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. 

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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