John Maxwell: The Two Greatest Days in Your Life

UPDATED: August 10, 2011
PUBLISHED: August 10, 2011

I have studied the subject of success for more than 30 years and have asked many questions of successful people trying to discover, first, what made them successful, and second, what they think success is. And my hope is that when I’m done sharing with you my findings, they will in some way help you along your journey of reaching your full potential.

Over the years, as I have watched and listened to successful leaders, I have discovered a common thread: They know why they’re here. Knowing their purpose in life gives them stability. And when others around them start abandoning their causes and jumping ship when life gets tough, these people use this assurance to steady the boat, to ride out the storm, because they have a true North Star. Someone once said there are two great days in our lives—the day we are born and the day we discover why. I’m here to tell you, highly successful people have discovered why.

I think there are two paths you and I can take to help discover our purpose. The first is passion. What are you passionate about? What do you really care about? What would you live for; what would you die for?

Passion is not 100 percent foolproof, but it will get you into the location, the area, the neighborhood of what your purpose really is. Passion is what I call the “great energizer.” It’s no secret that passionate people have a lot of energy. That’s why, when you see successful people, they love what they’re doing and doing what they love.

People who are highly successful love the journey as much as the destination. And even though they might not have yet arrived, they remain encouraged because they still have fuel in their tanks from their incredible passion.

But passion can only get you so far. If you don’t believe me, just watch the singing tryouts on American Idol. Bless their hearts, these kids are extremely passionate, many of them singing with all of the off-key gusto they can muster. But that doesn’t mean they have what it takes to be professional singers.

While passion will get you into the location, it’s only about 80 percent accurate. The other path you can take to discover your purpose is 100 percent accurate—I guarantee it. This is what I call your Strength Zone Path. That’s not my phrase; it’s from Marcus Buckingham’s book Now, Discover Your Strengths (Free Press, 2001). In other words, you’ve got to find the path where you can answer the questions: What do I do well? What are my strengths? What is my giftedness? What is the talent, the uniqueness that sets me apart from everybody else?

Everyone has a “uniqueness” that would enable them to rise above the rest, if they just discover it, fine-tune it, work hard and grow in it. No one has ever been successful doing something that they didn’t like and no one has ever been successful doing something they can’t do well. And yet I see millions of people every day doing something they don’t like doing, and they wonder why they’re not successful.

Here is the best way to explain it. People simply will not pay for average. So why do so many of us think we can have an average business or an average career or an average life and make a difference? Average doesn’t make a difference.

I’d like to tell you something that goes against all of the rules you have ever been taught or have ever believed about weaknesses: From this moment on, stop working on your weaknesses. Why? Well, it’s very simple. It’s because we are weak in our weaknesses, so stop doing these things that you’re not any good at.

Our education system taught us to work on our weakness. If you got an A in math but a C in English, what did they tell you to work on? That’s right, English. They say, “Get that English grade up.”

I’m here to tell you, don’t work on your English. You ask, “Why shouldn’t I work on my English?” It’s very simple. You have a math mind. It’s not that you’re dumb; it’s just that your math mind is better than your English mind. You’re better at numbers than you are at words. It’s not right or wrong; it’s just who you are. It’s your uniqueness.

Yes, success is knowing your purpose in life, but it’s more than that. You also need a growth plan to help you reach your maximum potential. It’s not only about knowing what you should do, but also about growing in that area to maximize and highlight the things you do well. That’s continual growth.

I had a life-changing experience back in 1973. Attending a seminar in Lancaster, Ohio, a man sitting next to me asked me one of the most important questions I’ve ever been asked. He said, “John, what’s your plan for growth?” I was just a kid in my 20s, not knowing that I was even supposed to have a plan for growth. And so I decided to fake it and proceeded to tell him about my elaborate schedule and how hard I was working toward my goals. I was like a plane circling a field trying to come in for a landing, going around and around until I finally ran out of gas and shut up. As soon as I did he looked at me, smiled and said, “You don’t have a plan, do you?” With a smile I replied “Eh, no, no I don’t.”

Then he said words that changed my life. He said, “John, growth is not an automatic process. If you’re going to grow, you need to do so intentionally.” That afternoon I went home and sat down with my wife, Margaret, and said, “I don’t know what a growth plan looks like, but I heard a guy tell me today I needed to have one and I’m going to figure it out.” And I took that whole year to figure out how to do a growth plan, and I’m here to tell you, it changed my life.

That was in the early ’70s. For more than 30 years, I have been on a personal growth plan every year.

The speed of the leader determines the speed of the pack. And the only way that you and I will ever continue to be in front is to continue to learn and grow and to commit to it. Highly successful people have a continual thirst for knowledge and are always asking questions.

Highly successful people know their purpose in life, grow to their maximum potential and sow seeds that benefit others. They don’t live for themselves. They’re a river, not a reservoir. They understand what significance is. Significance is adding value to others.

For more from John C. Maxwell, check out the SUCCESS store.