I was asked to give a speech to Pickens County students at Ben Hagood Elementary a few weeks ago. It was a building character course and I was asked to present how being proactive had affected my life in some way. About half-way through the presentation I saw some of the adults in the room taking notes, so I figured it was worth writing down what I said.
I started by showing the first half of this video from 1995. I know it looks like Iím about ready to take off for a bombing run over Germany (20 years ago, those glasses were 10 year out of style), but it was just an interview on CNBC (Sue Herera) when I was a bond analyst for Salomon Brothers. The students were excited to meet someone who was actually on TV, and I went on to explain how that came about. The presentation went something like thisÖ
I can see some of you are wondering how I got on TV ó how did I do it? Well, I wasnít the smartest guy. Wasnít the best speaker. Nor was I the prettiest girl in the class. But I was proactive ó that is, I took every opportunity that came my way and when there wasnít an opportunity, I looked to create one.
I applied five basic principles throughout, and I think if you do the same in your life, they will pay off handsomely for you too.
When opportunity presents itself, often it will be something youíve never done before and so naturally you will be scared. Donít let that fear dissuade you from doing it, though. Never.
Just remember the first principle: You will never be as bad as the first time you try.
The first time I went on TV I have to say I was a bit scared because I wasnít a good speaker. I said yeah, rather than yes, girls rather than women and talked too fast even for most New Yorkers, but I pushed myself out there anyways. As expected, it didnít go well my first time. [I remember I was interviewed by Dean Sheppard], but I got better and better each time I did it. Youíll become more comfortable with anything you do twice, three times and then again, and then youíll know what to expect so it wonít be so scary. By the time I did this TV interview (probably number 15 or so), I wasnít so bad; it went well and we connected and had a good conversation, rather than me talking at them.
Principle two: If someone offers you a chance to do this which is way up here and you think youíll never be able to do that, realize you may not be able to do it now, but you will if you take baby steps to get there.
When they called me to do TV the first time, it was like, can you come on our show in 2 hours; we need someone to talk about this now. I thought, gosh Iíve got nothing prepared, so Iím going to surely make fool of myself. And heck I was never on TV before, must less millions of people. However, I didnít tell them no. Instead I said I canít do it today, but call me in a few months and Iíll do it then.
I was already meeting clients regularly and was pretty good one-on-one. So I started putting myself in front of groups of clients where theyíd ask questions and I had to answer them there on the spot. Then I decided to turn it up a notch and started to call New York talk radio shows, where youíd talk with the host like they do on WORD 106.3 here in Greenville. [During that time I talked to Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch ó my first call. I remember he yelled at me and said, ďAlex, you arenít listening.Ē I called Rush Limbaugh and explained why theyíd never pass a national sales tax. Gov. Mario Cuomo about privatizing Social Security (he was for it at the time), Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the police raid and confrontation with the Fruit of Islam in Harlem and other things, Howard Stern urging him to endorse Senator Al DíAmato who he then endorsed there and then. Alan Colmes who I fought with a 100 times on his WEVD Friday night program, Bob Grant, Sean Hannity ó lots.] After Ed Koch yells at your in front of a few hundred thousand New Yorkers, going on TV wasnít such a large step.
Principle three: Failure only counts if it is the last time you try.
This one is the story of my life. To this day, there isnít a thing that I do which I donít fail at the first few times I try. The first time I did one of these TV interviews, I wasnít very good, like a ďD-ď I thought. If I would have quit then and there, I would have been a failure at it 0-for-1. But I knew Iíd get better, if I just kept on trying. So I did. By the 10th time I was good, and by the 30th very good. Failure only counts if it is the last time you try. Keep trying, and soon all will forget your initial failure (or failures in my case).
Principle four: Failure is the birthplace of success.
Like I said, I usually swing and miss the first time I try anything. Iím a slow starter in that way, so this principle is the story of my life as well. My first TV interview I was like a ďD-ď. I watched that tape about 10 times and made a list of all the things I did wrong, like I didnít look at the camera when they introduced me. Frowned most of the time like Donald Trump and often didnít answer the questions ó more me talking at them than a conversation. The second time (I made a series of completely different mistakes), but I didnít make those initial mistakes again. I learned from my mistakes/ failures, and you will too if you keep trying and more importantly take note each time of what you did wrong.
Principle five: At my age, you want to look back and have no regrets. So at your age if you are offered an opportunity, be proactive, find the courage, and take a shot at it.
Mark my words, at 53 youíd rather tell your friends or a class like you all, I did that, rather than I could have done that, if I had tried
At the time, too, it was exciting. When I would be on CNN world and people from our Tokyo office would call and say, I saw you on TV. They were excited they saw someone they actually knew. When you are older, youíll want to look back and say I reached my full potential. Be proactive and take the opportunities that come your way.
I know I said there were 5 things I live by, but with three minutes left, Iím going to tell you about a sixth and itís a bit higher level, but youíll all get it.
Principle six: Control what you can control, manage what you canít.
I was offered the opportunity to speak to you all today, and I took it. The teacher is the boss and she picked the subject ó being proactive ó and I was told I could speak only 15 minutes. I much rather have talked about the Carolina Panthers and talked about them all day long, but I couldnít control that.
I wanted to be interesting, not put you to sleep, so I sought out what I could control and made that as interesting as I could. I controlled what I said and how I presented it, so I brought in a video and just didnít talk. They offered me a podium to stand behind, but podiums always say ďboringĒ to the audience so I walked around the room talking to you individually, especially those who eyes were wandering off to never-never land at times. I asked you questions, rather than just gave a canned speech. I didnít read what I had to say. I brought in a few notes and just let it rip.
What you canít control, live with, but seek out things you can control, jazz that up and you will outshine the others and one day too youíll find yourself on TV and people will want to know exactly what are you thinking.