Category Archives: Articles by Barry

Whose Job Is It Anyway? Whose Responsibility?

By Barry Maher

A while back, I was conducting a job interview at lunch with a woman who had initially appeared to be a promising candidate. Going on at great length about the shortcomings of her current employer, she’d only eaten about half of her spaghetti. Once the food was cold, she asked the waiter for a doggy bag, and he brought a Styrofoam takeout container and a good size paper bag. While we waited for the check and continued talking, she emptied the spaghetti into the container. Then she took a half-eaten piece of bread off her bread plate and put it in on top.

She pointed to the three good-sized pieces of bread remaining in the bread basket and asked, “Are you going to eat any of that?” When I said “No,” one more piece of bread went into the container. She closed the container, slide it into the paper bag, then tossed in the other two pieces of bread.

As the check came and I gave the waiter my credit card, she was fingering one of the sealed bags of tea in the selection of little packets that had come with the tea she’d ordered. She shrugged, then picked it up and put it into the bag.

“Oh, what the heck,” she said and dumped the whole basket of teas into the bag. She grabbed a few packets of sweetener and put them in. As the conversation continued, a few more went in, then a few more, until all the sweeteners were gone.

The waiter returned with the credit card slip. I signed it and as I usually do, left the tip in cash, and the woman and I got up to leave.

After a few steps, she said, “Oh, just a minute,” and went back to the table. Her back was to me so I couldn’t see what she was doing. But when she moved back toward me I have to say, I examined the table pretty closely. I really thought she might have picked up the tip. She hadn’t but, unbelievably, both the salt and pepper shakers were gone. The only condiment left on the table was a half-filled bottle of olive oil which probably only survived because it had an open spout rather than a cap.

Needless to say, I didn’t offer her the job. I had a phone number for her husband on her resume and I considered calling him and reporting her bizarre behavior but I didn’t do that either. I rationalized that maybe he’d find it normal. Maybe they had a house full of stale bread and salt and pepper shakers. Maybe they were starving, though she had a good paying, if obviously unsatisfying job and she certainly didn’t appear underfed. So I simply considered this an amusing story and let it go.

It wasn’t nearly as amusing six days later when I read in the local paper that she’d been picked up by the police completely disoriented, disheveled and dirty, wandering down the median strip of the freeway. It was a miracle she hadn’t been killed. What was less than miraculous was how many people like me must have ignored her problems in order for her to end up on that freeway.

She could have been my sister. She could have been my mother. She could have been dead.

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Intimidation, Part Two: Deliberate Intimidation

By Barry Maher

As we discussed last month, sometimes we allow ourselves to be intimidated by others, perhaps those who just happen to be more powerful or richer or better looking or more intelligent than we are.

Then there are the Marvin Winchells of the world, those who try to intimidate deliberately.

“Marvin has to let you know that he’s really too important to be dealing with the likes of you,” one of Marvin’s vendors complained. “He’s always late for meetings. He’ll keep you cooling your heals while he chats on the phone about his golf game. He’s got that huge office. Giant desk. His chair is a leather throne. The two cloth chairs for visitors are smaller and shorter. The topper is, he’s actually whittled down their
legs. And the front legs are shorter than the back. So you can’t get comfortable, and if try to balance anything in your lap, it slides down to the floor.”

“An old trick,” I offered. “I think psychiatrists used to use it.”

“Sure. I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never known anyone else who actually went to the trouble to do it. Then he has to act distracted and disinterested in anything you have to say. And shake his head while you’re talking as if he’s much too smart to believe a word of it. And of course, nothing you do is ever right. Or ever likely to be.”

“And at the slightest excuse,” I offered, “the screaming starts. And the demands.”

He chuckled, “You know Marvin.”

“I was in sales. Every sales rep knows a Marvin.”

He nodded. “Saying Marvin is high maintenance is like saying colon cancer is annoying. With all aggravation and all the hand-holding required, I was spending more in antacid than we were making on the account. Then one day I get a call.”

“From Marvin.”

