Last week I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Denis Waitley in Dallas to record an interview on Zig Ziglar’s Success 2.0 online video channel. It was an honor to visit with Zig Ziglar, who still enjoys his lifelong passion for helping others get what they want out of life, and it was a real privilege to spend time with these grand masters of motivation.
Here is a photo from our power lunch in Dallas.
Here's Part 2 of the conversation I had with Dr. Waitley years ago for Selling Power magazine:
GG: In your book The Winner's Edge, you said, "I didn't realize until I was 35 that I am behind the wheel in my life.”
Dr. Waitley: That's right.
GG: What made you aware of that?
Dr. Waitley: I was failing a lot up until age 35.
GG: At what were you failing?
Dr. Waitley: I became a good Navy pilot, but I never became the astronaut that I wanted to be. That, to me, was a failure. I could fly a plane, but I didn't get to fly a spaceship. Later, as a business executive, I earned an income but never retained my money. I had a couple of business failures. I fixed the blame on my father's suggestion to go to the Naval Academy. I rationalized, asking, “What can an ex-Navy pilot do except fly for an airline?”
GG: You thought that your opportunities were limited?
Dr. Waitley: Yes. Then I figured that I had never learned anything about money. I know a lot about words, so I took several staff positions. I began to see myself as a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. People told me, "Denis, you are one of the most gifted, talented, creative, wonderful individuals we ever met. We are sure sorry you have not been able to convert that to financial or any other lasting success." At 35, I probably was at the lowest point in my life. I had been traveling all the time. I didn't have a good family life. My resume looked like Who's That? instead of Who's Who, and I was actually believing that I might be born to lose – like my dad, because he never made any money either. Interestingly enough, and I don't think he would mind my saying this, a best-selling author, a friend of mine, said as we were walking on the beach that he had the same experience. Until he realized that his dreams had substance, and until he started simulating success and being around people who were successful, he was destined, as was I, to have permanent potential. His book was on the New York Times best-seller list.
GG: What is his name?
Dr. Waitley: Spencer Johnson, the coauthor of The One-Minute Manager.
GG: So you walked on the beach wondering if your dreams were realistic or not?
Dr. Waitley: Some of my dreams were pipe dreams. Becoming an astronaut was unrealistic. I recognized that these unattainable dreams led to repeated failures.
GG: What did you do to get out of this pattern of failure?
Dr. Waitley: I happened to get fed up with the repeating cycle. I began to seek shelter under the shade of winners. I got tired of running with the turkeys. The first thing that I did was to find a very strong clergyman. I needed some real fatherly advice. We went 10,000 feet up in an airplane. He knew flying was a comfortable environment, a success pattern for me. As we were going through the stalls and spins, he gave me reassurance and spiritual dimension at a time when I need them most.
The second thing I did was start going to seminars conducted by high-powered professionals who talked about stress, health, and success. I was studying their patterns of success. I got excited that maybe I was going to be acceptable in this kind of company. When things were at their worst, I began to write The Psychology of Winning.
GG: So at the lowest point of your life, you actually created the biggest sales hit in the audiocassette market. How did your program get published?
Dr. Waitley: I think [motivational speaker and author] Earl Nightingale and [motivational recordings producer] Lloyd Conant are the only two who know this, but after I'd finished The Psychology of Winning, I took my last $500 and flew to Chicago. At that time, I was speaking in churches, getting less than $50 a speech. Someone who believed in me had sent a single cassette that I'd recorded in church to Earl Nightingale. He called me and told me that he liked my voice and thought I had some good ideas. He said if I was ever in Chicago, I should see his partner, Lloyd Conant. I went on the next airplane, and Lloyd Conant believed in my work enough to help me polish my initial draft and take a chance on recording The Psychology of Winning, which literally converted me from almost total anonymity to a certain measure of success.
GG: Now that you've met with success, do you feel an overabundance of success can spoil us?
Dr. Waitley: Absolutely. If you put the road of the approving crowd, the amount of money you make, and the material accomplishments into a bag and say that is success, you would be making a big mistake.
GG: What are the danger signals of success? When you know that you are not riding success, but success is riding you?
Dr. Waitley: There are several telltale signals: number one is an obsession to talk about your own accomplishments all the time. Two: Whenever people tell you something about what they did, you top them. The third thing is an obsession with your own material rewards, a tendency to show them more. You invite people to see the monuments that you've collected.
GG: In your new book, you are suggesting that trying to “collect life” is a self-defeating proposition.
Dr. Waitley: Yes. We can't collect life; we can only celebrate life.
GG: But if we examine your journey to success, we could say that before we can celebrate, we need to manage our disappointments.
Dr. Waitley: I really believe so. We've got to view failures and rejections as healthy experiences from which to grow. We've got to replace "someday" fantasies with goals that we can really track and chip away at every day. We've got to let go of our impossible dreams and stop putting happiness and success on layaway.
GG: I'd like to share an interesting quote with you. Abraham Zaleznik wrote in a Harvard Business Review article entitled "Managing Disappointment," that "there is irony in all of human experience. The deepest irony of all is to discover that one has been mourning losses that were never sustained and yearning for a past that never existed while ignoring one's own real capabilities for shaping the present."
Dr. Waitley: That is really profound and is said so well. Because planting the seeds of greatness means investing your natural talents in the pursuit of realistic goals. Not every seed will grow into a flower, so you need to view these failures as learning experiences. But to enjoy the flowers in your garden, you have to pluck the weeds. This means that you have to recognize and give up your pipe dreams.
GG: And if you don't?
Dr. Waitley: Your natural seeds of greatness will never have an opportunity to bloom.
GG: Thank you.
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