Life: It’s something to celebrate

In July of last year, I was in Israel being briefed in-depth by the cream of Israel’s intelligence community and the entrepreneurial barons of its imposing high-tech establishment.  The American-Israel expert who arranged my visit and energetically accompanied me was my long-time close friend Gordy Zacks, who was 80 years old at the time.  For decades, Gordy was CEO of the comfort-footwear giant R.G. Barry (Dearfoams, Baggallini) and later a trusted White House advisor to President George H.W. Bush.

Even when we were in Israel together in July, Gordy knew he had long-term prostate cancer.  Being an early-diagnosed cancer survivor myself, I empathized with Gordy.  Unlike my cancer that was nipped in the bud, doctors told Gordy his would advance irreversibly, but the odds were it would take years.  That’s if the cancer behaved. . . .  It didn’t.

In December, Gordy experienced some sharp pain.  He quickly saw his physician.  Tests were done.  The cancer had migrated from his prostate to his liver.  The pain warning was graver than anyone could imagine:  Gordy had terminal cancer.  Verdict:  just four weeks to live!

In addition to being a gifted businessman and a breathtakingly knowledgeable Israel advocate, Gordy was also an accomplished author.  His first book Defining Moments chronicled the fine-points of leadership.  What do you do when you have just four weeks to live?  Gordy decided he would write a second book, thinking his end-of-life experiences might benefit others.

           definingmoments                     redefiningmoment                          

Gordon Zacks’s Redefining Moments (Beaufort) is chock full of penetrating insights and useful suggestions.  Among them:

  • Go for closure:  “True closure is one of the most powerful treasures in life,” Gordy affirms.  “You could be missing closure with someone halfway across the country or someone who’s in the next room.  Whatever the barrier may be, find the way to break through it. . . . ”
  • Emphasize the possible.  Gordy reminds us to “Stay true to your purpose in life and its value.”  The book advises:  “If the opportunity exists, rewrite your ‘bucket list’ to achieve realistic goals given both the time available and the physical ability to do what you would like to do.”
  • Be adaptable.  “One of the most challenging aspects of the end of life is the devastating loss of independence in doing the very simplest things – moving yourself, dressing yourself, caring for yourself,” Gordy observes.  “It may require tapping powerful new reservoirs of humility and acceptance to realign your attitudes . . . .  Your willingness to accept perceived ‘humiliation’ will often be directly related to your opportunities to experience joy.”

What if you asked Gordy a year earlier if he would be willing to use a walker, a wheelchair or even an adult disposable diaper?  “I would have laughed at each of these options,” he admits, “and probably with considerable scorn.  Now I pragmatically accept each measure because these are all tools I need to serve a bigger objective.”

What ranked high among these bigger objectives?  Along with writing Redefining Moments, he attended a series of Celebration of Life events organized for colleagues, friends and family.  His daughter Catherine Zacks Gildenhorn, who also edited Redefining Moments for publication, served as emcee for these events.  In typical Gordy style, he used each of the events to say thank you to the people who helped make his life such a success.

“I knew full well that the approaching end was inevitable, but I was gifted with being lucid, completely aware, and able to initiate. . . .  A Celebration of Life is not about prematurely collecting applause after the show is over.  It’s all about keeping the dynamics of that which is most precious to us alive for survivors and future generations.”

Gordy intended his book as a launching pad to spur dialogue about end-of-life issues and concerns.  Along with the publication of the book, Gordy also saw to the creation of a website –  The website both shares information and allows individuals to post end-of-life experiences and comments which may benefit others.

Gordy passed away in February, exactly as the doctors predicted.  He stressed to the end:  “I’m the luckiest guy that was ever born.”  I felt privileged to attend his funeral where figures of international stature eulogized Gordy’s life, including spellbinding comments by Ohio Governor John Kasich, who celebrated his life as a masterwork of purposeful living.


Mackay’s Moral:  Heed the wise man whose last words remind us to always put first things first.

ABCS of public speaking

It’s been said there are two times in life when you are truly alone:  just before you die and just before you deliver a five-minute speech.  Stage fright can be terrifying, but it needn’t be paralyzing. 

Delivering over a thousand speeches teaches a person a thing or two about getting through to the audience.  Because I am often asked for advice from nervous speakers, I have developed my ABCs of public speaking.

abcs1A is for audience.  Learn all you can about those who will be in attendance so that you can tailor your remarks to hold their interest.

B is for body language.  Move around, gesture and use facial expressions to demonstrate your enthusiasm for your topic.