“Don’t be silly. Marvin’s much too big a deal to call me directly. I get a call from Marvin’s secretary. She says, ‘Please hold for Mr. Winchell.‘” This is typical Marvin. Then he’d leave you hanging there for 20 minutes. Only I’d had enough. So I say, ‘The only thing I’ll hold for Mr. Winchell is his trophy wife. And I can’t do that right now cause I’m busy canceling his last orderhis very last order.'”

Why should anyone feel intimidated by someone like Marvin, someone with such massive insecurities that they feel they need to go to such lengths to gain an edge? This is a person you should be feeling sorry for. What could be more pathetic than the image of this guy down on his knees in his best, overpriced, dressed-for-success suit, shaving down those chair legs?

My advice? Never be intimidated by someone who thinks his best shot is winning through intimidation.

They’re usually just telling you that they’re in competition with the world and thatwithout the intimidationthey don’t believe they can win. And they’re usually right. They try to blow themselves up like a giant balloon, hoping for larger than life. And when it doesn’t work, when the balloon pops . . . Well, you’ll never see a greater change of scalea greater loss of staturein any human being.

Any good negotiator would love to run across a Marvin Winchell. An unethical one could take him for everything, including the defective office furniture.

Follow Barry on Twitter: @barrymaher

© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

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Intimidation. And Why Not.

By Barry Maher

A while back, I was discussing a job opening at lunch with a woman who had initially appeared to be a promising candidate. She’d only eaten about half of her spaghetti while going on at great length about the shortcomings of her current employer. Once the food was cold, she asked the waiter for a doggy bag, and he brought a Styrofoam takeout container and a good size paper bag. While we waited for the check and continued talking, she emptied the spaghetti into the container. Then she took a half-eaten piece of bread off her bread plate and put it in on top.

She pointed to the three good sized pieces of bread remaining in the bread basket and asked, “Are you going to eat any of that?” When I said “No,” one more piece of bread went into the container. She closed the container, slide it into the paper bag, then tossed in the other two pieces of bread.

As the check came and I gave the waiter my credit card, she was fingering one of the sealed bags of tea in the selection of little packets that had come with the tea she’d ordered. She shrugged, then picked it up and put it into the bag.

“Oh, what the heck,” she said and dumped the whole basket of teas into the bag. She grabbed a few packets of sweetener and put them in. As the conversation continued, a few more went in, then a few more, until all the sweeteners were gone.

The waiter returned with the credit card slip. I signed it and as I usually do, left the tip in cash, and the woman and I got up to leave.

After a few steps, she said, “Oh, just a minute,” and went back to the table. Her back was to me so I couldn’t see what she was doing. But when she moved back toward me I have to say, I examined the table pretty closely. I really thought she might have picked up the tip. She hadn’t but, unbelievably, both the salt and pepper shakers were gone. The only condiment left on the table was a half-filled bottle of olive oil which probably only survived because it had an open spout rather than a cap.

Needless to say, I didn’t offer her the job. I had a phone number for her husband on her resume and I considered calling him and telling him about her strange behavior but I didn’t do that either. Maybe, I thought, he’d find it normal. Maybe they had a house full of stale bread and salt and pepper shakers. Maybe they were starving, though she had a good paying, if obviously unsatisfying job and she certainly didn’t appear underfed. So I simply considered this an amusing story and let it go.

It wasn’t nearly as amusing six days later when I read in the local paper that she’d been picked up by the police completely disoriented, disheveled and dirty, wandering down the median strip of the freeway. It was a miracle she hadn’t been killed. What was less than miraculous was how many people like me must have ignored her problems in order for her to end up on that freeway. She could have been my sister. She could have been my mother. She could have been dead.

© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

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Motivational Crisis – Enjoy Your Crisis

By Barry Maher

 

As I was leaving after a keynote the other day, an extremely handsome, extremely well dressed, extremely sophisticated looking gentleman stopped me in the hall. The kind of guy that makes you feel like Gomer Pile on a bad day. Picture George Clooney. But better. Much better.

“How did you avoid a midlife crisis?” I thought he asked.

“You haven’t seen my new Corvette, my giant bottle of Viagra or my 18 year old blond mistress,” I replied.

