Saturday, March 18, 2017

Greatest Speech I Ever Heard

I'm generally not the type of person who goes in for motivational speakers. I find them trite and formulaic and a bit too flashy for my taste. Consequently I have avoided them for most of my life, with one notable exception. I was in Atlanta, probably twenty years ago, attending a Million Dollar Round Table meeting...something else I have tried to avoid for most of my life. I was with my friend, Doug Greenwood and we had both signed up to go to an evening breakout session with some guy named Jim Rohn. I can't remember why we had chosen him, since I had never heard of the man, but nevertheless, there we were at 7:00 in the evening walking into a standing room only ballroom with two thousand other people. We were stunned at the size of the crowd and surprised at the buzz flying around in the atmosphere as we waited. I kept hearing the descriptor, great man, wafting in the air. I remember thinking, who is this guy?




He walked out onto the small stage to thunderous applause. Apparently, we were amongst a pack of Jim Rohn groupies, I thought. I immediately noticed how small and unimpressive he was except for a shock of white hair, mostly on the sides of his head. His attraction came from somewhere besides his looks. Then I noticed that there was no podium. He carried nothing in his hands, no notes of any kind. There was no TelePrompTer. The only prop anywhere to be found was an old school easel holding one of those giant flip pads of plain white paper. He began his talk by walking up to the easel and drawing a sail boat and a couple of swooping lines to indicate windy conditions. Then he stepped away and turned to all of us and spoke these words:

"It's not the blowing of the wind that matters, it's the setting of the sail."

Thus began an incredible fireside chat filled to the brim with the wisdom of the ages. This was a man with almost Godly gifts of story telling who stood alone and almost immobile at the front of a room filled with two thousand type A personalities without a single note and held us in the palm of his hand for the better part of two hours. It may sound a bit overwrought, but that speech changed my life. The things I learned that night have stayed with me. I used many of his insights to teach teenagers at my church for ten years. I have applied lessons learned there to my professional no personl life ever since I got back home. The funny thing was, even though I didn't take any notes, I remember almost everything he said. Some of the highlights:

Success is something you attract by the person you become.

If you really want to do something, you'll find a way. If you don't, you'll find an excuse.

Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better.

You are ultimately the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

No one else "makes us angry." We make ourselves angry when we surrender control of our attitude.

Stand guard at the door of your mind.

Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.

Things don't cost too much. You just can't afford them!

Be strong, but not rude; kind, but not weak; bold, but no bully; thoughtful, but not lazy; humble, but not timid; have humor, without folly.


He delivered all of this wisdom seemingly from memory while making it all seem like a spontaneous conversation with not a syllable rehearsed. Every so often he would go off in an odd direction almost like an aside to himself, like he was thinking out loud. One of the greatest such asides was when he was trying to make the point of how crucial education was to the creation of a well rounded person. Then this came out of his mouth:

You know what the worst thing in life would be? Waking up when you're forty years old and realizing that you're stupid. I mean, being broke is bad,  but stupid? That's the worst. Being broke AND stupid would be doubly bad...only thing that would make it worse would be if you were sick. Sick, broke and stupid. Awful! About as far as you can fall unless you're ugly. Ugly, sick, broke and stupid! Life's most negative scenario!!!

The hall was laughing hysterically and I'm not even sure he was trying to be funny. It was more like he was just talking to himself, trying to work it out. Regardless, it was a magical moment.

I was reminded the other day that Mr. Rohn had died a few years back. He was only 79, I was told. But, what a 79 years it was. He left a piece of himself inside everyone who ever heard him speak. I'm told he spoke to over 40 million people during his life. I was one of them on a hot and humid night in Atlanta twenty years ago. I still remember it, all these years later.

Words matter. Good words, fine words, uplifting, inspiring words matter eternally.