C is for creativity.  Don’t be afraid to use props, PowerPoint or audience participation to add sparkle and surprise.  Even the most serious topics can benefit from a creative approach to make them memorable.

D is for deliver.  Your presentation needs to have a focused message that leaves the audience with significant take-home value.

E is for eye contact, a critical feature of an effective speaker.  Connecting with your audience can’t happen without it.

F is for feedback.  Ask for immediate, unfiltered responses so you can continue to improve your skills.  And don’t forget to debrief yourself after the event, including what worked well and what didn’t.

G is for grammar.  Pay attention to the language you use.  Make certain it is correct and concise.

H is for homework.  Study the organization you are addressing:  What are the problems, issues, concerns and opportunities.  Mispronouncing names is unforgivable.

I is for introduction.  Make sure that the person introducing you is a real pro.  Provide a prepared introduction with your pertinent information.

J is for jokes.  Try them out on several people to make sure they are appropriate and amusing.  Humor, anecdotes and stories add so much to a speech as long as they are not offensive.  Plays don’t open up on Broadway, they open in New Haven.

K is for knowledge.  Speakers have to demonstrate a real grasp of the subject at hand in order to be taken seriously.

L is for lighting.  People laugh more and retain more in brightly lit rooms.  Dim the lights only if you are using PowerPoint presentations, and only as long as necessary.

M is for masking tape.  Seal noisy door latches to avoid distractions.  Block off the back rows of chairs to keep the audience up front.

N is for noise, which is a real attention killer.  After-dinner speakers especially have to compete with clearing tables and clinking glasses.  Consult with the host organization about minimizing noise interruptions.

O is for opening.  In order to grab the audience’s attention immediately, you need a spectacular opener.

P is for practice, practice, practice.  There is no substitute for preparation.

Q is for Q & A.  Take questions five minutes before you are ready to close, so that you have the last word and control the ending.

R is for room size.  If you have any control over the venue, insist that the room seat only the planned number of audience members.  A room that is too big destroys rapport.

S is for smile.  Let the audience see that you are pleased/happy/honored to be asked to speak.  A smile adds instant warmth.

T is for Toastmasters International, the organization that I recommend for anyone who wants to hone their speaking skills.  It’s tremendous training for speakers at all levels of ability.

U is for unforgettable.  Make your speech memorable with a well-organized message peppered with clever stories and examples, sprinkled with humor, and wrapped up with a great summary.

V is for voice.  Listen to yourself on tape so that you can adjust tempo, tone, timing and inflection.

W is for wisdom.  You want your message to teach and inform.  I’m particularly fond of starting the lessons in my speeches with a “Mackay’s Moral,” words of wisdom that drive home my point.

X is for experience. (Yes, I know it starts with “e”.)  The best way to become a better speaker is to speak as often as you can.

Y is for you.  Take pains to look your best.

Z is for zip it up.  A smashing closing is as important as a gripping opening.

I have another speaking tips handout, “Harvey Mackay’s 35 To Stay Alive,” available at


Mackay’s Moral:  The best way to sound like you know what you’re talking about is to know what you’re talking about.

Get ahead of your dreams to get ahead in business

I am constantly asked the question, “What does it take to get ahead?”  Sure you have to work hard, but there are a lot of other factors.

Investor’s Business Daily identified 10 traits for turning your dreams into reality.  Here they are with my take on each, plus a few bonus thoughts.

A positive attitude.  I have never met a successful pessimist.  It is absolutely essential that you have a positive mental attitude in every aspect of life.  Where your mind goes, you go.  If you think you’ll fail, chances are good that you will.  If you believe you’ll succeed – you’re halfway home.

goals2A definitive goal.  Winners set goals.  Losers make excuses.  A goal is a dream with a deadline that is measurable, identifiable, obtainable, specific and in writing.  Goals give you more than a reason to get up in the morning; they are an incentive to keep you going all day.  Goals tend to tap the deeper resources and draw the best out of life.  Achieving goals produces significant accomplishments.

A courageous spirit.  Courage is what sets you apart from the crowd.  Courage is ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Courage is regarded as one of the major human virtues.  Courage is bravery, valor, standing up to danger, guts and nerves all rolled into one.  So what does courage have to do with running a business?  Plenty.  I admit that most folks’ daily lives are not filled with such dramatic challenges.  We all face situations that require us to reach down deep within ourselves to do what is right and brave and occasionally difficult.  Courage can involve making decisions that are unpopular or time-consuming or even expensive.

An inquisitive mind.  I’m a big believer in lifelong learning.  You don’t go to school once for a lifetime; you are in school all of your life.  Pursue learning in all its forms – reading books, returning to school, attending seminars and training classes, listening to those who are wiser and more experienced.