“No, I didn’t mean you personally,” he said, looking at me like I might actually have a 18 year old mistress and wondering whether to be outraged or envious. “How do you . . . how do people in general . . . at least people who’ve devoted their lives to their careers . . . how do they avoid a midlife crisis?”

“Hmmm,” I replied.

“I just mean you’re my age, maybe a little older . . .”

He had better hair, better teeth, and better skin than I did. He even had better shoes, and I was wearing my custom-tailored Italian loafers, a gift from a speaking client for adding-on a last minute replacement session. Mine were never all that comfortable; his were probably made by elves.

I was getting a midlife crisis just looking at this guy. OK, maybe I was older. At least I’m sure I probably looked older.

“It’s not me,” he continued, ”At least, it’s not just me. Every executive, every manager on my team seems to reach a certain age then slack off or lose focus or just start wondering what it is they’re doing with their lives.” He shook his head. “You just seem to be having so much fun.” And now he did sound envious.

“Really?” I managed. Hey, communication is my business.

“I just wish I had your joie de vie.” This guy could even say joie do vie without sounding inane. “I wish my people did too.”

 I wish I had your shoes, I thought as he sauntered off.

After a moment, I started off myself, not sauntering certainly not sauntering, (with me that comes off like prowling. Or stalking). And I realized that while I may not have the answer for a midlife crisis, I do have a tactic.

It’s simple and it’s self-evident. It’s also effective. It shouldn’t take any selling at all to get people to
buy into it, yet it always seems to be the hardest sell.

The tactic?

    Enjoy.

I told you it was simple. At least, it’s simple to say. It’s not always that simple to do. But the first thing
I would tell an executive or a manager going through a midlife crisis is that business is like making love: if you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right. The converse is also true: if you’re not doing it right you’re probably not having any fun.

You’ve got to have fun with your job. The last thing I tell myself before I start work every morning is just
that, “Have fun. Enjoy.” Once in a while I even manage to pull it off.

If you can’t ever have fun doing what you do, maybe you should find something else to do.

Think about working to make your work fun. And making it fun for the people you work with. Sure, you’re anxious to reach your long term goals. Sure, you’re anxious to help them reach their goals. But the more enjoyable you can make the journey towards those goals, the more likely everyone is to be able to sustain the effort it takes to get there.

If you’re one of those people who’s not enjoying your life now, how long are you planning on waiting before you start?

 Joie de vie! Okay, I can’t even write it without sounding inane. But you get the idea.

© Copyright 2016, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

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It’s Not How Old You Are, It’s How Good You’ve Become

By Barry Maher

Dear Barry,

A simple question: How do I give my work history in my resume without revealing my age?

Sincerely

A Former CFO

 

The simple answer? You don’t. And  you probably don’t want to. Even if you manage to successfully disguise your age on the resume and get an interview, the slowest, least observant interviewer on the planet will be able to figure out your age long before the interview is over.

My advice?

If there’s even a chance your age might be a problem, ALWAYS assume it is. Address the issue in your cover letter or cover email. No need to refer to your age directly, just stress the positives: your energy; how you keep current; the value of your experience; etc.

Then in the interview, confront the issue head on, bringing it up yourself and disposing of it. If you’ve picked up on age-related euphemisms, couch your response in terms of those euphemisms.

For example, “We really need someone who’s vigorous and energetic.”

“You know, I pride myself on my vigor and energy. If you talk to anyone where I work now, they’ll tell you that I out hustle anyone there. The younger guys in particular can’t keep up with me because, not only don’t they have my energy, they haven’t yet learned to work smart.”

Or,  “We need someone who understands the latest trends.”

“I pride myself on always being on the cutting edge of all the latest trends. And the wide-ranging experience I have in the industry allows me to apply the very latest practices in the most effective ways, to put them in the appropriate perspective.”

You need to deal with the negative perceptions of age and to stress the positives you’ve picked up because of experience. Ideally, you should show that age and experiences make you stronger, even in those very qualities the employer associates with youth. You never do it defensively; you always do it positively, if at all possible raising the issue yourself rather than letting it lie there as an unspoken problem.

