Optimism is the first step to success

Two old friends met at a local social gathering and one was struck with how sad and depressed the other was.

“You look like your world is about to end,” said Jack.

With a sad face, Joe replied, “You don’t know the half of it.  Three weeks ago, an aunt of mine died and left me $100,000.”

“That’s terrific!” Jack said.

Scarcely pausing, Joe added, “Two weeks ago, this cousin I never heard of died, and I was his closest relative, so the lawyer said I’d inherited $95,000, all tax free.”

“So why is that bad?”

“Then last week a grandfather I haven’t spoken to in 10 years passed away, and he left me almost half a million dollars!”

“So what’s your problem?”

“This week – nothing!”

You just can’t please everyone.

I’m an eternal optimist.  Where there is an optimist, there is a way.  Success requires irrepressible optimism.


Just ask corporate giant Michael Eisner, former Walt Disney Company CEO, how he became so successful, and in a heartbeat, he’ll say optimism.  In his book, Work in Progress, Eisner says he has been upbeat for as far back as he could remember.  As a kid, he went to New York Giants football games with a firm belief that they would win.  In those days the team was mediocre at best, and by the fourth quarter they’d usually be down by four or five touchdowns.  When his friends would want to leave early to beat the crowds out of the stadium, Eisner insisted on staying, responding, “The Giants have to score four times and get a field goal, but there are five minutes left, and they’re going to do it.”  Even though the team invariably lost, Eisner would come back a few weeks later, certain the Giants would win.  It was this kind of irrepressible optimism that propelled Eisner into the highest ranks of some of the most successful companies in the world.

M.J. Ryan, life coach and author of The Happiness Makeover, says that it’s possible for just about anyone to revamp their thinking.  “Training your brain is like training a puppy,” she says.  “It wanders everywhere, but you need to keep bringing it back to the upside.”

I recently saw a survey that said teenagers were optimistic despite our murky economy.  According to Chicago-based Teenage Research Unlimited, 57 percent of teenagers think it will be more difficult for them to find work as adults than it was for their parents.  Thirty percent believe that they’ll find work with about the same amount of effort as their parents, and only 12 percent of teens think jobs will be easier to come by for them than they were for their parents.

However, 77 percent of teens expect they’ll make more money than their parents – only 4 percent believe they will make less.  So, teens are still confident and optimistic on that count.

But being too optimistic has its problems, say researchers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.  The study, originally published in the “Journal of Financial Economics,” discovered that people who are generally optimistic usually display prudent financial behaviors, but people with too much optimism tend to have short planning horizons and often do things that are considered unwise.

The researchers asked survey participants how long they expected to live.  Anyone who reported expecting to live longer than the statistical life expectancies was categorized as an optimist.  Those who thought they would live 20 years longer than statistical life expectancies were considered extreme optimists.

The study found that optimists work longer hours, save more money, are  more likely to pay their credit card balances on time, believe their income will grow over the next five years and plan to retire later (or not at all).  But extreme optimists work significantly fewer hours, save less money and are less likely to pay off their credit card balances on a regular basis.

You have the power to control your outlook.  Just remember these three things.

  1. Tell yourself you can change.  Consider how you’ve changed throughout your life emotionally.  Don’t assume you can’t evolve further.
  2. Use positive language.  Banish words and phrases like “impossible” and “I can’t” from your vocabulary.  Replace them with words that emphasize strength and success:  “challenging” and “I must.”
  3. Let go of mistakes.  You’re bound to fail at some things; don’t obsess over them.  Learn what you can and move on.


Mackay’s Moral:  Optimists are people who make the best of it when they get the worst of it.

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Learn how to say that dirty 2-letter word

The other day I was with a friend who was telling me how stressed he was.  He felt everyone wanted a piece of him and he was spread too thin.  He didn’t want to disappoint people, especially family.  I told him he needed to learn how to say no.

Like most of us, he had no idea how to gracefully but firmly decline requests.

Why is it so hard?  It’s just a tiny two-letter word that is tremendously liberating.  So why do we feel so guilty saying no?  Do you recognize these descriptions paraphrased from Michelle Tullier’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination”?

NoSome people have a great sense of duty and obligation.  They feel like they have to say yes to almost anything they are asked to do – and end up feeling resentful and burned out.  Remember, taking care of yourself is important, too.

