A smile and a shoeshine

It was an evolution. I needed those programs back then and as I self-improved, I moved to different things. They sound a little pathetic when I listen to them again. You know the things I am talking about, things with titles like “the Winner’s Edge,” or “the Secrets of Success.” They seem mostly designed for people in sales and marketing or people trying to get their lives back on track or on track in the first place.

Most are not subtle. Many have mantras. You repeat things like "I am the best" or "I can do this." I never actually did the mantras; even then I was not a mantra sort of guy. But I did benefit from the programs; that I won't deny. I needed to develop a sense of what they called "personal power," not only the confidence that I COULD do things. I have always been pretty good at actually doing things. What I needed was the personal power to know that but that I deserved to succeed. This was important. I was a little too diffident. I would do a lot of the work and preparation but I never felt that I deserved the success. I would not cross the finish line.

These brash and pushy people, people I would probably dislike then and now if I met in person, were exactly what I needed. And I could listen to them in my car and on my Walkman (remember those) w/o having to interact. It was useful, what I needed.

I don't know why I was thinking about this yesterday, but I looked up some of the old tapes and found the Nightingale-Conant webpage. I used to get their catalogs. The webpage is pretty much the same, with many of the same programs and authors from the 1980s. Some have made new ones and they are pictured on the covers, now much older and presumably much more prosperous from taking their own advice about winning and goal setting. I imagine they have a society of their own increasingly geriatric where they meet to trade platitudes and tales of overcoming. But I am grateful to them. Take a look at one of them here. This guy changed my life.

I think that the self-improvement reputation suffers because they are seen as shallow, but there come times in every life when you need to be shallower, a little less introspective. Going in with nothing but chutzpah or the old "smile and a shoeshine" is bad, but these guys often get what they are after. I hate that, but it doesn't make it less true. The problem for competent but diffident people is that they (we?) don't know how to close the sale. We don't take the last step. We are modest people, sometimes admittedly with much to be modest about but more often with ideas and abilities that deserve ... wait for it ... to win. We have to learn to be winners AND jettison the underlying suspicion that winning is not for us or that winning is vaguely disreputable concept.

My golden age of self-improvement lasted a few years back in the late 1980s. I should qualify that statement. Maybe I should call it a "self-help" stage. We should never stop self-improving and I read more and listen to more audio programs than ever. But now I do the history, biography, literature and science. I circled back to my old interests, even tried to relearn some Latin with the Loeb Classic of Lucretius. It worked not at all. These things are more intellectually defensible, but they are definitely still self-improvement. They help you examine your life and your values and figure out what you should do.

There is also a matter of the hierarchy of needs. You need to "go for the gold" when you are building a career and creating a life worth living. If you succeed, you have the luxury of introspection and reflection. I could disparage those still striving with the self-help programs and call them crass, but they are now what I was then and what I am now they might want to become, maybe not. I don't have many of the symbols of success pictured on the covers of the programs and in the brochures, but I still think I am a winner. Maybe I should repeat that mantra a hundred or so times.

Posted by Christine & John at February 15, 2014 9:39 AM
Comment #376465

Good Post.

Posted by: Warren Porter at February 15, 2014 9:54 AM
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You should get some of these programs. Young people need such things. You are a winner; you are a winner …

Posted by: CJ at February 15, 2014 11:38 AM
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C/J wrote; “The problem for competent but diffident people is that they (we?) don’t know how to close the sale. We don’t take the last step.”

I have been in direct sales about half of my life and your comment brought back a laughable moment for me.

I was riding with a new salesperson who had watched and listened to my pitch to prospects for over a week. It was his turn to try his hand.

The prospect answered the door and the new guy said…”You don’t want to buy any insurance…do you? Poor guy, I had to let him go. Such negativity could never succeed in direct sales.

Posted by: Royal Flush at February 15, 2014 2:46 PM
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I usually didn’t have trouble starting; it was that close that killed me.

Posted by: CJ at February 15, 2014 4:44 PM
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You’re right C/J, a good close is paramount. One should rehearse it to be sure it’s powerful. It’s kind of like proposing marriage.

Posted by: Royal Flush at February 15, 2014 4:54 PM
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That is why I couldn’t make it in sales. The tapes I refer to in the main article often gave the same kind of advice as you do and I am sure it is good.

Posted by: CJ at February 15, 2014 5:12 PM
Comment #376490

C&J, a much simpler approach:

know who you work for

know what he/she wants

get it for him/her

make him/her like it

Posted by: roy ellis at February 15, 2014 8:26 PM
Comment #376492


This goes against my whole work philosophy. I work for the task and not the master; I give him what WE needs, not what he wants. It essence of professional integrity. I admit to being sometimes craven and weak, but generally I follow my proper star. This may explain some of my career challenges, but also my success. It is also probably why I could not be in sales.

