A young woman was starting her career and leaving her parents’ home when her father pulled her aside and said, “There are only three things you need to make a big success in this world — three strong bones.”

“Three bones?” the young woman asked.

“Three bones,” her father repeated. “A wishbone, a jawbone and a backbone.

“You need a strong wishbone to dream big and imagine a life of endless possibilities,” he said.

“Your jawbone is to ask for help when you need it,” he continued. “Speak your mind when you have to and raise insightful questions to feed your curiosity and your intellect.

“Finally,” he added, “your backbone gives you the courage, effort and determination you’ll need to achieve your goals.”

When it comes to a wishbone or dreaming, it’s important to aim high — to have dreams that inspire you to go beyond your perceived limits. Show me someone who doesn’t dream about the future, and I will show you someone who doesn’t know where he or she is going.

Indecision can destroy your dreams, if you allow it.

Dr. Seuss, the author of the beloved children’s books, identified this common workplace malady in “Oh, The Places You’ll Go.” He takes the reader on a journey along beautiful streets and into wide open fields under clear blue skies. Then, there’s a crossroads and confusion. Suddenly, we’re in what he calls “The Waiting Place” — a place where people just wait because they can’t make up their minds or because they are afraid of change.

I often joke that it takes years to become an overnight success. But it starts with a dream. My dream was to own a factory. I wasn’t even sure what kind of product I would make, or exactly where it would be. But I pictured myself walking the factory floor, talking to workers. The pile of broken-down machines I bought might have looked more like a nightmare at the time. But dreams come true — with a lot of wide-awake work.

I like to say: If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it — if you are truly determined.

As for a jawbone, we all need help at some time. Don’t be afraid to seek out advice. Consult someone you already know and trust. That person can usually lead you to someone who can help you if different skills are necessary. Use an expert to find another expert in the same profession. In other words, don’t ask a lawyer to help you choose a doctor. Good advice is never cheap. And cheap advice is seldom good.

Successful people rarely reach the top without a lot of help along the way. The ability and willingness to ask for help is one trait that really stands out among those who are truly committed to success.

Ask questions — a lot of them. I ask a lot of questions. There’s so much information out there, and I want only the good stuff. I want information that will help me make the right decisions. There is an art to asking questions and discovering what is central to your success. Here’s the secret: What is it that you really need to know? To get a good answer, ask a good question.

And don’t be afraid to speak up. I received some good parental advice from my father, who told me: “If you want to be seen, stand up. If you want to be heard, speak up.” And I would add to that, if you don’t speak up, prepare to put up.

The backbone may be the most important bone of all. Courage is regarded as one of the major human virtues. Courage is bravery, valor, standing up to danger, guts and nerve all rolled into one. It’s easier to be ordinary. Courage is what sets you apart from the crowd.

Determination is what keeps us hammering away. Determined people possess the stamina and courage to pursue their ambitions despite criticism, ridicule or unfavorable circumstances. In our culture of instant gratification, the attributes of patience and determination are hard to find.

I remember when I was first starting out in sales, I asked an experienced colleague I respected how many calls he would make on a prospect before giving up. He told me, “It depends on which one of us dies first.”

Mackay’s Moral: If you want to be able to do the heavy lifting required for success, start building strong bones.

 

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.