One of the greatest things my parents did for me was to encourage every one of my ambitions, even if they appeared to be overreaching. They listened to my dreams of being a golf champ or a basketball pro, cheered them on, and then—what really counted—put their money where their mouths were. They made those dreams seem a lot more attainable by giving me lessons in golf and basketball.
I don’t think my folks gave me those lessons because they shared my fantasies of becoming the next Ben Hogan or George Mikan. They did it so I could find out how to be the best Harvey Mackay possible.
From the age of seven or eight, I had lessons, in addition to golf and basketball, in boxing, dancing, swimming, skating, skiing, tennis, baseball, Ping-Pong, and bowling. I also got help from experts in public speaking, piano playing, and writing. And I have no doubt that if I had expressed interest in card tricks, scuba diving, or astronomy, they would have found teachers for those, too.
Yes, I was privileged, but I see plenty of dads and moms making sure that their kids get to Scouts and Little League and community programs, motivated by the same good reasons as my folks: to give their children knowledge and to create a habit of learning.
There is more to learn today than ever. As the amount of information in the world doubles approximately every five years, it takes more and more effort just to run in place. Moreover, companies are cutting back, trying to do as much or more with fewer people. The more talents you have, the more valuable you are. Finally, if you want to attract and retain increasingly knowledgeable, intelligent, demanding, and sophisticated customers/consumers, you have to be as smart as they are.
That’s why my parents’ support has proved so valuable. Some of the lessons they encouraged sharpened the skills I was born with. Some developed abilities I might never have had. But they also taught me to enjoy learning for its own sake.
I learned what a pleasure it is to be taken seriously. Any coach worth his salt has an emotional and psychological investment in his players that’s often as rewarding as the play itself. There is nothing as ego building, as challenging and inspiring to a kid as having a grown-up treat him or her as if what he or she does really matters.
I learned that whatever you do is a lot more enjoyable when you do it well. It’s fun to go to a golf driving range and hit a bucket of balls. It’s a lot more fun to hit them so they travel exactly where you want them to go. What I learned in those long-ago sessions is very much with me today. Forty years ago, I took at least 100 golf lessons from the dean of Minnesota golf professionals, Les Bolstad. I still refer to my notes of yesteryear, and they continue to increase my knowledge and pleasure in the game.
I learned how much pleasure it is possible to derive from work. Many young people seem to think that once you leave school and enter the world of work, your horizon becomes narrow and grim. But working with professionals in any field, and observing how much they enjoy what they’re doing, gives you an incredibly positive notion of how life can be lived.
Most important, I learned not to be afraid to try something new. Obviously, I wasn’t equally competent at everything I tried. But I certainly realized my capacity to be a beginner at anything. A friend of mine once told me that she was too afraid to take an art history course in college because of the lab requirement. Artistic ability wasn’t required—you just had to cut and paste, the idea being that you would learn something about Monet’s and Mondrian’s composition by moving shapes around by yourself—but my friend couldn’t muster the courage to take that course. She was afraid to fail. This is the greatest handicap of all.
Be like the turtle… if it didn’t stick its neck out, it wouldn’t get anywhere at all.
Excerpted from Pushing The Envelope All The Way To The Top