ABCs for reaching your dreams

I often joke that it takes years to become an overnight success.  But it starts with a dream. My dream was to own a factory.  I wasn’t even sure what kind of product I’d make, or exactly where it would be.  But I pictured myself walking the factory floor, talking to workers.  The pile of broken-down machines I bought might have looked more like a nightmare at the time.  But dreams come true – with a lot of wide-awake work.

Here are my ABCs for reaching your dreams.


A is for attitude.  It is absolutely essential that you have a positive mental attitude in every aspect of life.

B is for believe in yourself, even when no one else does.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t accomplish your goals.  It doesn’t matter if they say you can’t do it.  The only thing that matters is if you say it.

C is for creativity.  Your dream might not even be original.  You can start with an existing idea, product or service, and then use your innovative skills to take it to a new level.

D is for determination, what keeps us hammering away.  Determined people possess the stamina and courage to pursue their ambitions despite criticism, ridicule or unfavorable circumstances.

E is for enthusiasm.  You should be so pumped about your dream that you won’t take no for an answer.  Get excited about what you can accomplish.

F is for focus.  Don’t let distractions and interruptions undermine your focus.  Keep your eye on the prize.

G is for goal.  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.

H is for hard work.  Be prepared to work long and hard to make your dreams come true. You might lose some sleep achieving your dreams, but rest assured, it will be worth it.

I is for imagination.  As you explore possibilities, give your mind some space to wander to new territory.

J is for just do it!  Ideas don’t work unless you do.

K is for keep dreaming.  Often times one idea will lead to another and then another.  Watch your dreams grow.

L is for learn everything that is important to you.  Take classes, find mentors, search online – there’s a world of information available just waiting for you.

M is for mentors.  Connect with successful people, even if they are not in your chosen field.  Pick their brains and find out how they achieved their dreams.

N is for no.  Know when to say no, we need to try a new approach.

O is for open mind.  Consider options that could improve your ideas and make adjustments as needed.

P is for perfection.  In your dreams, your concept is perfect.  Work out the kinks, shake out the wrinkles, and keep trying until you can’t do any better.

Q is for question.  Ask the right questions, and not only will you get good information, you will get it sooner and tailored to your needs.

R is for results.  As I often say, they don’t pay off on effort, they pay off on results.  Your dream may take some time to achieve, but until you produce results, it’s still just a dream.

S is for strategy.  A strategy connects where you are and where you want to go.   Do something every day that puts you a step closer to achieving the dream.

T is for tenacity.  Take control of your own destiny.  It helps to have a little bulldog in you to achieve your dreams.

U is for unique.  Lots of people may have the same dream as you, but you are unique in your ability, desire and knowledge.

V is for visualize your dreams.  I believe that visualization is one of the most powerful means of achieving personal goals.  If seeing is believing, visualizing is achieving.

W is for what’s next.  When you have realized your dream, start dreaming again.

X is for experience. Use your own experience to generate ideas and solutions.

Y is for YOUR dreams.  Make sure you are not chasing someone else’s dreams.

Z is for ZZZs – a great place to start dreaming.


Mackay’s Moral:  May all your dreams come true.

Good leaders ask great questions

Two leaders whom I respect a great deal and whose work I have studied both stress the importance of asking questions to find answers that will unlock your success.

Dale Carnegie wrote about the ten ways to be a leader.  Number four is to ask questions.

JohnMaxwellJohn Maxwell in April of this year was named the #1 leadership guru in the United States by the American Management Association (AMA).  John hosts leadership conferences, and late last year I was invited to speak at one in the Atlanta area.  He talked about the power of asking questions.  In fact, the title of his new book is “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.”

According to John, you are perhaps only one question away from an answer that will dramatically change your life.

John said:  “When you think of leadership, you think of direction.  You think of vision.  You think of somebody pointing the way and saying, ‘this is the way to go.’  But what I want you to understand today is that the impetus of leadership is asking good questions.  … ask the right questions because it’s the key to success.”

John listed nine values of asking questions.

You only get answers to questions you ask.  If you don’t ask the questions, you don’t get the answers.  Don’t cheat yourself.  I’ve always said the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask.  The person who asks may feel like a fool for five minutes, but the person who does not ask remains a fool forever.