Others just want everyone to like them.  They’re afraid if they say no they might cause the person making the request to reject them.  Don’t worry so much.  People accept others saying no in life, and they’ll accept you saying no, too.

Some are afraid they’ll miss out on a big opportunity if they say no.  The remedy:  If you think doing something will help you achieve some of your own goals, then you should probably do it.  Otherwise, look for other opportunities.

Then there are those who feel flattered when they are asked to do something.  If acknowledgement is the primary reason for helping, rethink your motives.

Some people hate confrontation so much they will do almost anything to avoid it.  They are called pushovers.  Bear in mind, most people don’t scream and yell when someone says no, but if they do, they’ll get over it, and so will you.

Inevitably, someone will ask you to do something you don’t have the time or ability to do.  In an effort to please everyone, you may say yes.  While your intentions may be honorable, the result may be falling short of completing any obligation well.  So everyone might be better served if you just say no.

You probably can’t turn down orders from your boss, but you can take more control of your time by not letting co-workers bury you with requests.  Help when you can, but remind people politely that you’ve got to stick to priorities.  Don’t let extraneous tasks overtake your calendar.

And while it’s great to be needed, don’t try too hard to become your organization’s “go-to” person whenever something needs to be done.  You won’t get ahead if you’re too busy to do good work.  Before you get stretched too far, consider how to say “no” without alienating your boss and your co-workers:

  • Explore the assignment.  Find out why you’re being asked to take on this job.  Are you really the only person who can do it?  Is it really urgent?  The more you know, the more negotiating room you have.
  • Clarify your own priorities.  Explain what else is on your plate and why it’s important.  Other people may not realize what your priorities really are, and won’t press the question once they understand the scope of your other responsibilities.
  • Adjust your workflow.  If your boss wants you to do something extra, use the request as an opportunity to shift your other projects:  “I can do that, but my report on the Jones Project will be late – is that okay?”  This shows you’re thinking about priorities, and may make your boss rethink his assumptions about your workload.
  • Don’t say anything when you’re put on the spot.  Take some time to think it over.
  • Be polite, but firm.  Don’t build false hope about what you can do.  Don’t say, “I’ll try.”  You’ll just worry about squeezing the request into your schedule or how you’re going to say in the end that you didn’t get it done.

Let me just add, from a management perspective, I love when people are willing to take on extra tasks when necessary.  I do not love when their work is substandard or their usual responsibilities suffer, just to prove how many balls they can juggle at one time.  That tells me that they are weak on time management.

Saying no is not the same as saying never.  It’s an acknowledgement that you respect yourself as well as the person doing the asking.  Believe me, it won’t stop them from asking again!


Mackay’s Moral:  Know when to say no.

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Mentoring: a win-win situation

January is National Mentoring Month.  Mentoring can change your life – and theirs.  National Mentoring Month was created to raise awareness of mentoring and as a rallying point for recruiting more adults to step up and be present for young people.

Mentoring means helping less experienced people observe, experiment and evaluate different ways of doing work to find out which strategies work best.  And the benefits are not limited to young people.  People of all ages can gain from the guidance of a more experienced person, even someone younger than you.  A mentor can help even experienced managers boost their job performance and advance their careers.

I’ve had the privilege of mentoring hundreds of people over the course of my career.  With some, it consisted of a few meetings.  With others, the relationship lasted over months or years, with an occasional check-in when questions arose.  Those are some of the most rewarding experiences of my decades in business.


At the same time, I am grateful for two mentors whom I have occasionally mentioned:  my University of Minnesota history professor Harold Deutsch and golf coach Les Bolstad.  Both men taught me as much about life as their particular subjects.  Over my business career I’ve had many great mentors.

Growing up, were there people in your life who encouraged you, showed you the ropes and helped you become the person you are today?  Think about individuals who offered you encouragement, shared their experiences and knowledge, and sometimes just listened when you needed to talk.

Most successful people say they had mentors along the way who guided and encouraged them.  For example, poet Maya Angelou cited a grade school teacher who sparked her love of poetry; music producer Quincy Jones points to the powerful influence of musician Ray Charles; and musician Sting credits a teacher whose energy inspired a lifelong passion for learning.

