Journey to Greatness

UPDATED: May 3, 2011
PUBLISHED: May 3, 2011

Think of your most memorable life lessons. Your parents, mentors, professors and bosses—even your children, perhaps—teach you meaningful phrases that pop into your mind daily. Lessons like these become innate, shaping your very being.

In a given day, your role models’ catch phrases scuttle through your mind involuntarily. A former boss instilled one motto in me. “Do the right thing,” she’d say. It was something her dad used to say and it stuck with her. The simple yet meaningful phrase worked its way into business gatherings, brainstorming sessions, social settings and family interactions. It flashed in my head when a driver cut me off on the interstate or when a co-worker carried a grudge. I began to take it as my own.

Flip through a few pages of The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz and you may find yourself nodding to similar catchphrases. You know that your successes depend on how you treat others, as Schwartz suggests. And your parents probably also told you a time or two to “do the right thing,” as Schwartz again reiterates. The Magic of Thinking Big provides honest answers an average person can apply on the journey to becoming an extraordinary individual. Schwartz’s book is filled with ideas and action items for becoming all you can be—a compilation of life’s little lessons. First published in 1959, this classic has sold more than 4 million copies. Schwartz has since passed away, but his book remains a must for any personal-development library. It begins with a little common sense and unfolds into chapter upon chapter of information you might already know but haven’t yet applied to your personal and professional life.

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An overarching concept fuels Schwartz’s book: People who are successful, who are “big” in attitude and personality, think about success. A lot. Schwartz assures us that people are not born successful. They train their minds to become something bigger than they are. And those who stick with it succeed.

Think about when you were a child. What did you want to be—an astronaut? A professional athlete? The president? Little girls don’t doubt their ability to be president just because another woman hasn’t done it before. And kids don’t throw away a desire to be a doctor because they think they’re not smart enough; children don’t know what they can’t do. Their possibilities are limitless.

The simple way to grow into the leader you want to be is to have a little faith, Schwartz says. “When the mind disbelieves or doubts, the mind attracts ‘reasons’ to support the disbelief,” Schwartz writes. This happens as we grow up, slowly discarding all those childhood fantasies that we refuse to yank into reality. The solution is simple, he says: “Think doubt and fail. Think victory and succeed.”

Schwartz offers specific strategies, too. To build confidence and destroy fear, sit in the front row at seminars and in classes. When you speak to someone, look him or her in the eye. Walk quickly. Smile big.

Schwartz’s message is double-edged. He initially propels people toward greatness. You can do it, he says, and he proves how success is very much a learned trait. But then he brings people back to Earth: You can always be better. Essentially, no one has reached his or her best. It’s a ceiling that continues to rise each time a high achiever reaches for the sky. Never should even the most successful person plateau in a quest for greatness.

Additionally, he says, life is like a series of sales calls. Every day at work and in social settings, people sell themselves. You want to be a person known for being successful, driven and motivated. Achievement is a goal for everyone, Schwartz says. So consider if you appropriately “sell” yourself daily. Schwartz says most sales pros generally do not make a profit on a first sale: “It’s repeat business that makes the profit,” he says. Consider the same for your own personality. First impressions are important, but selling yourself as a positive, success-driven person must continue. It extends beyond work—friends do “repeat business,” in Schwartz’s words, with those who lift them up and make others feel good. Husbands and wives have a higher quality of life when their spouses are happy and content at home. Sell yourself, and others will want to join your team.

This book contains no secrets. You may scan the pages and consider them common sense—things you strive for or know you should have considered already. But the truth is, most of us haven’t mastered all the things we already know. Although The Magic of Thinking Big was first written almost 50 years ago, Schwartz’s ideas for helping people become successful are still relevant.

The book could be especially helpful to recent high school or college graduates. These lessons learned can only further young people’s goals to move forward and be successful. It’s also a good pick for anyone applying for or accepting a new job. The answers for many of those tough interview questions are seamlessly provided in these pages. And truthfully, no one is above the lessons in this book. “There’s not one job… that can’t be done better—a lot better,” Schwartz writes. That means you.

One last morsel from Schwartz: “Excellent ideas are not enough,” he writes. “Everything we have in this world, from satellites to skyscrapers to baby food, is just an idea acted upon.” The person who takes an idea and puts it into action is truly a big thinker. Wherever you want to go, you really can get there. Schwartz is pulling for you.

Trent Shelton is a former NFL wide receiver who is now considered one of the most impactful speakers of this generation. He reaches over 60 million people weekly through hard hitting videos and unprecedented engagement. Though based in Fort Worth, Texas, with his wife and two children, Trent connects with people all over the world through his speaking engagements.