Winners' Wisdom
by Jim Stovall

The Blink of an Eye

In human terms, a century seems like an eternity, but in historical terms, it is little more than the blink of an eye. An ancient blessing from father to son says, “May you live in interesting times.” My dear reader, you and I do, indeed, live in interesting times. Let’s turn back the calendar, a historical blink of an eye, to 1904. Let’s see what the world looked like four years after the turn of the last century. Keep in mind that there are people alive and well today who were already born in 1904. People over 100 years of age are the fastest-growing segment of our population.

In 1904, only 14 per cent of the homes in the U.S. had a bathtub. Only 8 per cent of the homes had a telephone. A three-minute call from Denver to New York City cost eleven dollars. There were only 8,000 cars in the U.S., and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 m.p.h. Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. With a mere 1.4 million residents, California was only the 21st most populous state in the Union. The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.

The average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents an hour. The average U.S. worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2,000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year. More than 95 per cent of all births in the U.S. took place at home. Ninety percent of all U.S. physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as “substandard.” The average life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years.

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee was fifteen cents a pound. Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo. Canada passed a law prohibiting poor people from entering the country for any reason. The five leading causes of death in the U.S. were pneumonia and influenza; tuberculosis; diarrhea; heart disease; and stroke.

The American flag had 45 stars. Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Alaska hadn’t been admitted to the Union yet. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was 30. Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn’t been invented. There was no Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Two of 10 U.S. adults couldn’t read or write. Only 6 per cent of all Americans had graduated high school. Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over-the-counter at corner drugstores. According to one pharmacist, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.” Eighteen percent of households in the U.S. had at least one fulltime servant or domestic. There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.

What a difference a century makes. As you go through your day today, think of things you can do with your life that will make a difference in the world a century from now.

Circling the Wagons

All of us owe a great debt to those brave souls who faced unknown frontiers as they crossed the North American continent in covered wagons. It’s likely that wherever you live, the earliest settlers came to your area in this primitive fashion or in some quite similar method. There is much we can learn from these bold and visionary individuals.

One of the practices of the early wagon trains that we can apply personally and professionally in our lives is the circling of the wagons. Whenever they were attacked, the long wagon trains would alter their column formation and form a circle. Within this circle of wagons, the most precious people and possessions were gathered in the middle to be protected by less valuable items that could be sacrificed if it became necessary.

Although all of the possessions within the covered wagons were valuable, these settlers found that there was even a higher level of priority within their own value hierarchy. They were willing to sacrifice needed tools and implements and even their wagon to save first their family members and then valued family heirlooms and treasures.

It might be meaningful for you to undergo a brief exercise. Imagine your house is on fire. List the ten things you would most want to save from the destruction. These may or may not be the things you would think that you would most highly value. It is enlightening, from time to time, to imagine a personal or professional crisis and think of those people and things that are valuable and dependable that you would wish to surround you.

I am often reminded of the early mountain man who roamed freely throughout the Rockies far before that area was settled. He was able to move unencumbered along beautiful mountain trails where very few people had ever been able to go. Years later in his life, he had obtained more possessions and wealth. While traveling through the area in a wagon, he was forced to take a desert road instead of his beloved mountain trail. As he gazed at the beautiful mountain peaks in the distance, he realized that his quest for a few material things had changed the course of his travels and the course of his life.

If we are not careful, often we can find ourselves striving to obtain or maintain associations and possessions that are less valuable than the ones we are sacrificing in our futile quest for things we don’t want.

Hiring and Firing Yourself

One of the most prominent facets of what we call The Great American Dream is the notion of working for yourself. Controlling your own destiny has an allure like few other ideas. In reality, all of us who are employed, to a great extent, work for ourselves.

You may have a job in the middle of a flow chart in a giant corporate or government bureaucracy, but you still, in essence, work for yourself. Earning money is the key indicator of your success in working for yourself. Only people who work in the mint make money. The rest of us earn money. This is simply a function of creating more value than you are paid. As your value increases, your pay should increase. You can give yourself a raise by simply continuing to increase your value far beyond the point where you are paid. Eventually, your pay will catch up to your value.

Supply and demand is such that if you are in an organization that does not appreciate, recognize, or reward your value, another organization will seek you out if you continue to increase your value. A wise person once told me that no one gets fired. They fire themselves. While I understand the reality of economic downturns and layoffs, this statement is still true in that those people who have created the most value seem to always have a job in an exciting, growing field where they are adequately compensated.

Look at yourself and your job as a one-person corporation. What can you do to be more efficient and increase the contribution you make to the larger organization? People are rewarded for solving problems. They are even more highly rewarded for anticipating problems and heading them off before they occur.

As you go through your day today, assess the value of your one-person corporation in light of how much you are paid. Look for ways to increase your value and the unique contributions you make to everyone within your organization. This level of personal commitment is contagious. Once you begin to increase your value, those around you will follow suit. As this tide of success comes in, all the boats will be lifted – including yours.

The World of Work

We all live in a professional work environment that has changed dramatically in the past several generations. Historically speaking, a person’s life work was just that. It was the work they did for their entire life.

My grandfather worked 47 years for a utility company. My father is still working well into his 70s and will begin his 50th year of service with the same organization later this year. While this track record is virtually unheard of in 21st Century terms, in the not-too-distant past, it was the norm. Statistics tell us that today, not only will you change jobs numerous times, you will quite likely have several entire career changes. The emerging technology and rise of the global economy has made the traditional lifelong career path extinct.

One of the personal challenges in changing jobs or careers is the loss of identity. If you find yourself with a group of strangers at a social gathering, you will invariably begin to mingle and meet people. In our society, there are two questions that surface when you meet new people. First, what is your name and, second, what do you do? In our society what you do has become almost synonymous with who you are. “He’s a doctor,” “She’s a lawyer,” “He’s a plumber,” etc.

While this has become such an ingrained part of our personalities, it is quite simply not true. “He is not a doctor.” He is a person who has chosen being a doctor as a career. This is quite different as we look ahead into a world where we will all invariably change jobs and change careers. If your identity is wrapped up in what you do, a change of jobs – or even worse, a change of careers – becomes traumatic. If, on the other hand, you are comfortable with who you are as a person, when you make an employment change by choice or not, you are simply the same person you have always been, looking for a meaningful place to work.

Since we are all going to face change in the future, make sure that who you are is a constant, even in the midst of rapid changes in what you do. As you go through your day today, don’t fear change. It’s not who you are. It is simply the thing you have chosen to do.

Today’s the day!

Jim Stovall is the president of Narrative Television Network, as well as a published author, columnist, and motivational speaker. He may be reached at 5840 South Memorial Drive, Suite 312, Tulsa, OK 74145-9082, or by e-mail at . Visit for additional information.

Many more articles in Personal Development in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2004 by Jim Stovall. All rights reserved.

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