Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton

Maybe you are one of those people who think you can “do it” alone. Perhaps you feel that your college degree entitles you to success. Possibly you didn’t earn that college diploma, and you feel that certain paths are closed to you.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Education is important, but what is even more valuable is taking what you have been endowed with and using it as kindling to spark the possibility of achievement. But you can’t do that without two very crucial accelerants: mentors and what you learn in life.

One of my great mentors was Mort Utley. Mort built Jefferson National Life Insurance Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, a multi-billion-dollar company. I first met him at Southwestern when he addressed the students at the sales school. I still have a tape of his motivational talk. He was an excellent speaker and tremendous motivator, and it just so happened that he lived in Phoenix. Because of the achievements I earned in the book business at Southwestern, he and I became good friends. I went over to his house many times and asked him numerous questions.

He taught me his five keys to success: burning desire, fighting spirit, striving for perfection, perseverance, and faith in God.

He told me many things that stand out, but one of the most significant things he said was that less than 3% of the working population ever find their niche. People go to work because of many different financial responsibilities like housing, family, and day-to-day living. And so, they go to jobs to generate an income, whether they like it or not. I never forgot his words.

That insight motivated me to talk to my dad about this when he was 93 years old (he was born in 1917) and in a nursing home. “Dad,” I told him, “You were a great parent. You set all the right examples, especially where integrity is concerned. Plus, I wouldn’t be today what I am had you not introduced me to futures. Now let me ask you this: Did you really like being an engineer? Did you love the business and the job?” He worked for about seven different companies and then for the government for 13 years.

My dad said, “I hated being an engineer. I never liked the job.”

“My goodness. Why did you do it for some 45 years?”

He said, “I had mortgage payments, a wife, and two boys so I didn’t have a whole lot of choices. That’s what I got my degree in.”

“But why did you get that degree, and why did you go into it to begin with?”

“Well, because in the summer time when I was in high school, in the mid to late ’30s, I worked at a dry goods store. The manager of that store was Mr. Day, and one day he slapped me on the back and told me, ‘Fred, you need to be an engineer. My son is going to college to be an engineer and you’re just like him.’”

My dad lost his father early in life. A real estate developer, he was murdered in his office. Consequently, my dad didn’t really have anyone to talk to about career choices, and Mr. Day was someone he admired and respected. My dad went to Texas A&M and because there weren’t any student loan programs, he worked in the dairy to pay his expenses.

Then I asked him, “Instead of becoming an engineer what would you have wanted to be?” And he replied, “I would have rather been an accountant. I think I would have loved that job and field.”

My dad was not the only person I’ve ever met who chose a job he didn’t love. In addition, many people are in jobs that they shouldn’t be doing. After all, how well will a person do a job he or she can’t stand? What kind of commitment can they make to do their best? My dad spent over 40 years of working experience living a lie that he told himself. He did what he thought he should do, instead of what he wanted to pursue. Realizing that he made that enormous compromise still makes me sad.

Consider the times when you had to take on a job or responsibility or assignment that you did not enjoy. It may have been years ago, when you took a weekly music lesson. If you suffered through that hour and never learned to play that instrument, it wasn’t because you weren’t born a musician. It was because you didn’t like what you were doing. If you had, you would have practiced and improved. Now, consider how that plays out in the workplace. If you don’t feel connected to your job description and what it entails, you won’t be very good at it. If you figure you can talk or maneuver your way to success without intense commitment to what you are doing, you are pursuing a delusion and deceiving yourself. Not only will your project suffer — so will you. Your spirit will fall, and your perception of what you are capable of will diminish.

So never forget the extra ingredient. It is a word that is used a lot — and maybe too much. That word is passion. But just because it is overused doesn’t mean that its meaning is lessened. Without passion for what you do, you cannot succeed in what you do. Without it, you won’t be able to summon the necessary energy and focus to complete your goals. With it, you will be able to fuel your ambitions.

The preceding is adapted from The Winning Advantage: Tap into Your Richest Resources by Raymond Houser ©2018 Raymond D. Houser and published with permission of the author.

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