It doesn’t get any more real than this

From all appearances, Gretchen Carlson has lived a charmed life.  From being a child violin prodigy to admission to Stanford University to becoming Miss America to a tremendously successful broadcast television personality, happily married with two children she adores, she seems to have it all.

GettingRealBut it was not just handed to her, nor was it a series of lucky breaks.  Gretchen’s brand new book, “Getting Real,” is a how-to for developing a life plan and carrying it out.

I am delighted to recommend this memoir by a fellow native Minnesotan.  Her story is a remarkable example of how hard work and discipline produced results in every phase of her life.

In her own words, Gretchen was accustomed to making sacrifices to achieve her goals.  Whether it was practicing her violin for hours, studying hard to achieve perfect grades, working out and preparing relentlessly for the Miss America pageant, or hitting the bricks to break into television news reporting, she kept her goals in plain sight and persevered until she reached them.

She shares how she picked up her violin after a several-year hiatus to prepare for the Miss Minnesota pageant:  “Once I started practicing, I was instantly back in my old mode.  I discovered that the competitive spirit never goes away.  Returning to music taught me something, not just about playing the violin, but about having that fire, that desire to achieve . . . I had put aside my drive, thinking it was time for a rest.  But I saw I needed it, I was born with it.  You can teach people skills to hone their craft, but unless they have the fire in their belly, the skills don’t matter.  I never again let my passion slide.”

Gretchen’s strategy to become Miss America ran counter to the usual contestant’s path.  She learned the system by observing rather than participating, turning what she was told is often a four-year plan into a one-year project.  She researched her competition and studied the judges.  She prepared at every level.

The theme of the 1989 Miss America pageant was “A Salute to Success!”  Gretchen says, “I’m not saying that looks didn’t enter it, although I wasn’t even close to being the prettiest.  It was about competing on a high level and challenging myself to be at the top of my game.  It was about winning scholarship money that would help me pursue my dreams . . . and by the way, I would say to this day that there’s nothing wrong with being smart, talented and attractive.”

Let me add a personal note here.  I was a judge at the 2001 Miss America pageant, and it is so much more than a beauty contest.  Talent counts for 40 percent of the score, the evening gown/personality/expression portion is 40 percent, and the swimsuit competition is 20 percent.  In other words, a contestant must be talented and well-spoken if she hopes to have any chance of winning.

But being Miss America didn’t automatically open doors for her future.  After completing her degree at Stanford, Gretchen faced the same challenge that so many new grads faced:  You can’t get hired without experience, and you can’t get experience without being hired.  Again, perseverance and hard work won the day.

Her job search led her to Richmond, Virginia, and then to Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas and New York.  She had to deal with sexual harassment and an on-going threat from a stalker who followed her from city to city.  Her fighting spirit, however, helped her keep her goal in view.  She mentions one of her proudest achievements, the American Women in Radio and Television “Best Series” award for a thirty-part series on domestic violence for KSAX in Dallas.  She currently hosts “The Real Story” on the Fox News Channel.

As a mother, she shares her work ethic with her children.  “Personally, I have ambition for my kids to excel, but these days it’s a challenge to define for them what excellence really means,” she says.  “I know from experience how wonderful it is to compete and win, and while it is disappointing to lose, it’s also an opportunity for parents to teach kids a very important lesson – that failure in life is a key to success.”

Gretchen has shared a fascinating story that serves as a blueprint for setting goals and achieving success.  Hard work, determination, perseverance – now that’s “Getting Real.”

For more information go to or to find out more about the book go to


Mackay’s Moral:  Let this Miss America show you how to achieve the real American dream.

With great teamwork, everyone wins

One day the Body and all its parts began to criticize the Belly for enjoying a life of idleness and luxury, while they spent all their time working to feed it.  So they entered into a conspiracy to cut off the Belly’s supplies in the future.

The Hands would no longer carry food to the Mouth, nor would the Mouth receive the food, nor would the Teeth chew it.  Not long after following this plan, the parts began to fail, and the whole body began to waste away.

Then the members realized that the Belly, which seemed cumbersome and useless, had an important function of its own.  They could no more do without it than it could do without them.  If they wanted to keep the body in a healthy state, they must work together, each in his proper sphere, for the common good of all.

The moral of this Aesop’s Fable:  Only by working together can the greatest good for all be achieved.