Posted by: CJ at February 15, 2014 8:34 PM
Comment #376498

CJ, I am looking forward to read Megan McArdle’s new book.

What I needed was the personal power to know that but that I deserved to succeed. This was important. I was a little too diffident. I would do a lot of the work and preparation but I never felt that I deserved the success. I would not cross the finish line.

Have you ever heard of the “Imposter Syndrome”?

Posted by: Warren Porter at February 16, 2014 11:29 AM
Comment #376511


I must also read that book. When you quoted her, I thought for a second I had written that. It is right how I used to feel. I have indeed heard of the imposter syndrome. I use it in my lectures.

I recall a very interesting and useful talk at Fletcher School. As you may recall, I was there 2003-4, as a fellow not a student. But I still went to the initiation. One of the deans gave a great talk. He said something like, “Right now when you look at the great people around you, you are wondering whether you deserve to be hers. Let me tell you. You do. We don’t make mistakes like that. AND I can guarantee you that within a few weeks you will stop asking that question about yourself and start asking, ‘how the heck did he/she ever get in.’”

Posted by: CJ at February 16, 2014 1:50 PM
Comment #376512

An interesting video that might be of interest…


“There are two qualities that correlate with success,” says New York Times journalist John Tierney. “One of them is intelligence and the other is self-control. And so far researchers haven’t figured out what to do about intelligence, but they have rediscovered how to improve self-control.”

Tierney spoke at an event sponsored by the Reason Foundation on January 28, 2014 at New York City’s Museum of Sex. He was joined by Roy Baumeister, the Francis Epps Eminent Scholar in psychology at Florida State University, and the co-author with Tierney of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
Baumeister and Tierney discussed the importance of willpower in determing our success in life and offered tips for improving our self-control. The conversation touched on laboratory experiments that show how willpower can be depleted (6:20); the effect of glucose levels on self-control (10:15); how to make good on your New Year’s resolutions (16:30); why dieting undermines self-control (20:45); how to make an effective to do list (22:30); Tierney and Baumeister’s experience meeting David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (24:30); why it’s a good idea to weigh yourself every day if you’re trying to shed pounds (25:30); the role of genetics in determining a person’s willpower (31:00); why self-help literature rarely emphasizes willpower (33:00); the victim mentality and Alcoholics Anonymous (35:20); willpower and crime (38:50); procrastination as a tool for getting things done (47:20); and willpower and evolution (51:45)

Video is linked here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Q5nJXQv4UcI

Posted by: Rhinehold at February 16, 2014 2:39 PM
Comment #376513


I think they are right. This has gone out of style but if you are reasonably intelligent and disciplined you are almost sure to be successful. I never really had too much trouble with those things, but I did need help with that closing thing.

It is interesting that among the comments in the YouTube, some clown felt it necessary to comment “Excellent Video! Probably as objective as two over-privileged, middle-aged white men could make it! TNX!”

It is interesting how losers (as this guy probably is) equate success with race and gender.

Posted by: CJ at February 16, 2014 3:54 PM
Comment #376518
When you quoted her, I thought for a second I had written that.

I was quoting you. My apologies for the confusion.

Posted by: Warren Porter at February 16, 2014 4:26 PM
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Okay. I thought it looked very familiar. Extremely well written :)

Posted by: CJ at February 17, 2014 5:37 AM
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If you actually want to read McArdle’s writing, I suggest this.

If they’re forced into a challenge they don’t feel prepared for, they may even engage in what psychologists call “self-handicapping”: deliberately doing things that will hamper their performance in order to give themselves an excuse for not doing well. Self-handicapping can be fairly spectacular: in one study, men deliberately chose performance-inhibiting drugs when facing a task they didn’t expect to do well on. “Instead of studying,” writes the psychologist Edward Hirt, “a student goes to a movie the night before an exam. If he performs poorly, he can attribute his failure to a lack of studying rather than to a lack of ability or intelligence. On the other hand, if he does well on the exam, he may conclude that he has exceptional ability, because he was able to perform well without studying.”
Posted by: Warren Porter at February 17, 2014 10:47 AM
Comment #376540


That makes sense too. I didn’t write that, right?

I have heard that sort of thing before. It is very common, unfortunately. I think I told you that when I told my father that I wanted to compete for the hard to get job I have now, he told me, “Don’t bother; it’s only for rich kids.” When I got it, he told me that maybe the rich kids didn’t want it anymore. I am convinced that this self-handicapping holds lots of people down. I don’t believe racism is any longer an important factor in keeping people poor, for example, but I think the legacy is in that people hide behind it and use it as an excuse.

I have mostly overcome this, but I see it regularly in others. The cure is to recognize it and not tolerate it n yourself or others. Of course, you then run the risk of being told that you are “blaming the victim.”

Posted by: CJ at February 17, 2014 12:33 PM
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