Jim Rohn: The Passing of a Personal-Development Legend

UPDATED: January 27, 2010
PUBLISHED: January 27, 2010

The Passing of a Legend

Jim Rohn spoke to more than 6,000 audiences during his lifetime, personally teaching millions of people the fundamentals of success. Rohn emphasized the importance of taking responsibility for personal growth, and he taught people why and how to reach for a bigger, better, more vital life. He stressed the importance of personal development, not only to benefit oneself, but also those people whose lives we influence through our abundance. Upon the news of Rohn's passing in December, millions worldwide paused to remember this personal-development legend whose wisdom continues to inspire us through books and audio and video programs.

Rohn's life story and impact are even more significant when considering his humble upbringing. Raised on a farm in Idaho, he was the only son of Claire and Emmanuel Rohn, a minister. But beyond the brilliant storytelling skills the elder Rohn passed on to his son, Jim Rohn had no special advantages over those who ultimately would make up his audiences and read and listen to his materials.

Though his upbringing provided a strong work ethic, it left him lacking in ambition. In high school, he learned facts and figures, but not how to design a life. After a year of college, Rohn dropped out. “One year of college, and I thought I was thoroughly educated,” Rohn told his audiences. He was convinced he would be better off taking a salaried job to support his family. Rohn plodded along for several years, but by age 25, he realized that instead of building a life, he was living in a rut, in debt, with no money to speak of.

Change Your Philosophy, Change Your Life

It wasn't that Rohn didn't want more for his life, but he simply did not see what was possible or possess the tools to expand his perspective. By this time, Rohn was a husband and father who worked hard just to scrape by. He was frustrated that he didn't have the money to fulfill his promise of providing a better life for his family.

While actively seeking ways to improve his lot, a friend invited Rohn to attend a seminar presented by Earl Shoaff, a motivational speaker and salesman. Shoaff's message and lifestyle struck a chord with Rohn, who says he instantly knew he wanted what Shoaff had. During the next five years, Shoaff tutored Rohn with simple but profound life philosophies rooted in personal development: work harder on yourself than you do on your job; your income is directly related to your philosophy, not the economy; and for things to change, you must change.

Pursuing personal growth became a way of life for Rohn. He learned that anyone could have the life he or she desired with the right philosophy and discipline to follow through with action. Finally, under Shoaff's mentorship, Rohn had the tools to craft the life he desired.

Heeding Shoaff's instruction that “profits are better than wages,” Rohn began to build a business to replace the meager salary he'd been earning as a department store clerk. Shoaff challenged the young man to become a millionaire. Five years after their meeting, Shoaff passed away at age 49. A year later, Rohn, then 31, met Shoaff's challenge and became a millionaire. Rohn repeatedly credited Shoaff's training as the tool that helped him turn his life around.

His rags-to-riches story would be impressive even if it ended there, but Rohn was only starting to build his true legacy. After acquiring his first fortune, Rohn moved in the early 1960s from his home in Idaho to Beverly Hills, Calif. There, he got the opportunity to share his story at a local Rotary Club meeting. He titled his speech “Idaho Farm Boy Makes It to Beverly Hills.” His audience enjoyed his entertaining presentation style and easy-to-understand philosophies, and it wasn't long before he received invitations to speak at colleges, high schools and service club meetings. As the demand and pay increased, Rohn made the decision in 1963 to begin speaking on a regular basis, hosting or keynoting at seminars across the country, and eventually around the world.

His popularity surged, while his message remained focused on the fundamentals of a success philosophy founded on the responsibility of personal development. “There is nothing mystical about his philosophy,” says SUCCESS Publisher Darren Hardy. “He always said, 'There are no new fundamentals. Truth is not new; it's old.' Jim taught us that success is simple and is the result of sticking to the basic, but mostly missed, fundamentals. The philosophies he taught were true 2,000 years ago and will be true 200 years from now.”

A Mentor to Mentors

Rohn is recognized as a master personal-development trainer. Throughout his career, more than 5 million people attended his seminars, and millions more studied his teachings through the more than 25 books and audio and video programs he authored and produced. Some of his best-known works include Challenge to Succeed and The Art of Exceptional Living.

For his accomplishments, he received numerous industry awards, including the coveted National Speakers Association CPAE Award and the Master of Influence Award, presented in 2004 by then-NSA President Mark Sanborn. Speaker and author Chris Widener was in the audience and recalls the moment: “Right before Mark gave Jim the award, he asked the audience, 'How many of you would say that Jim Rohn has played a significant part or has made a significant impact in your life?' I looked out over the audience of about 2,500 speakers, and about two-thirds of the hands went up–about 1,800 people.”

That moment demonstrated the parable of the sower–a story Rohn often used as an illustration. The farmer sows the seed, and when it is accepted by good soil and nourished, it yields immeasurable results. Millions of people have benefitted from Rohn's teaching. Of those, some, including Sanborn, Anthony Robbins, Mark Victor Hansen, Brian Tracy and Jack Canfield, continue to carry the message of personal development to millions more.

Since his death, thousands have celebrated Rohn's life with remembrances and tributes, including those posted at a special tribute Web site. An online tribute video has been viewed more than 100,000 times. The posted comments illustrate the profound impact this thought leader made on the lives of individuals worldwide.

“Jim has really changed my direction to my new destination…”

“I looked forward to listening to every cassette tape I could get my hands on because each one contained nuggets of truth that I could use to build my business…”

“It so changed my thinking that I implemented the principles and our business grew 300 percent the next year…”

“Jim Rohn was always my absolute favorite speaker. He was always able to speak to your heart and soul in a very simple way for a guy like me to understand…. Thank God for his CDs and books, as his message will live on forever…

”Indeed, the legacy Jim Rohn built in life will continue to positively impact future generations for years to come. For all those who were lucky enough to see him at a live seminar, millions more have benefitted from listening to hours of audio and video presentations he produced or by reading his books. Because mentorship requires only a receptive mind and a worthy message, Rohn will continue to teach and inspire those who want to improve their lives. “I talk about things that matter to people who care,” Rohn said. We are listening, Mr. Rohn. SFor information on Jim Rohn's popular and extensive library of personal-achievement resources or to subscribe to the weekly inspirational Jim Rohn newsletter, visit JimRohn.com.