A strong heart.  What makes a champion?  Is it attitude, confidence, courage, desire, determination, discipline, endurance, mental toughness, perseverance, physical ability, self-discipline or visualization?  Yes.  It’s probably a little bit of all these characteristics, but it’s also a lot of heart.  In addition, it takes a strong heart to be a successful businessperson.  Use your head, to be sure, but don’t ignore what your heart is telling you.

An analytical brain.  Do your homework; get the facts.  Learn to analyze details.  Often the best ideas stem from little seeds everyone else overlooked.

A focused eye.  How many times have you heard an athlete talk about focus?  It’s a topic I also hear about frequently in business.  The most common complaints?  Too many irons in the fire.  Too many projects spinning at one time.  Too many interruptions.  Too many phone calls.  Too many emails.  Too many things to do.  Too little time.  Stay focused as best you can, and don’t let things happen to you – not when you can make things happen.

A fearless approach.  Innovate.  Be different.  Those who are content to follow the crowd never get the chance to stand out.  Believe in yourself even when no one else does.

If you believe in what you are doing, your confidence will win over skeptics. Confidence doesn’t come naturally to most people.  Even the most successful people have struggled with it in their careers.  The good news is that you can develop confidence, just like any muscle or character trait, if you’re willing to work hard.

A disciplined tongue.  He or she who burns bridges better be a very good swimmer.  You must learn the art of communicating effectively with others.  Clear communications prevent miscommunications.  When you say what you mean, mean what you say and you keep your word, you foster trust.  Stick to the subject at hand, and avoid the temptation to dredge up old issues.

A clear conscience.  Always act like your mother is watching.  Don’t forget those rules you learned in kindergarten:  Play nice.  Be dependable.  Tell the truth.  If you can’t get to the top by being true to yourself and straight with everyone around you, your success will be hollow—and probably short-lived.

Dreams can come true.  These traits, coupled with hard work and perseverance, will keep your dreams from becoming just wishful thinking.


Mackay’s Moral:  You can’t get ahead if you don’t get started.

Don’t worry about it!

I recently received a cartoon from a friend that showed a psychiatrist having a session with her patient.  She says, “You worry too much … It doesn’t do any good …”  And the patient answers, “It does for me …  95% of the things I worry about never happen!”

Several years ago I saw a survey that says 40 percent of the things we worry about never happen, 30 percent are in the past and can’t be helped, 12 percent concern the affairs of others that aren’t our business, 10 percent are about sickness – either real or imagined – and 8 percent are worth worrying about.  I would submit that even the 8 percent aren’t really worth the energy of worry.

I wrote a column about the Second Ten Commandments in 2009 and guess what was number one:  “Thou shall not worry, for worry is the most unproductive of all human activities.”  You can’t saw sawdust.  A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.  People get so busy worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, they forget about today.  And today is what you have to work with.

Robert Leahy, author of The Worry Cure, says people worry for a variety of reasons, but one big reason is that worriers are intolerant of uncertainty.  Leahy says worriers believe that they are being responsible by worrying because they believe they are preparing to avoid something bad.  They think that by worrying they are taking control of their lives.  But in fact, the reverse is true.  Too much worrying causes people to lose control, and only builds their anxiety.

worry1Worriers believe that they need to know what the outcome will be – or there could be some kind of catastrophe awaiting them.  Leahy says that worriers almost always overestimate the negative outcome.

At the same time, they underestimate their ability to handle what does happen. He further reminds us that worriers often forget that their worries in the past have mostly turned out to be futile.

I can attest to that finding.  Instead of worrying about bad outcomes, I have adopted a different strategy.  When I am faced with a big business decision or challenge, I ask my team to think about two things:  What are we trying to accomplish, and what is the worst thing that can happen?  We plan for the best, but we also prepare for the worst.  That way, we avoid most surprises by anticipating disappointment.

Perhaps we would be wise to take some advice from folks who have been around long enough to have mountains of problems to worry about – and yet, their longevity is credited largely to the right attitude.

Researchers at the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine questioned 243 people age 100 and older.  They found that centenarians tend to share certain personality traits, in addition to other factors, like genetics.  In general, those traits included:

  • Outgoing
  • Positive-minded about other people
  • Full of laughter
  • Open with their emotions
  • Conscientious and disciplined
  • Unlikely to obsess about anxieties or guilt

The scientists did point out that these characteristics don’t necessarily represent the reason for the long life spans.  But they did notice that in many cases the personality traits they observed weren’t necessarily lifelong tendencies, but behaviors their subjects learned as they grew older.