Don’t hide your age, brag about it. Remember how Ronald Reagan’s handlers had him deal with his advancing age in the 1984 election. In the first president debate, many observers had judged him as looking tired, even confused. Predictably, inevitably, during the second debate he was asked about his age. In a carefully thought out, scripted response, Reagan simply said,  “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

And the issue virtually disappeared.

Will this kind of strategy always work? Absolutely not. But, in my experience, it’s far more likely to work than trying to hide your age and hoping no one notices you aren’t 35 anymore.

© Copyright 2014, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

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Getting People to Listen

By Barry Maher

From time to time when I’m talking to attendees after doing a session for managers, I’ll notice one person hanging back a little, waiting for everyone else to clear the room.

Then he or she shuffles up, gives me a little embarrassed smile and says:

“I don’t really have any real issues with the way I manage. My boss thinks I do but I really don’t. The problem is that my people just don’t listen to me. So aside from firing everybody and recruiting in an entirely new staff, how do you get people like that to listen to you?”

“People like . . . ?”

“People who are so . . . People who just don’t pay attention.”

My first suggestion, which always has to be delivered tactfully, is that the easiest way to get people to listen to you is to listen to them. Think of the last time someone listened to you, really listened to you. Think about the two-way rapport that developed and how you felt about that person. Weren’t you far more likely to pay attention to them when they were talking?

Think of how you felt the last time someone didn’t listen to you. And how you felt about that individual. Particularly if that person was your boss.

Since we all want people to listen to us, here are a few other quick tips.

For important conversations, try to pick the right time and place: when the person is most likely to be receptive, when distractions will be at a minimum.

Give them a reason to listen at the very beginning of the conversation. Start with an interest-creating remark, ideally one that highlights the benefit to them of focusing on what you’re about to say:

► “Here’s something that will save you 10 minutes every time you do that job.”
► “In order to get that raise we discussed, there are three things you’ll need to accomplish.”
► “We’re still finding pieces of the last person who tried to do it that way.”

When appropriate, ask them questions and of course actually listen to their answers. (Here’s one of my favorite, sweeping, all-purpose, general statements: When in doubt, in any business situation, anytime, with anyone, anywhere, on any planet, ask a question.)

Use examples, anecdotes and stories to make your points clearer and to increase interest. Examples like, “We’re still finding pieces of the last person who tried to do it that way.”

Consider enumerating key points. “You’re going to have to master a six step process. First . . .”

Pause occasionally. Or forget about being listened to after the first three or four sentences. Think about those directions you got the last time you were lost out in the country:

“Can’t miss it. You just go straight ahead, cross the bridge, take a left at the old mill. Not the lumber mill, the old wheat mill. You head north for about six miles until you come to the graveyard. You don’t do anything there. But once you reach the lot where the old general store used to be . . . it’s not there no more, it’s just a lot . . . there you take a medium hard right. Not a real hard right: that’s old Mrs. Allen’s driveway and she’s got a shot gun. Don’t worry, she don’t see so well anymore. Hasn’t hit a damn thing in months. Maybe one Jehovah’s Witness. So you take a medium hard right. Another five miles you take a quick left, your second right, and then your third or fourth left. Maybe your fifth. Head on for a piece, maybe seven miles more and about then you better find somebody else to ask or you could get lost.”

Pausing:

1)    Gives the other person a chance to absorb what you’ve just said;2)    Keeps them from feeling like you’re trying to run over them;

3)    Provides them with an opportunity for input. Of course, you are taking a risk that someone else may actually get to talk, at least for a moment.

If it does nothing else, pausing gathers attention. Something different has happened. That stream of things I haven’t been listening to seems to have stopped. What’s up?

Lastly, and perhaps above all: if you want to be listened to, be concise and to the point. (As unlike the driving directions cited above as possible.) That could even entail thinking through what you’re going to say beforehand: maybe even working out four or five talking points. If the message is important enough, you could even rehearse.

Just remember that if your explanation of the task at hand begins with the founding of the company or the story of your birth, no one’s attention is going to stick around for the conclusion.

© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

 

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Holding Successful Cruise Ship Meetings

By Barry Maher

I get to speak on cruises quite frequently. And I love it. They’re wonderful places to hold meetings. They increase attendance and put everyone in a great mood. But there’s a big difference between holding a meeting on land and holding one on a ship. So before casting off, here are a few things you’ll want to consider.

First of all, no matter what your travel agent may tell you, your group is not likely to be a priority with the ship’s cruise director. He or she has far too many other things going on, things that affect many more passengers.

Before booking, meeting planners need to question the cruise line in detail about the facilities that will be available. If possible, they should try to get their meeting room locked in. Many newer cruise ships have dedicated meeting rooms. But most ships simply don’t.

And no matter what the facilities are like, cruise directors will often move a scheduled meeting to a less desirable location, perhaps one where passengers will be passing by (or even moving through) during your meeting. I’ve done sessions in hallways, in bars, in dining rooms, on deck, and in huge theaters that dwarfed the group that had contracted for the meeting.

And any number of times, I’ve had passengers sit down and join us, figuring this was just another part of the shipboard entertainment. That’s flattering and I’ve never had a problem with it. Still, I have heard of speakers being heckled by passengers who’d gotten an early start on the daily drink special.

The day before the meeting, double check on the room and make sure all necessary AV equipment is scheduled to be delivered. And delivered on time. Then expect that it won’t be, and get to the room early enough to remedy the situation. And it’s not just AV equipment you need to check on.  I did one cruise where I had to dash off to a rather distant bar for drinking water before each session because the theater where the meetings were held didn’t have water.

With so many potential distractions, so many other things that participants could be doing rather than sitting in your meeting, having great content is even more vital at sea than on land. If your speakers aren’t gripping, if they don’t really know how to hold an audience, they may not have an audience for long. Except perhaps for the heckling drunks. If that kind of meeting is optional, participants will wander away at the first opportunity. If it’s mandatory, they’ll be daydreaming about what they can do once the speaker finally shuts up and lets them out of there.

Cruises aren’t business environments. And you want the stimulating, yet relaxing atmosphere of the cruise to make your event more successful not less. If your speakers can make their sessions fun while delivering vital content, you’re going to be way ahead of the game. If they aren’t particularly good, the session could be a bit of a ship wreck.

One final note. The breathtaking scenery outside the meeting room windows can put even the best speaker to shame. If, for example, you’re cruising the Inland Passage in Alaska where the view is not only stunning but constantly changing, a good set of meeting room blinds can be your most important piece of equipment.

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They’re Hiring at the Department of Lip Service

Barry Maher’s 
Filling the Glass Newsletter
Speaking of Real World Tactics, Reality-Based Motivation
November, 2010    Vol. 10  Issue 10

Luckily I’m not looking for a job right now. But largely because of my web presence, I get unsolicited job interview requests fairly frequently. My favorite came by way of a phone call I got from the VP of Human Resources for a major division of a Fortune 100 company—on Easter Sunday!

She wanted me to fly across the country to interview for another VP position. She explained the opportunity, the exceptional salary and benefits package, and went on at some length about how interested they were in me specifically. And after all, she did call on Easter Sunday. Then I asked if she wanted her travel department to book the trip or if she’d rather I booked the flight and hotel and invoiced her.

“Oh no,” she said. “We don’t cover travel expenses.” She added, somewhat arrogantly I thought, “That’s an investment you’ll need to make if you want a chance at the job.”

“Actually no,” I explained in a friendly tone, “that’s an investment you’ll have to make if you want a chance at me.”

Ninety minutes later, she called back with an offer of a first class ticket and travel expenses, explaining she’d “cleared it with the powers that be.”

“I appreciate that,” I said. “But just to clarify a couple of points, when you called before you stressed how important it was for your executives to maintain a healthy work/life balance, isn’t that right?”

“That’s absolutely right,” she agreed.

“And you also emphasized how entrepreneurial your organization was, and how I’d have every bit of authority I needed to be successful?”

“Right again,” she said. “Across your full range of enterprise responsibilities. We pride ourselves on empowering all our people, particularly of course our senior executives.”

