Your Success Depends On The Wolf You Feed.
As you can already tell, today’s format is a bit different from my previous “Tuesday Tips.” That’s because I just had an amazing experience. I was forced to look back at the last 40 years of my life and reflect on the lessons I’ve learned.
The experience started when I received a letter in the mail. My undergraduate university had selected me as the recipient of its most prestigious award, the Presidential Award. They wanted me to receive the award — in person — and say a few words at the ceremony.
That got me thinking. Really thinking. So I thought you might benefit from the words I spoke at the ceremony as well as the lessons I learned along the way.
***** The Speech *****
You would have won the bet.
If you had bet me in 1965 that I would be standing up here today, receiving this award, I would have said, “No way.” Because I had no plans of ever coming to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
You see I grew up in this town, and my goal was to leave this town. So I spent my high school years studying and studying, skipping all the social activities, so I could graduate at the top of my class and receive a big scholarship to attend an expensive, private Christian university.
Well things didn’t work out that way. My family was poor, but not quite poor enough to qualify for such scholarships. So in my mind, I was stuck, staying at home and going to school in Eau Claire. That’s all we could afford.
I spent much of my freshman year in the Student Activities Center, between classes, being depressed. I felt like my dreams had been crushed, and I was one negative cookie.
But around March of my freshman year, I saw an ad in the college newspaper for high paying summer jobs in Europe. Immediately I thought that was for me. I thought if I was stuck in this town during the school year, I could at least spend my summers in Europe making the big bucks.
I applied for a European job, got one, flew to London, as excited as I had ever been. It was then — and not until then — that I discovered what my job was going to be. It was working in a restaurant, waiting tables, bussing dishes, and washing pots … 6-1/2 days a week, 70 hours a week, for $14 a week.
Now if you thought I was depressed going to school in Eau Claire, I now felt super depressed. This was to be my reprieve. I quickly wired a note to my father, telling him what had happened, asking for his advice. Should I fly back home and call it quits? He replied with a one-sentence note that said, “You can take anything for a short period of time.” It changed my attitude.
So I stayed in Europe. I worked and worked. But I made friends that I have kept to this day. In fact my wife Chris and I have gone to England several times to visit my former boss and coworkers.
A transformation took place in my attitude while I was in Europe. But little did I realize that a transformation was also taking place in my attitude during my freshman year at this school. The transformation came in the person of Dr. Sally Webb — my advisor and speech professor.
On the one hand, I was a little scared of her. Everyone talked about how demanding she was — that she accepted nothing less than excellence. That was true … but I immediately respected her because I’ve always been attracted to quality and competence.
***** Lesson #1: Watch the wolf you feed.
Let me step aside from the acceptance speech … just for a moment. I didn’t say the following in the speech, but it was a lesson that came to mind as I put the speech together. It came from an old Cherokee.
One evening, an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.
He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth and compassion.”
The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
How true! I had been feeding the Evil wolf, allowing myself to stay upset because I didn’t get my way. I didn’t get to attend my university of choice. And so I wasted a whole year of emotional energy.
Do you ever do that? Let me tell you it’s not worth it.
***** But back to the speech
My eyes began to open. I began to realize I wasn’t stuck in Eau Claire. I was privileged to attend a university where quality and competence were the norm. And despite the fact that it’s been 36 years since I graduated, I could still tell you the names of most of my professors. That’s how impressed I was.
But what about today? I continue to realize the importance of quality and competence, and I know that this university is known across the country for having such a reputation.
But I’ve also come to realize that that’s not enough to guarantee success. As a professor for 15 years, and as a business owner and professional speaker the last 21 years, I’ve learned there has to be some other magic ingredients.
There has to be the magic ingredients of caring and belief. And Sally Webb exhibited those qualities day in and day out. Whenever I left her classroom or her office, I knew that she cared about me, my success, my future, and she believed in me. And so did lots of other professors on campus.
Then I looked a little deeper. And I instantly knew that my high school teacher, Virgelee LeDue, had served the same purpose in my life. She was a gifted instructor who also believed in me. When my self-esteem was low, she was there, telling me I could do it.
***** Lesson #2: Hang around people who believe in you.
Stepping aside from the speech again, I realized that success is almost never a solo performance. Even though I’ve accomplished a great deal over the years, I couldn’t have done it without the support of others.
Mrs. LeDue, for example, knew there was potential inside of me, even though it was covered up by a bit of shyness and insecurity. Oh sure, I was at the top of my class academically, but I still doubted myself. As consultant Barbara Sher put it, “Down deep we really know our worth, but we don’t have easy access to that knowledge. We need to hear praise coming from outside ourselves or we won’t remember that we deserve it.” Mrs. LeDue gave me some of the praise I needed.
But she also pushed me into speech contests, never knowing that I would become a professional speaker or be inducted into the Speakers Hall of Fame, along with President Ronald Reagan and General Collin Powell. Those things didn’t exist back then. But Mrs. LeDue followed Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s advice. Disraeli said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.”
***** Finally, back to the speech
As I come to a close in this acceptance speech, I could spend the next hour listing professors that made a difference in my life. I could reminisce about the way I developed my leadership skills as the head of my fraternity. And I could mention so many experiences that made my years at this school some of the best years of my life.
Today I simply want to say that I’m so proud to be a graduate of this school. I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this Presidential award.
***** Lesson #3: Pass it on.
There’s an old line that says, “You’ve been blessed to be a blessing.” I believe that. When something good comes to you or me, I believe it is only right that we pass it on … that we share it with others.
So I would challenge you to do that. If you’ve been taught a great lesson in one of my “Tuesday Tips,” for example, tell others about it. Share it at a meeting or get them signed up for their own subscription.
If someone has done you a favor, pass it on. Do a favor for someone else.
Or if you gotten a little extra money, think about where it can do the most good, and pass it on. For example, every time I give a presentation, I give 10-20% of the fee to charity. In fact, your hiring of me to speak has already endowed two scholarships … for future students … forever and ever.
Action: What wolf are you feeding? The one that lives on thoughts of evil negativity or the one that lives on good positive energy?