In a word, teamwork.

I preach teamwork constantly, for without it, why would you bother to have more than one employee?  Why would you contract with vendors, suppliers, distributors or even customers for that matter?

You have to work together.

Everyone wants to be the star.  Unfortunately, stars rarely win anything by themselves.  For any star to shine, they need a team behind them.

A true team consists of people who contribute different skills that all work together to achieve a goal that none of them could accomplish on their own.

BabeRuthAsk Babe Ruth if he could have won a single baseball game all by himself.  Ask Henry Ford if he could have built a car company all by himself.  Ask Thomas Edison if he could have made all his inventions all by himself.

No matter how good you are, you can be better when you work with the right team.  In the business world, you need to provide an atmosphere where teamwork is not only encouraged but expected.

More importantly, everyone on the team not only has to pursue the same goal, but they also have to feel that their role is crucial to the team’s success.

In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy declared that he wanted the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade.  Shortly afterwards, a newspaper reporter visited NASA and interviewed the engineers, technicians and scientists who were working on the rocket that would eventually put Neil Armstrong on the moon.

After interviewing everyone at NASA, the reporter saw a woman janitor scrubbing the front steps.  When the reporter asked this woman what her role in NASA was, she proudly said, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

When you have a goal that everyone can believe in, nothing can stop your team from accomplishing what seemed impossible.

To illustrate the importance of assembling a team, consider these questions:

Do you need more than one person?  Maybe the work calls for different skill sets or different perspectives.  Or maybe it’s just too much work for one person to handle.  For example, a chef alone can’t run a restaurant; waiters, busboys, dishwashers and other people are required. Form a team when you really need a concerted effort.

Will the project create a common purpose?  Sometimes forming a team is useful when you want to build a sense of teamwork in your department.  If the project will pull people together and give them a common goal to shoot for, a team can strengthen bonds and have a positive effect long after the task is completed.

Can you depend on the team members to support each other?  If the team consists of members who don’t get along or respect the others’ contributions, the work will suffer.  Promote team-building exercises and activities to enhance the group’s dynamics.  Provide opportunities for each team member to showcase their contribution.

Finally, does the project truly require a team to accomplish the goal?  If a project can be completed successfully by one person, why waste the skills and talents of otherwise busy workers?  Use teams wisely for best productivity.

Don’t underestimate the value of creating teamwork opportunities outside the normal business arena.  Company ball teams, choirs, volunteer projects and outings allow people to get to know each other on a different level, which can translate into better cooperation in the work place.


Mackay’s Moral:  Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success. 

Step out of your comfort zone

A few weeks ago daredevil Nik Wallenda walked – untethered – atop Orlando’s 400-foot high Ferris wheel – as it was spinning.  This is the same guy who traversed a tightrope stretched across the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and between two Chicago skyscrapers.

In an interview he said he wants to be an inspiration for others.  People don’t need to risk their lives, he clarified, but they should push themselves to do better and be greater.

“I think people have become very complacent these days,” he said.  “I’ve always been a strong believer in pushing myself in everything I can do …  I hope that what I do inspires people to step out of their comfort zone and do greater things.”

One of the reasons we admire people who take risks is that most of us are scared stiff at the prospect of taking risks ourselves.  “I could never do something like that,” we say.  The “something” we could never do might be anything from starting a new career to learning how to make a piecrust.  It doesn’t matter.  Sometimes it seems that the only people who can take risks successfully are the people who have nothing to lose.


Fortunately, most of us will never have to worry about taking monumental risks.  Of course, we use that to downplay the importance of the risks we do face.  If it’s not something that involves real, measurable danger – skydiving, for example – it’s clearly not important as far as risks go.  What you really mean is that you think the fear you feel about your “small” risk is misplaced – an overreaction.

The same fear that keeps you from taking a tangible risk like skydiving can also keep you from seeking a promotion you want.  It keeps you from going back to school to get your master’s degree, or taking a vacation without checking messages every 45 minutes.

You don’t call it fear, of course, but that’s what it is.  Chances are you probably use all sorts of tools to keep it fresh and strong:  “I don’t have the time.”  “It’s not what I really want to do.”  “I have too many responsibilities.”  Amazing how the human brain can be so effective at using circular reasoning and rationalization as a way to avoid taking action.