Finding a mentor, or being a mentor, whichever situation you find yourself in, establishing the right relationship is critical.  You know how important mentoring can be to younger or inexperienced employees.  But how do you know if you’re cut out to be a good mentor?  Here are five key characteristics of an effective mentor:

  • Commitment.  Are you willing to dedicate the time and effort necessary to a mentoring relationship?  You should already be involved in helping employees learn new skills and develop professionally.
  • Courage.  Do you have the courage to take risks, admit mistakes and let others do the same?  You’ll have to tolerate the occasional error and use it as a learning experience, and at the same time teach your staff or co-workers how to tell the difference between a reasonable risk and an unacceptable one.
  • Curiosity.  Are you hungry for knowledge?  Don’t limit your answer to professional areas.  If you’re always asking questions, trying to find out how things work and why, you’ll be a good mentor.
  • Compassion.  Are you patient with others when they make mistakes?  Do you try to understand situations from the other person’s point of view?  As a mentor, your job isn’t to pass judgment but to create opportunities for insight and growth in other people.
  • Communication.  Explain what works for you and why.  Telling a protégé what to do in a specific situation doesn’t really teach him or her much.  You’ll be more effective if you communicate as explicitly as you can what strategies and techniques have worked best for you.  After a meeting with a client, for instance, you might tell the protégé why you took the approach you did.

When you are on the other side of the equation, how do you go about finding a good mentor?  To find the right match, look for someone with skills similar to yours but who has progressed further up the professional ladder.  They don’t even have to be in the same city.  With e-mail, teleconferencing and the phone, they can be anywhere.

Don’t limit yourself to one mentor.  You may want to have several mentors to help with different aspects of your life, a kind of mentoring “board of directors.”  And remember, mentors change over a lifetime.

Manage your time together.  Be mindful of the amount of time a mentor can commit to the relationship.  Ask for referrals if you feel like you’re imposing.  Let your mentors know that you are grateful for their guidance.

Mentoring presents a tremendous win-win opportunity that few business relationships offer.  And who doesn’t want to be a winner?


Mackay’s Moral:  Show that you care with the knowledge you share.

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You can’t win if your head is not in the game

The late Yogi Berra was playing in the minor leagues for the Newark Bears before joining the New York Yankees for his Hall-of-Fame career.  His manager told him not to swing at balls out of the strike zone.

The manager said, “Yogi, next time you’re up, think about what you’re doing.”

Yogi said, “I struck out in three pitches!”

That’s when he uttered one of his famous sayings, “You can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.”

Concentration may be something as simple as keeping your eye on the ball.  If you are concentrating totally on what you’re doing, you’ll have total control of yourself.  If your thoughts and hopes are elsewhere, it is impossible to set your mind steadily toward the work required.


With so many distractions over the holiday season, it’s easy to lose focus.  Concentration takes a back seat to the multitasking that rules our schedules.  Time to rethink the priorities.

“It is those who concentrate on but one thing at a time who advance in this world,” said Og Mandino, author of “The Greatest Salesman in the World.”  “The great man or woman is the one who never steps outside his or her specialty or foolishly dissipates his or her individuality.”

That doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple interests or responsibilities.  You just have to learn to give your full attention to the matter at hand to avoid getting side-tracked.  I’ll admit, that’s easier said than done.  But you can train your brain to block out the clutter with these tips.

Time management.  I like to say, killing time isn’t murder, it’s suicide.  Improve your time management and your time will improve you.  It’s not how much time you have; it’s how you use that time. Time is one of your most precious resources.  Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.  Using your time efficiently and effectively takes organization, planning and information.

Organization.  The more organized you are, the easier it is to concentrate.  The people who know me well will laugh at this one because I’m a habitual packrat.  My filing system is piles, and one pile for each project.  And that’s a lot of piles.  But I typically can find things.  I just need a lot of room to spread out.

Corral your email.  Email is one of the biggest distractions we have today.  And to concentrate, you have to control distractions.

Exercise.  My ability to concentrate effectively starts by getting up early and exercising to get my day off on the right foot.  Keep the oxygen flowing to your brain.  The main vehicle of oxygen is our blood.  And since many of us sit a lot during the day, our blood gets pooled in the lower half of your body.  Get up and walk around occasionally to get your blood flowing and force oxygen to your brain.

