famer, as he gave the keynote address to Southwestern in the late 1980's:

Remember the Pony.  This story serves two purposes for me.  On the one hand, it's the perfect way to lighten up the mood and help you stay positive when something bad happens.  Another door slammed in my face after crashing my bike, cutting up my knees, and losing my lunch in a puddle?  Wow, I must have a big pony coming my way!

On the other hand, there is obviously no direct connection between the trials and tribulations you face and how "big" the ponies will be, that is, as long as you are looking at it from the short-term material perspective.  However, if you view the ponies not as your sales, but as the lessons you learn and the growth in character that you acquire by overcoming challenges and persisting in the face of adversity, then the direct connection is very real.

Every challenge you face can be viewed from two perspectives, it can be the bad thing that happened to you which becomes your excuse for not meeting your life goals, or it can be the story of how you turned the challenge into an opportunity to accomplish something you never thought possible.  It's a slight twist on the phrase "whether you think you can or you can't, you are right."

It makes no sense to take responsibility for things you can't control, and with a negative attitude focusing on your responsibility risks sinking into the depths self-pity and depression over past mistakes.  But with all three techniques you can become very powerful.  Consider two people who have experienced the exact same scenario, Smith and Jones.  Smith explains how the bad thing in life "happened to him", and he can relate a perfectly reasonable and compelling explanation for why his past victim-hood caused him to fail in his goals.  Nods of sympathy all around.  But Jones tells a different story, the bad thing that happened is not the heart of the story, instead he focuses on how he failed to control his emotions.  He takes responsibility for his failure to control the only thing he could control, his attitude, and he looks forward to an opportunity to learn from his mistake and succeed in mastering his emotions the next time tragedy strikes.  Question: Who is the more powerful person?  Who is in a better position in the future?

The answer seems so obvious and perfectly rational, and so it begs the question: if it truly is in our best interest to take responsibility for our actions, why don't people do it?  I asked my sales manager a similar question after my first summer.  I couldn't understand why people would go out for the summer only to not follow the lessons learned in sales school.  We all gave up our college summers to go work hard and make money, so why in the world would you suffer the pain but not take the extra steps to gain?  I didn't think it was rational, but he gave me a very insightful explanation: "They get to be right".

By not following the techniques to cultivate the habit of a positive attitude, usually because it appears so lame and cultish to people on the outside, the negative thoughts are a constant companion: "I hate this job", "This isn't for me", "I should quit", "No one likes these books", "I'm not cut out for sales", "I'm bothering people", "I have a bad territory", "This is a scam".  These thoughts influence your mood, and your mood will influence your actions.  You can give the exact same demo word for word, but if your heart isn't in it, if you don’t have a positive, service-minded attitude, your potential customers are far less likely to want to do business with you.

So what do you get out of it?  You get to be right.  Every slammed door is another confirmation of your negative bias, that you were right all along, that selling books door-to-door really isn't for you.  Smith says, "Another mom that doesn't want my books, I knew my territory sucks.  No one cares about their kid's education here!  If only I had Jones' territory, then I'd succeed.  This isn't fair, I quit!".  Jones says the only territory that matters is the 6 inches between his ears, he thanks the mom for her "No", because he is one door closer to a "Yes".  And the crazy thing is, they are both right.

Success Principles for Libertarians

This world can be a lonely, scary, and depressing place for a libertarian.  Society seems to be moving further and further away from the principles of freedom and towards the principles of violence, compulsion, and coercion at an accelerating rate.  Violations of our rights that would have been unthinkable 5 or 10 years back are now touted as the only option.  Every country's economic policy is based on a fallacy that should have been put to rest 160 years ago.  What can a single man do versus all the power of the state?

For one thing, a libertarian can focus on controlling the controllables.  We can't turn the world into a libertarian paradise overnight, but it turns out there is quite a lot we can control in our daily lives that adds up to big changes in the aggregate.
With our attitudes ultimately being the one and only thing that we can control 100%, this is the most important thing libertarians should focus on.  When a new activist goes down the rabbit hole and understands the depths of our problems, the initial reaction is commonly to tell everyone, everywhere, all the time.  This leads to disappointment when the masses aren't readily convinced and don't immediately join us in our noble cause.  This rejection often leads to activists "burning out" and choosing to disengage from activism because they don't readily see fruit from their labors.

But what if libertarian activists started applying the success principles outlined above, starting with reading the scrolls from The Greatest Salesman in the World?  After all, we are salesman, we sell what we believe to be the truth, and we make a sale every time we introduce that truth to a new mind.  Every day we can have little victories.  Every conversation with a friend, family member, co-worker, or complete stranger is one step closer to our ultimate goal of liberty in our lifetime.  And even if that conversation doesn't immediately wake the person up, you have planted a seed that could bear fruit days, weeks, or even years later.  Imagine what would happen if every morning every libertarian activist started his day by reading aloud Scroll III, I will persist until I succeed, and took that lesson to heart.  Forget liberty in our lifetime, we'd have it within 2-3 weeks tops.
"I will persist until I succeed.


I was not delivered unto this world in defeat, nor does failure course in my veins.  I am not a sheep waiting to be prodded by my shepherd.  I am a lion and I refuse to talk, to walk, to sleep with the sheep.  I will hear not those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.  Let them join the sheep.  The slaughterhouse of failure is not my destiny.

I will persist until I succeed.

The prizes of life are at the end of each journey, not near the beginning; and it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal.  Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road.  Never will I know how close it lies until I turn the corner.

Always will I take another step.  If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another.  In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult.

I will persist until I succeed.

Henceforth, I will consider each day's effort as but one blow of my blade against a mighty oak.  The first blow may cause not a tremor in the wood, nor the second, nor the third.  Each blow, by itself, may be trifling, and seem of no consequence.  Yet from childish swipes the oak will eventually tumble.  So it will be with my efforts of today.

I will be liken to the rain drop which washes away the mountain; the ant who devours a tiger; the star which brightens the earth; the slave who builds a pyramid.  I will build my castle one brick at a time for I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete my undertaking.


I will persist until I succeed.

I will try, and try, and try again.  Each obstacle I will consider as a mere detour to my goal and a challenge to my profession.  I will persist and develop my skills as the mariner develops his, by learning to ride out the wrath of each storm.


I will persist until I succeed.

Nor will I allow yesterday's success to lull me into today's complacency, for this is the great foundation of failure.  I will forget the happenings of the day that is gone, whether they were good or bad, and greet the new sun with confidence that this will be the best day of my life.

So long as there is breath in me, that long will I persist.  For now I know one of the greatest principles of success; if I persist long enough I will win.

I will persist.

I will win."
Libertarians can also learn from Scroll IX, "I will act now", by focusing our energies where we can achieve liberty that doesn't involve waiting 4 more years to "kick the bums out".
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