In short, playing it safe isn’t the way to get ahead.  You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes – but not so far that you fall off.  Intelligent risk taking involves these steps:

  • Know your motivations.  What do you really want to achieve?  Why?  Don’t take major chances on something you’re not enthusiastic about.  You’ll work harder on goals that are important to you.  Failure at something trivial may make you reluctant to try something really important to you.
  • Define success at the start.  Figure out what you want to achieve in specific, measurable terms.  You don’t have to account for every variable, but you should have a solid idea of the results you’re looking for.
  • Look at the best and worst outcomes.  To evaluate risks and rewards, try to determine what the worst-case scenario would look like, whether the payoff is worth that risk, and how you could prevent it from happening.  Consider the best-case scenario as well:  How will you recognize success?  What will you do next?  This helps you prepare for contingencies.
  • Consider your timetable.  Do you have to take this risk right now?  How quickly do you need results?  Don’t rush if you don’t have to.  Breaking your plan down into individual segments can help you minimize risks and learn what’s needed to succeed.
  • Focus on benefits, not dangers.  Keep the hazards in mind, but don’t let them overwhelm you.  Think about the potential outcome, and you’ll be able to stay the course even when the road gets rocky.
  • Get started.  You can make all the plans you want, but ultimately you have to take the leap.  Don’t turn preparation into a full-time activity.  Determine what you need to begin, and then do it.  You’ll feel more energized when you’re in the midst of the struggle than when you’re just getting ready.
  • Do what matters to you.  Taking a risk to please or impress someone else will not produce the gratification or results that you had hoped for.  What is important to Nik Wallenda is most likely not on your to-do list.


Mackay’s Moral:  No risk, no success.  Know risk, know success.

Give your self-confidence the boost you need

A soldier in a rag-tag third-world revolutionary army lost his rifle, so he went to his group’s leader for a replacement.

“What am I going to do?” asked the soldier.  “We are going to have a big battle tomorrow and I don’t have a rifle.”

“Don’t worry,” said his leader.  “The other side doesn’t have very good weapons either and they are so brain-washed they believe anything they hear. Just pretend you are pointing a rifle at them and say, “Bang!  Bang!  It will have the same effect as if you fired a real rifle at them.

“O.K.,” said the soldier skeptically, hitching up his threadbare uniform, “but I lost my bayonet too.”

“Do the same thing,” said his leader, “when the hand-to-hand combat begins, just point your fingers like this and say, ‘Stab!  Stab!  Stab!’  You’ll see it has the same effect as using a bayonet.”

The soldier was even more skeptical of this advice but there wasn’t anything he could do about it.  As the sun came up, the enemy came charging over the hill right at him and he held out his imaginary rifle, saying loudly, “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!”  To his amazement one of them dropped, then another, and then another.  “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!” he shouted with increasing confidence.

But suddenly he saw a particularly fierce, huge enemy soldier coming right at him. “Bang!  Bang!  Bang!” he shouted, but the huge enemy soldier kept coming right at him until he was just a few feet away.

“Stab!  Stab!  Stab!” said the frightened soldier, waving his fingers right at his adversary.”

But nothing worked.  The enemy soldier rolled right over him, kicking him in the stomach and stepping on his face.  As he went by, the enemy soldier grunted, “TANK!   TANK!  TANK!”

SelfConfidenceSelf-confidence alone won’t help you succeed, but it’s hard to get started or push through the inevitable obstacles without believing in yourself first.  Do you struggle with self-confidence?  Almost everyone does at some point.

And while you won’t likely come up against any real tanks, the obstacles can set you back if you let them.  Before that happens, you need to do a few things.