Questions are the most effective way to connect with people.  One of the points that I stress with my Mackay 66 Customer Profile is to find common ground, and one of the best ways to do this is by asking questions.

“People connect when they understand, but they commit when they feel understood,” John said.  He added that when you ask good questions and listen and learn, you become a better leader.

Questions unlock doors that otherwise would remain closed.  John says most of the doors to opportunity and success are locked.  But asking the right questions is like having a key to open them.

Questions cultivate humility.  When you ask questions of someone, you are telling them that they know something you don’t.  You value their opinion as a teacher.

Questions allow us to direct the conversation.  If you like to control your conversations, there is no better way than asking questions.  John is a big believer in scheduling learning lunches with smart people where he likes to pick their brains.  He has a list of seven questions he always asks:

  1. What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
  2. What are you learning now?
  3. How has failure shaped your life?
  4. Who do you know that I should know?  And will you help me meet them?
  5. What have you read that I should read?
  6. What have you done that I should do?
  7. How can I add value to you?

Questions allow us to build better ideas.  John is a big believer in sharing his ideas with others.  That way ideas can be expanded upon and become great ideas.

I always say, if I give you a dollar and you give me a dollar, we each have a dollar.  But if I give you an idea and you give me an idea, we each have two ideas.

Questions give us a different perspective.  John says:  “Before you attempt to set things right, you’ve got to make sure you see things right.  And the only way that you can see things right is by asking questions.”

Questions challenge mindsets.  “In other words, questions get us out of ruts,” according to John.  “Questions precede discovery, and discovery precedes change.”

Questions set us apart from other people.  Questions are a great differentiator, especially if you ask better questions than the other person.

John told us his story of when he was 23 years old and just out of college.  He was a pastor at a little country church and a parishioner gave him a list of the 10 largest churches in America.  John wrote the pastors of all 10 to see if they would meet with him for 30 minutes.  Two agreed.  By the time he was age 29, John had the tenth largest church in America.


Mackay’s Moral:  You are only one question away from success, if it’s the right question

Customers feast on great service

How much would you pay for an egg?  Fifty cents?  Two dollars?   How about $6,000?

That’s how much it cost one restaurant in Newport Beach which refused to honor a customer’s request.  Not through legal action, or any formal process.  Rather, it represents the lost business that eatery suffered – because of one egg.

Let me explain.  Authors Deb and Todd Duncan, whose careers also include television production and peak performance training, detail the ten new golden rules of customer service in their new book, “The $6,000 Egg.”

Deb and Todd were frequent patrons at a chic test kitchen that experiments with new menu items.  One day the featured special was a waffle served with an egg on top.  The couple wanted a cheeseburger, which was on the menu, but asked to have a fried egg added on top of the burger.  They were surprised to hear from the server that the kitchen might not be able to do that.  Sure enough, even though they were making eggs for the waffles, the server told them the kitchen was too busy to make one for the burger.  So they asked a different server who knew them well.

The answer was still no, because it wasn’t on the menu.  When they asked to speak to the manager, she approached without a smile.  After yet another request, she stood firm, explaining the restaurant only orders a certain number of eggs per day, and they couldn’t sacrifice one for their cheeseburger.

Todd was incredulous.  He asked her, “So a one-time visitor who orders a waffle for fifteen dollars is more important to you than a $6,000 customer who comes in at least four to six times a month, but for whom you cannot figure out how to get an egg?”

Her response was a textbook lesson in terrible customer service.  “If we run out of eggs, we can’t serve the waffle.”  So when Todd suggested she might be able to send a busboy down the block to buy a few extra eggs, she offered to cover their check for their inconvenience.


He couldn’t believe she would rather pay their $75 tab than sell them a single egg.  They left, and vowed never to return.

They wound up at a restaurant next door where they shared their experience.  There, the server told them that their company creed is “We don’t say no here.”  And they don’t need the manager’s permission to satisfy customer requests.

Guess where they go for breakfast now.

So many of the rules they include are simply common sense, yet they are broken over and over again.

Perhaps the most frequent complaint I hear from readers is that they are repeatedly disappointed in the service they receive, even from companies they have done business with for years.  Those companies would be wise to remember that one bad experience can destroy customer loyalty.  And anyone in business knows it is much more expensive to find new customers than to retain existing ones.

