This One Question Transformed My Sales Career—and My Life

UPDATED: May 6, 2024
PUBLISHED: August 5, 2021
The One Question That Changed My Life

Psychologist Abraham Maslow once wrote, “The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” The average person settles for far less than he or she is truly capable of achieving. The truth is we’re all extraordinary. You came into this world with more talents and abilities than you could ever use. You could not exhaust your full potential if you lived 100 lifetimes.

Your brain has 20 billion cells, each of which is connected to as many as 20 thousand other cells. The possible combinations and permutations of ideas, thoughts and insights that you can generate are equivalent to the number one followed by eight pages of zeros. According to brain expert Tony Buzan, this number is greater than all the molecules in the known universe.

In other words, whatever you have accomplished in life to this date is only a small fraction of what you are truly capable of achieving. The challenge is that you come into the world with no instruction manual. As a result, you have to figure it all out for yourself. Most people never do. They go through life doing the very best they can, but they never come within shouting distance of doing, having and being all that is possible for them.

The Key to Success

I started off in life with few advantages. My father was not always employed and my family never seemed to have any money. I began working and paying for my own clothes and expenses when I was 10 years old, doing odd jobs around the neighborhood. When I was old enough, I got a job washing dishes in the back of a small hotel. My biggest promotion at that time was up to washing pots and pans.

I left high school without graduating and worked at laboring jobs for several years. I worked in sawmills stacking lumber, and in the woods slashing brush with a chain saw. I dug ditches and wells. I worked in factories and on construction sites. For a time, I was a galley boy on a Norwegian freighter in the North Atlantic. I earned my living by the sweat of my brow.

When I could no longer find a laboring job, I found work making straight-commission sales, cold calling from door to door and office to office. For a long time, I was one sale away from homelessness. It was not a great way to live.

Then one day I began asking a question: “Why is it that some people are more successful than others?” Or more specifically, “Why is it that some salespeople are more successful than others?”

With that one question, I did something that changed my life and began the formation of a habit that had a profound effect on my future. I asked the most successful salesman in my company what he was doing differently from me. And he told me. And I did what he told me to do. And my sales went up.

In the Bible, it says, “Ask and ye shall receive.” I soon developed the habit of asking everyone, and in every way possible, for the answers that I needed to move ahead more rapidly. I began to read books on selling and put into action what I had learned. I listened to audio programs while I walked and, eventually, as I drove around. I attended every sales seminar I could find. I continually asked other successful salespeople for advice. And I developed the habit of immediately taking action on any advice or good idea that I received or learned.

Not surprisingly, my sales went up and up, and eventually I surpassed everyone in my company. Soon they made me a sales manager and asked me to teach other people what I was doing that enabled me to be so successful.

Before long, I was recruiting people with newspaper ads, teaching them the sales methods and techniques that I had learned, and sending them out to call on prospects and customers. In no time at all, they were making sales and moving upward and onward in their own lives. Many of those early salespeople are millionaires today.

The Law of Cause and Effect

What I learned from this experience was the great Law of Cause and Effect. This is the foundation principle of Western philosophy and of modern thought. It says that for every cause, there is an effect.

Everything happens for a reason. Nothing happens by accident. This law says that, even if you do not know the reason why something happens, there is still a reason that explains it. Here is one of the most important of all success principles: “If you do what other successful people do, you will eventually get the same results that they do. And if you don’t, you won’t.”

Nature is neutral. Nature does not favor one person over another. The Bible says, “God made the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” When you do the things that other successful people do, over and over again, you will eventually get the same results that they do. It is not a matter of luck, or chance, or accident. It is a matter of law.

This was an extraordinary idea for me. Even today, I am awed by the immensity and power of this simple principle. If you want to be happy, healthy, prosperous, popular, positive and confident, just find out how other people who are enjoying these benefits got that way, and do the same things they do. Think the same thoughts. Feel the same feelings. Take the same actions. And, as sure as two plus two makes four, you will eventually get the same results as others do.

This article was published in June 2008 and has been updated. Photo by Rido/Shutterstock

Brian Tracy is chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, a best-selling author of more than 70 books, and a professional speaker.