  • Review your accomplishments.  You’ve already achieved some successes in your life, right?  List them, on paper if necessary, and identify the skills and strengths you’ve used to succeed.  Consult your list whenever you feel doubt coming on.
  • Seek new knowledge.  If you’re lacking any of the skills you need to achieve your goals, focus on learning them.  The process will remind you that you’re capable of growth, and mastering the skills will give you a mental boost.
  • Face your fears.  Too often we sabotage our self-confidence by hiding from what frightens us.  Identify and examine your fears so you can take action against potential setbacks.  You are more powerful than what you’re trying to avoid.
  • Adjust your thought patterns.  Negative thinking never yields positive results. Reboot immediately if you catch yourself doing any of these:  all-or-nothing thoughts (“If I don’t get this job, I’ll be a total failure”), seeing only the downside (“I finished the project, but what if people see how tough it was for me?”), jumping to conclusions (“Bob didn’t reply to my email – he dislikes me”), or putting yourself down.  Look for the positives in every situation.  You can find them if you try.
  • Pay attention to your appearance.  You don’t have to buy a lot of expensive clothes, but devoting some time to your wardrobe and overall grooming can make you feel better about how you present yourself.  A neat, professional look inspires confidence from others, and helps you put your best foot forward.
  • Know what you want.  Specific goals inspire your best efforts.  You’ll feel more confident and capable with a clear idea of what you want to achieve in your life and career – not someone else’s idea of what’s important.

My friend, Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote one of my all-time favorite books, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” offered this advice:  “Believe in yourself.  Have faith in your abilities!  Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers, you cannot be successful or happy.”


Mackay’s Moral:  You can’t buy confidence, but you can sell it!

Life is what you give back

A son and his father are walking in the mountains.  Suddenly, the boy falls, scrapes his knee and screams, “AAAhhhhhhhhh!!!”

To the son’s surprise, he hears his voice repeating, somewhere in the mountains,


Curious, he yells, “Who are you?”  He receives the same answer, “Who are you?”

Angered at the response, he screams, “Coward!”  He receives the answer, “Coward!”

He looks to his father and asks, “What’s going on?”

The father smiles and says, “My son, pay attention.”  And he screams to the mountain, “I admire you!”  The voice answers, “I admire you!”

Again the man screams, “You are a champion!”  The voice answers, “You are a champion!”

The boy is surprised but does not understand.

Then the father explains:  “People call this echo, but really this is life.  It gives you back everything you say and do.  Our life is simply a reflection of our actions.  If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart.  If you want competence in your team, improve your competence.  This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life.  Life will give you back everything you have given it.”

Graduation season is upon us, and today I will devote my column to those who are about to embark on a new chapter in their lives.  That isn’t limited to new grads, by the way – every day is a new chapter for each of us.

HarveyGraduationWaking up every morning hoping something wonderful will happen, or someone will appear who will change your life, is the equivalent of letting something or someone else control your life.

You need to be in charge.  You need to decide what actions you will take that will come back to you. And then, integrate those actions into your daily life.  That may be a tall order for someone just starting out in a career, but you do have choices.

If that all sounds vague, it is because I can’t recommend specifics.  What I can do is remind you of a few basic rules of life.

  1. Life isn’t fair.  You’ve heard this over and over, and yet when someone else gets the promotion, makes more money or takes credit for your work, you beat yourself up wondering what happened.  Don’t!  If the situation is beyond your control, get over it and move on to the next opportunity.  Wasting time being bitter will never make you better.
  2. Don’t just let things happen to you, make things happen for you.  If you need more training or education, find a way to make it happen.  If you truly hate your job, figure out where the problem is and fix it if you can.  If you can’t, look for other employment or let your entrepreneurial instincts take over.  When Woody Allen said, “90 percent of life is showing up,” he didn’t mention that the other 10 percent is what makes the difference in your life.
  3. Sometimes it’s risky not to take a risk.  Making a dream come true only happens when you step outside your comfort zone and chart new territory.   And a funny thing will happen:  After you start out taking small risks, you will become more comfortable taking larger – and more rewarding – risks.
  4. Pay attention.  Stay on top of trends, developments, technology and opportunities.  If you can see changes ahead, you can plan and position yourself rather than reacting and regretting.  Few things in business stay secret for long.  Listen and observe so you can be prepared.
  5. Give back.  My father drilled this lesson into my head from the beginning.  There is always someone somewhere who needs your help, your financial support or your expertise.  Give without expecting anything in return.  You’ll benefit in ways you never anticipated.

These rules are simple enough.  Following them is not.  You need to decide what is truly important to you, what values you will live by.  Give serious thought to how you want to live so that you can be content with what life gives you back.

For all the new graduates staring at their futures and wondering what’s ahead, as well as students of life in general, my wish is that you will never feel like life just happened to you.  I wish you success, happiness, wisdom in your decisions and the power to live your dreams.


Mackay’s Moral:  Life is what you make it.  Make it great!