“Yet,” I said, keeping my tone as friendly as possible, “this is a company where calling people about work on Easter Sunday seems to be par for the course. And where a vice president can’t authorize travel expenses for a single trip without getting clearance?’

She was silent for a long moment. Then she actually said, “Hey, I just work here.”

        Fortunately, I thought, I don’t.

Interestingly enough, three months later she quit as well.

© Copyright 2010, 2013, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada

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A Legacy of Perspective

By Barry Maher

Perspective is everything.

If you’re anything like me, from time to time you may need to step back, to put your goals and your efforts toward those goals in context, to help place your work and your life in a more meaningful perspective. A more meaningful perspective for you. Not for your boss or society or your friends or even your family. For you.

A while back, I bumped into a friend at a convention. A consultant, an author and a speaker like myself, she’d had a dream for a number of years and she was finally beginning to act on it. And she was running around excitedly, picking everyone’s brain—so enthused she was almost throbbing. It was great to see. This was on a Saturday afternoon.

The following Friday, she woke up with bruises all over her body. Her husband was terrified, and he insisted that she go to the emergency room. She was more than a bit scared herself, so it wasn’t hard for him to get her to go.

Within three hours, she was diagnosed with leukemia. Six days and 137 units of blood later, she was dead—from complications of the treatment. Thirty-nine years old. And her dreams are still waiting.

But as sad and as tragic as that was, that’s not the real kicker to the story. The real kicker to the story—which should probably kick every single one of us in the butt every single day of our lives—is that there’s probably no one reading this that couldn’t tell a similar story.

Yet in spite of that, how often do we find ourselves piddling away our days, strangled in the minutiae of the moment rather than acting from a perspective of what we really want to do with our time, of what we really want to accomplish, of how we really want to live?

Perspective is everything. As for me, I just might take this afternoon off.

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Successful Quitting: Brigette Bardot and I

 

By Barry Maher

I’ve seen a lot of people reach their 40s or 50s, look back at their life to that point, look ahead at that same life stretching on until the end, or at least until retirement, and suddenly decide to make a radical change.

Often the problem is the “suddenly.”  I call it the Gauguin syndrome, after the painter who quit his job, abandoned his family and moved off to the South Seas to paint. It might have worked for Gauguin but for a lot of us it’s probably not going to work. It certainly didn’t work for Mrs. Gauguin and the kids.

Obviously, the lure of the road-not-taken can become stronger as the years go on. And we’ve all been told we need to “follow our bliss.” And while we may not be exactly sure where that bliss lies, it seems quite apparent that it doesn’t lie in whatever it is that’s been dragging us out of bed and monopolizing the better part of our lives for the last twenty years.

The problem with following your bliss is that your particular bliss may not earn you much of a living. It certainly won’t if you don’t approach it with a carefully thought out plan.

Who doesn’t occasionally want to tell the boss to “take this job and shove it,” ideally as immediately and dramatically as possible? With piercing criticism, scathing expletives and slamming doors, But you’re far more likely to succeed on your new path if you’ve thoroughly researched it, looked at the upside and the downside, figured out how long it might take you to become successful at it and how you’re going to meet your financial obligations in the meantime.

A certain amount of fear is healthy. It inspires caution and helps keep your planning realistic. You want your dream to come true? Then examine it with your eyes wide open in the cold light of morning.

Even if it’s just finding a more appealing job, you’re far more hirable while you’re somebody else’s employee. You’re also much more likely to be able to negotiate a better deal.

I’m not saying it’s fair, but nobody wants someone nobody wants, whether in love or employment. Nobody wants somebody else’s discards either. Which also means that no matter how satisfying it might be to tell one or more of “these hypocritical morons” off, you may someday want a reference from those very morons—in the hope that they’ll be hypocritical enough to make it a good one.

If desire was all it took to become successful, when I was twelve I would have been dating Brigette Bardot. No one on this planet has ever wanted anything more.

Surprisingly enough, it never worked out between Brigette and me. A better plan probably wouldn’t have helped. But hopefully your dream is a tad more realistic.

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Motivational Speakers Are Rarely Enough.

 

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