Standing On the Shoulders of Giants
What does it take to become a legend in our industry, someone whose legacy will live on for the next hundred years and beyond? What does it take for your life’s work to have meaning outside our own backyard – to transcend the here and now? How can we leave a legacy for those who come after us in the century beyond our own?
Actually it’s not as tough as you might think.
In fact, there is a 3-step process that’s a prerequisite for becoming legendary in your field, for leaving a hundred-year legacy. Everyone can access and use this process, and every luminary has run this same gauntlet. Wherever they finished – no matter how luminous they became – the legends still had to start, just as you do if you plan to make a material impact on the world around you.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that motivational legends such as Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie, and Zig Ziglar had to acquire their famous skills. They weren’t born great. They had to learn how to talk as babies just like everyone else.
What sets these legends apart is the degree to which they persisted, pursuing their craft to a level of true greatness. Things weren’t always easy, and just like you and me, they always had a chance to give up. They simply chose not to.
Isaac Newton, the father of Newtonian Physics, once famously said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To take this idea one step further, we can say that all success – in fact, all progress – is only achieved by leveraging others’ achievements.
Every one of us has been influenced by the leaders the past, whether we’re talking about leaders in philosophy, science, medicine, religion, motivation or business.
Today is either built upon yesterday’s pillars of success or the rubble of its failures.
Any way you look at it, no one stands alone. By standing on the shoulders of the legends in your industry, you can see farther, achieve more, and leave a greater impact than they did. When you do, the generations of tomorrow will have a firmer footing to build upon.
This fact is relevant for everyone, especially anyone who feels they’re walking a lonely road, that they’re buffeted by the storms of life, that they are alone and small.
Not long ago, an old high school friend of mine was fired from his job in broadcasting. Up to that point Tim had enjoyed a lot of success. His career had been blessed with more ups than downs, plenty of money and lots of influence.
To put it mildly, he was a branded commodity, a sought-after celebrity in his field. His name had instant recognition. So many people recognized his voice as he ordered in fine restaurants or booked a routine oil change for his BMW that it was starting to encroach on his privacy. He had to have his assistant take over almost all of his ordinary tasks. He was known.
But then he had an ill-timed argument with his boss during a critical downturn in the broadcast industry. People just weren’t tuning in the way they used to, and after some harsh words, my friend Tim was fired.
I watched Tim’s rise from a humble start back in our high school days. He wrote for the school paper, and that volunteer experience landed him a paid part time job as a newscaster at the local radio station. The low-watt transmitter broadcast to just 3,000 listeners, and most of their radios were turned off.
Not long after this, and during the next several years, Tim moved from gig to gig, honing his craft, building on his own past successes, and borrowing style and content from famous broadcasters of the past. He built a regional following in talk radio.
Eventually his broadcast was syndicated. He was calling his own shots, dictating terms to the stations he worked for. He was in demand. Advertisers got into bidding wars to air their spots during his prime time show, and celebrities would fly thousands of miles just to be interviewed by him in-studio.
But the technology changed, and Tim’s naturally independent spirit and candid personality got in the way. Then he had that ill-timed run-in with his boss, and it seemed the flap would tank his career. The fact is, it did end his career as he knew it. For a full year, Tim looked for work as a broadcaster, but he never did get another job as a talk radio host.
They say the bend in the road is only the end of the road if you fail to make the turn. My friend Tim took this timeout as a way to reassess his goals.
He realized he had a golden opportunity to take his success to a higher level. He decided to pursue his lifelong dream of being a keynote speaker and celebrated author on the topic of Leadership. Today Tim is fully the master of his topic. The size of his consulting fees validates this – that is, whenever he chooses to set aside his golf clubs and take another gig. He turned his independent spirit to his advantage, and his thousands of interviews with the leaders of our time gave him great shoulders to stand on indeed!
If you want to make a difference and leave a legacy that transcends time, there are three steps you can take to achieve it. Each step builds upon the last one and can be accomplished with the simplest gesture: first you have to start.
Here are the 3 steps required before you can become a legend:
1. Become an Amateur – Get involved at your local and regional level. If you have no contacts in your chosen field, volunteer your time so you can gain experience and contacts. In the course of time, you’ll build a following of your own.
2. Be a True Professional – Take your career to a level of national and international stature. Reach out through social media and live contacts to the world at large. Build your reputation through mass media, publishing and speaking.
3. Become a Master – When you fully master your craft, you become the one professionals go to for study and mentoring. As a master, you can set the stage for their eventual mastery.
Becoming a legend in your industry is an unknowable goal because it takes a hundred years or more to achieve such lofty status. But, oh, what a worthy goal it is! You can give yourself the chance to be a true luminary and leave a lasting legacy. All it takes is the will to start.
Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success. Bryan works with authors as a publisher and rainmaker. Bryan is author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book on converting website visitors into paying customers. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes executive positions with Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.
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