Our motto at MackayMitchell Envelope Company is “To be in business forever.”  That’s getting to be a tall order, since technology has replaced the need for envelopes in many instances.  Fax machines, email, text messages, snapchat, online bill paying – you name it, another bite out of our industry.  So we need to keep our customers happy, because their options seem to expand daily.

You can have the finest products, the best food, the most incredible hotel rooms, the trendiest styles, but if you don’t deliver quality service, you have nothing.  Even in this instant gratification world, customers relish personal service.  They want to feel important.  They want to know that someone cares about their needs.

Want to know what really says they don’t care?  The phone call that’s answered by a voice telling you to hold, but “your call is very important to us.”  And then you wait.  And wait.  And the message is repeated.  And you start to wonder how important your call really is.

I understand the economic considerations, but I wonder how many businesses are actually losing business when you can’t connect with a live person in a reasonable amount of time.

Remember, most customers aren’t asking for miracles.  They might have special requests or needs that are not part of your usual offerings.  But if you can accommodate them, do it.  Don’t make your customers walk on eggshells.


Mackay’s Moral:  Great customer service is the goose that lays the golden egg.

More Father’s Day advice – from readers

Several weeks ago I used this column to share lessons I learned from my parents in recognition of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  My intention was to honor mothers and fathers everywhere for the wisdom they impart to their children.

The column apparently struck a chord, because I had a record response from readers about similar advice they received from their parents.  And with Father’s Day here, I can’t think of a better time to pass some of them on to you.

One person said her father taught her the difference between needs and wants.  There are items that we need in order to live and then there are items that we want but can live without.

Another writer mentioned character.  He said it wasn’t something his parents taught him, but rather showed him in the way they lived their lives.  In other words, want a good kid?  Be a good adult.


One reader even sent a link to a video that was made as a tribute to his own father as well as a legacy for his sons that explained his philosophy of life.  It was so inspirational, and given modern technology, an enduring gift that many of us can imitate.

And on and on the responses went.  How gratifying that so many chose to share their own experiences of the tremendous wisdom gleaned from their fathers and mothers alike.  Here are some of the dozens that I received.

  • All choices have consequences.  Stop and think about what you are doing and what might result.  And then accept responsibility for your actions, even if it hurts.
  • Appreciate what you have.  It’s more important to want what you have than to have everything you want.
  • Trust your instincts, but always do your homework. The time it takes to do a little – or a lot – of research to confirm your hunches is time well spent.
  • Almost doesn’t count.  Don’t settle for almost right, or almost finished, or almost good enough.
  • Hard work means no shortcuts.  Work efficiently, but do the job right.  Cutting corners doesn’t cut it.
  • Always have a contingency plan.  Life is full of surprises.  Sometimes you have to change your plan or your strategy to deal with those events.  I call this making mid-course corrections.
  • Embrace life’s choices head on.  It’s your life, so live it to the fullest.  You never want to look back with regrets about “what if?”
  • Values matter.  When you sacrifice your values, you sacrifice your reputation.
  • You are only as good as your word.  If people can’t trust you to tell the truth, then nothing else matters.  Say what you mean and mean what you say.
  • Cream doesn’t rise to the top; it works its way up.  Paying your dues is not a punishment, it’s called getting experience.
  • Choose family over money.  No amount of money or success can take the place of spending time with your family or those closest to you.
  • Forgive and forget.  Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden.  Wouldn’t you rather rise above than sink down to the offender’s level?
  • Hope springs eternal.  When you give up hope, you give up.

I am grateful that I can still hear my father’s advice when I need to make a tough decision.  I learned not only from his words but also from his example.

My good friend Lou Holtz said the best advice he ever got about marriage and raising a family is that the most important thing you can do as a father is to show your children that you love their mother.

And here’s what Martha Stewart said about her own dad:  “The best advice I’ve ever received was from my father when I was 12 years old and willing to listen.  He told me that with my personal characteristics, I could, if I set my mind to it, do anything I chose.  This advice instilled in me a great sense of confidence, and despite the fact that sometimes I was a little nervous, I stepped out and did what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.  I think it really often is up to the parents to help build confidence in their children.  It is a very necessary part of growing up.”

Mackay’s Moral:  Parents teach lessons even when they think no one is watching. 

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.