Focusing on the positives and not worrying about the negatives may have a favorable impact on overall life expectancy.  So maybe it is never too late to adjust your thinking.  And please, don’t worry if that change doesn’t happen overnight.  Old habits die hard.

The true futility of worrying about things reminds me of the story about Herbie, who worries all the time.  He worries so much he can’t sleep. He paces in the bedroom all night.  His wife wakes up and asks him what’s on his mind.

“I can’t pay the rent,” he says.

She says, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow.  Go back to sleep.”

He tries to go back to sleep, but he just keeps tossing and turning and soon he’s up pacing again.

Suddenly his wife picks up the phone and dials the landlord.  “Hello,” she says.  “Herbie can’t pay the rent this month.”  And she hangs up.

Herbie says, “What did you do that for?”

“Let them worry all night about the rent,” she says.

Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday.


Mackay’s Moral:  Worrying casts a dark shadow that blocks any glimmer of hope.

Take a vacation from your vocation

Have you ever had one of those days when all you could think was, “Gosh, do I need a vacation.”

Of course you have – because all work and no play aren’t good for anyone.  A vacation doesn’t have to be two weeks on a tropical island, or even a long weekend at the beach.  A vacation just means taking a break from your everyday activities.  A change of pace.  It doesn’t matter where.

Everyone needs a vacation to rejuvenate mentally and physically.  But did you also know that you can help boost our economy by taking some days off?  Call it your personal stimulus package.

An analysis by Oxford Economics for the U.S. Travel Association found that more than 40 percent of U.S. workers don’t take their full allotment of paid time off (PTO) during the year, representing an average of 3.2 unused vacation days per worker in 2013—a total of 429 million work days!

Aside from the risk of exhaustion and career burnout, unused vacation days have a negative impact on the U.S. economy as a whole.  The study estimated that if employees took full advantage of their PTO days, the economy would enjoy the benefits of more than $160 billion in sales and $21 billion in tax revenues, as well as supporting 21 million jobs in areas like retail, transportation and manufacturing.  Workers taking just a single additional day off would boost spending by $73 billion.

So go ahead and take some vacation. It’s your patriotic duty.

And please, don’t try the old excuse that you can’t take time off – your esteemed presence is required at all times.  No one is indispensable.  No one.  The place may not function as smoothly without you, but chances are the doors won’t close, and you won’t lose all your customers.

zigziglar1My friend, the late Zig Ziglar, had an interesting take on productivity and vacations: “Isn’t it amazing how much stuff we get done the day before vacation? “ So let that be motivation:  getting lots of work done in anticipation of being out of the office.

Summer is traditionally a great time for a vacation.  Have you planned some time off yet?

You can detach from the workplace without worry and enjoy the break you deserve if you follow these simple steps before you leave:

  • Notify co-workers and clients.  Let bosses, customers, and colleagues know you’ll be on vacation at least a week – if not sooner – before you take off.  Let people know how long you’ll be out of the office, when you’ll be returning, and who they should contact in the meantime.  Set an auto-reply on your email, and leave the same information on your voice mail.
  • Prepare your co-workers.  Talk to the people who will handle questions or problems while you’re away.  Help them troubleshoot by providing pertinent information like the status of current projects, names of possible callers, and reasons they might call.
  • Straighten up.  There’s nothing as unmotivating as coming back from a great vacation to a workspace in complete disarray.  Make the transition easier by cleaning up before you leave.
  • Get your mind in gear.   If you are not accustomed to taking time off, you may have forgotten how to disconnect.  It typically takes two to three days to get into vacation mode.  A friend usually downloads a photo of his destination for his screensaver a couple weeks before vacation.  It reminds him to enjoy the rewards for his hard work.
  • Turn off your electronics, and explain that you will be available for no more than 15 minutes a day unless the place is on fire.  Our smartphone world has created an army of work zombies.  The temptation to work is too great when you can just tap your phone. Don’t let technology ruin your break … or your life.
  • Trust the people you work with to carry on.   You might be pleasantly surprised at what gets accomplished in your absence.

And if getting away from the office is absolutely impossible, try what the Business School of Happiness calls “The One Minute Vacation.”  When time and money prevent taking a physical vacation, “The same relaxing benefits of taking a vacation can be found in minutes of simple meditation interspersed throughout the day.  In fact, three one minute sessions of deep breathing – taken at pre-set intervals throughout the day may indeed deliver the deep sense of peacefulness that might have seemed elusive.”


Mackay’s Moral:   Vacations aren’t luxuries, they’re necessities.