Environment.  As they say in real estate, it’s location, location, location.  For example, it’s harder to study or concentrate in a location where you are used to relaxing.  Working in a noisy or busy office makes it harder to focus. Would noise-cancelling headphones make concentration easier? Perhaps a temporary “do not disturb” sign on your cubicle?

Take notes.  I concentrate better and remember more when I take copious notes.  And besides, pale ink is better than the most retentive memory.  Jot down the items that need your attention, and tend to them later when you have time to focus on them.

Practice.  Like any activity, concentration takes practice.  If you want to be good at something, you must practice.  Concentration is like a muscle: the more we use it, the stronger it becomes.

Rest.  One of the biggest factors affecting concentration is rest.  If you don’t get the proper amount of sleep, your mind tends to wander.  Too much sleep is also not healthy.

And last but certainly not least, conquer procrastination.  One of the worst things you can do is procrastinate, yet many people are guilty of putting off the inevitable.  It’s natural to perform the least important task first, because it’s easier, and save the most important for last – if at all.  That’s why one of these days becomes none of these days.

You can make 2016 “one of those years.” Keep your eye on the ball, and yes, think about what you are doing. Yogi Berra would be proud.


Mackay’s Moral: Concentrate if you want to be great.

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Things I’ve learned in life

There are three simple rules in life:

  1. If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it.
  2. If you do not ask, the answer will always be no.
  3. If you do not step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.

I can’t take credit for this, its source is anonymous.  But it started me thinking about my own life and everything that I’ve learned over many decades in business.

The lessons I have learned could fill a set of encyclopedias.  I would imagine anyone who has paid attention to the world around them could say the same.  But there are several guiding principles that help me make decisions, plan strategy and sleep at night.

harvey2For example, I know that you have to dig your well before you’re thirsty.  I believe it so completely that it became the title of my book on networking.  This applies to both networking and planning.  Here is the most important line in the book:  “If I had to name the single characteristic shared by all the truly successful people I’ve met over a lifetime, I’d say it is the ability to create and nurture a network of contacts.”

In the end, it’s not the amount of money that you make or the buildings that you own that matter.  It’s the people on whom you can depend – and who can depend on you – that make your life better.

A close second for the top lesson of my life would be the following:  “People don’t care how much you know about them, once they realize how much you care about them.”  It’s so important I made this the theme of my first book, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.”  It’s also central to my Mackay 66 Customer Profile, which is the cornerstone of all my speeches.

You have to learn as much about your customers and suppliers as you possibly can, because you can’t talk about business all your life.  You have to build those relationships and take it from a business level to a personal level.  Knowing something about your customer is just as important as knowing everything about your product.

Many of my friends started out as customers.  As our relationships grew, we discovered that we shared much in common.  Our friendships are based on trust established in our business dealings.   Trust is, after all, the most important word in business.  And that extends to my personal life as well.  You must be trustworthy to be a worthy friend.

Another key lesson:  “Believe in yourself even when no one else does.”  I have never met a successful person that hasn’t had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity in his/her life.  So, who says that you can’t accomplish your goals?  Who says that you’re not tougher and better and smarter and harder working and more able than your competition?  It doesn’t matter if they say you can’t do it.  The only thing that matters is if you say it.

Next, I’ve learned that we can’t go it alone.  The boat won’t go if we all don’t row.  What is teamwork?  It’s a collection of diverse people who respect each other and are committed to each other’s successes.  The beautiful part of teamwork is that it offers us the opportunity to use our own special talents and abilities.  We all have gifts to share.

The last thing I’ll mention, and the way I finish all of my speeches, is to put some fun and creativity into your business and into your life.  Don’t be boring.  Don’t be predictable.  You can take your work seriously, you can take your relationships seriously, but you should never take yourself too seriously.

The ability to laugh at yourself is one of the most endearing traits you can possess.  Supremely confident people worry very little about being the coolest, smartest, most admired person in the room.  They understand that by putting others first, they move to the front of the class.  They have truly learned some of life’s most important lessons.

In the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have and the decisions we waited too long to make.  Learn from your mistakes.  Be grateful for second chances and forgiving friends.


Mackay’s Moral:  Make your life story a best seller. 

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