Earl Nightingale, the co-founder of Nightingale-Conant Corporation, has been a pioneer in the field of success motivation. In his lifetime he has seen disappointment and hardships. His father walked out one day leaving Earl's mother with three young sons when Earl was only 11. Earl joined the Marine Corps and stood on top of the main mast of the battleship Arizona when it was bombed by the Japanese during their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Over 1,177 lives were lost and Earl was one of the 223 survivors. His most enduring success began in 1956 when he produced a spoken word vinyl record called The Strangest Secret which sold well over a million copies. This record has led more people to pursue their goals with greater zest and it inspired them to live a meaningful life. Earl’s recording is still selling today (on remastered CD) on a Website that is run by his widow.
I had the privilege of interviewing Earl in 1987 in a New York hotel suite. There are two things that stand out from the interview. One, his comment that “there is no success without suffering.” Two, at the end of the interview I asked him about a certain passage from his new book. He looked it up and began to read in his cultured and inspiring voice. Then something strange happened during this reading: he fell asleep! I waited a few minutes, wondering if I should wake him up. He looked comfortable and peaceful. I didn’t want to impose and decided to quietly pack up my notes and leave. Two years later he passed away. His clarity of thinking and his remarkable tone of voice is still with us and available to the eager student of success and motivation.
Here is an edited version of my interview:
Q: Do you think it is possible to trace the origins of your success back to specific educational experiences or books that you have read?
A: No. You know education is a like a fine painting which has thousands of little dabs of paint, none of which you are particularly aware of but which in total comprise the finished work. A person with an ongoing education has been touched and dabbed by so many great authors and great lines, great poetry, the great philosophies of the world.
Q: Do you remember when you first felt inspired by the thirst for knowledge?
A: I knew when I was 12 years old that I wanted to become a writer and that I wanted to find the secret of success which spelled the difference between men and women who are successful in life and those who are not.
Q: At one time you sold advertising for your own radio program. How did you go about doing that?
A: Well, I started calling on the agencies in Chicago and telling them about my program and the fact that I could sell their products for them. I was very sincere and I was very eager but I was very young and inexperienced and of course, since I didn't have a track record, no one would try my program.
Q: Do you remember what kept you going on those early sales calls?
A: Yes. I had one great thing working for me: I just wouldn't give up. I kept telling myself to stay with it. I would say to myself, "You can make this, what you are doing is right. You have a good program, you can sell products on that show, you have a good audience and you are 100% dedicated to it and it will come, just stay with it." I used to keep telling myself that even though the pickings were very slim at that time, I would ultimately succeed.
Q: When did your break come?
A: When I was 29, 1 was reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
I came across six words that made a big difference in my life, "We become what we think about."When I saw that, I sat up. All of a sudden, all the lights went on and I said "That's it. That is what I have been reading over and over again." That is what Buddha meant when he said, "As the wheel follows the ox behind, we will become what our thoughts have made of us." I realized that every great philosopher had said much the same thing in different words. I had read "As ye believe, so shall it be done unto you." In so many different ways I had been reading that great line over and over again. It just revolutionized my life and from that time on I have had very few problems.
Q: How do you propose that we learn how to manage our own minds?
A: The first thing we have to do is to learn how to think.
We are not taught how to think in school and most people do not think very much, if at all. We are taught in school to remember things and yet the highest function a human being is capable of is to think.
Q: What are the qualities that you suggest a good salesperson should have?
A: I imagine they would be the same qualities that I would want anyone to develop in his life: integrity is the first...
Q: How do you define integrity?
A: Being absolutely true. Being truthful under all circumstances. Tell the truth and build a reputation for integrity.
Q: How about self-motivation?
A: Human beings are subject to moods. Sometimes they don't feel very good, sometimes they feel a little down. I feel down from time to time and I have to reach up and pull a book off the shelf and get myself charged up again. Fortunately, I have two great sources of motivation. One is my wife Diana who is just marvelous at that kind of thing. I just can't really stay down very long living around her. The other, of course, is my fabulous library. I have so many great thinkers, and you can't read these people without getting a little excited about everything in the world.
Q: What is your recommendation for dealing with disappointment?
A: Well, it's difficult to handle disappointment, but I think that a well-adjusted person realizes that it is part of living and to take a big deep breath and start out again. Maybe rest a little bit before you get going again.
Q: In your book, Earl Nightingale's Greatest Discovery, you write about succeeding and suffering.
A: There is no success without suffering. There is an old legend that goes, "If you succeed without suffering, it is because someone has suffered for you. If you suffer without succeeding, it is so someone may succeed after you, but
there is no success without suffering." I think that the word "suffering" was meant to mean "tremendous amount of effort and dedication."Success is an effect and you have got to have a cause and that is the work or whatever you do to achieve that success.
Q: Can you tell me, from your own experience, in which way have you suffered and in which way that has translated into success?
A: My early years were pretty tough, as were the war years. I have done my share of suffering. I have had a number of physical problems that I have had to be overcome. I had a heart valve replaced, but long before that I had two brain tumors removed and I have had both shoulders and hips replaced because of arthritis. I am familiar with pain. We are like old friends. However, I look at it this way. We have been granted a short time and we don't understand that life is a mystery. It doesn't bother me, mysteries don't bother me. Some people can't stand mysteries, they want answers for everything. I can live with a mystery. We came from a mystery and we are going to go into a mystery and I think that is beautiful and wonderful. We know there is something there and I tend to believe that it is going to be great. I want to do the best I can with this life and then if there is another one, I will do the best I can with that one.
Q: How do you view disappointment in life?
I have had a lot of disappointments, but you know they have usually led on to other successes, to additional successes.I know that there have been times when I thought, "I'm terribly sorry that this is happening but I realize that maybe I'm being led to another slightly different direction in order to achieve these things that I want to achieve."
Q: How do you view success?
A: Success doesn't come in a big flash. It comes from a result of steady daily work over a long period of time.
Q: What is your measure of success?
A: That we be in the driver's seats of our lives.
Q: What three things do you suggest that people do to be successful?
A: First, that they find the right work. Second, do the things they most enjoy doing. Third, set exciting and worthwhile goals that will mean a great deal to you when you achieve them, whatever they happen to be.
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