#1 Key for an American Dream Success Story

Rippled USA flag, detail
Rippled USA flag, detail

It was a beautiful evening in June and I was stuck inside at a Dan Kennedy seminar near Cleveland. Fortunately, onstage was  the eloquent and distinguished Dr. Nido Qubein of High Point University.

He’s long been one of my favorite speakers and on this night, despite humorously getting a lozenge caught in his throat, he did not disappoint. Dr. Qubein shared his #1 secret to success. It worked for him in building a $250,000 investment into a bank worth billions, growing the Great Harvest Bread company through the dark days of the Atkins Diet, and getting donors to commit to over $1.2 billion in improvements to the campus of High Point University in North Carolina.

His secret is Relational Capital. “Your relationships bring you luck,” said Dr. Qubein. “Who you spend your time with determines your success.”

Like my good friend Bedros Keuilian, Dr. Qubein came to America without knowing a word of English. He was sent by his mother to capitalize on the opportunity only available in the land of the free. He went to work, learning English on his own while earning money at any job he could find. He studied hard, earning a scholarship at High Point University, the school where he would later become President after his successful career as an entrepreneur. He has what Bedros calls, “The Immigrant Edge,” the desire to succeed in a land of opportunity that was not available back home in Dr. Qubein’s native Lebanon.

In his early 20’s Dr. Qubein began selling information products, and he soon became one of the top corporate speakers in America. All of his success, he says, came from the people he met and helped along the way. “Luck is a who, not a what,” he preached that evening in Independence, Ohio. “Put yourself into a big pond,” he urged, “and like a Koi fish you will adapt and grow bigger, you will survive and thrive.” At ETR we call this Playing Up a Level. My friend Matt Furey describes this as Being Your Big Self.

Whatever you call it, you must get out of your comfort zone. You can’t expect natural talent or even your hard earned skills to take you to your dreams. You can’t do it all yourself. You need the help of other people. Get out there and build your relational capital today.

As you become successful, it will be your turn to “send the elevator back down,” as actor Kevin Spacey says. Getting a mentor is another key to success, but becoming a mentor to others helps you even more. When you teach, you learn. When you show people the way, you increase your commitment to living according to your core values. When you are a mentor, it is required of you to make the right decisions. You shed the skin of the hypocrite. You become a leader. You grow others. And you get better as a result.

Recently I began following another piece of advice from my friend Bedros. “Craig,” he said, “you must leave everyone better than you found them.” That has changed my outlook on every interaction, including email discussions, in-person chats with friends, and small talk while standing in line at the airport with strangers.  What advice, what kind word, what gesture, can I deliver that will leave the other person feeling even slightly better than they were before our interaction?

It’s such a simple premise, but it works both ways. It gives hope and encouragement to others while making me wiser and overcoming my natural tendency towards selfishness and shyness.

It is a real-world example of Maya Angelou’s memorable words, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Her quote has had a great impact on my life.  As a speaker at many events, I’ve found this to be true, as I’m sure Dr. Qubein has also found from the thousands of speeches he’s delivered in his career.

How you make someone feel builds relationship capital. This brings you luck. Luck brings you wealth, success, and most importantly, more great relationships. The people you spend your time with determine where you will go and how you will grow in life.

One day, when wealth no longer matters to you, you’ll realize that what was important in life was the people that you met, knew, and loved, and the experiences that you had with others. It won’t be about the wealth you created while working long hours on your own. It will be about the legacy you leave in the people that you loved.

“Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be,” Ophelia says in Hamlet. She was right. It’s not until we build our relationships, plan our work and work our plan, and begin to share our good luck with others that we finally reach the destination of our full potential.

Get out there today and harness the power of the Immigrant Edge that is available to all of us. Do something worthwhile with someone worthwhile. Do it with a deep desire and urgency for improvement. “Plan your work and work your plan,” Dr. Qubein counsels, “for school is never out for the professional.” Learning and loving never ends. Build your relationships, grow your luck, and unlock your own American Dream success story with this key.

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