Confidence, Greatness, and the 7 Cs

A man died in Wilmington, NC last week and left behind more admirers than he ever would have imagined. I had the good fortune to meet him once, and share a long conversation with him about his life.

Whenever I board an airplane, I always say hello to the person sitting next to me. If they seem to be in the mood to talk, I'll strike up a conversation. And I know I'll learn something. It might be the president of a big company, a truck driver who has been almost everywhere, a sales manager developing a new territory, or an actor who has just finished his latest movie. It could be someone flying home from the wedding or funeral of a good friend, or a kid sitting in first class for the first time, amazed at the attentive service and actual food. I never know what to expect.

A chairman of one of America's largest corporations, who happened to occupy the next seat on a flight from California to Texas talked with me candidly for two hours about business ethics at the top of corporate life. On a plane from Wilmington to Charlotte, the actor Jerry O'Connell told me the story of his life, from breaking into show biz as "the fat kid" in the film "Stand By Me" to dating a graduate student in philosophy and hoping for a more than Platonic relationship. On a flight from Dallas to West Palm Beach, I was asked about public speaking by the great baseball pitcher Jim Palmer, when he was at the peak of newfound celebrity as the Jockey underwear pitchman. I told him that public speakers were often inexplicably advised to get over any nervousness they might have at the podium by imagining the audience in their underwear, but that he was probably the only speaker in human history whom the audience was always imagining in his. So at least they weren't nervous.

That just gives you an idea of what's often happening in the sky when I fly. But on one flight several years ago, something very special indeed transpired.

That day, I found myself sitting next to a very large, friendly man who in casual conversation asked what had put me on the flight to Pittsburgh. I told him I was going to speak to the top 250 or so Bayer Corporation executives and managers from around the world. He asked what I was going to speak on. I pulled out a laminated wallet card on the 7 Cs of Success and explained that I was going to go talk about what all the great philosophers had said about success in life, from Plato and Aristotle until the present day. He took the card I offered to him, held it in his huge hand, and began to read a part of each condition aloud:

A clear Conception of what we want
A strong Confidence
A focused Concentration on what it will take
A stubborn Consistency in pursuing our goal
An emotional Commitment to the importance of what we're doing
A good Character to guide us
A Capacity to enjoy the process along the way

He stared at the card a few more seconds and then looked up at me and said: "Well, you nailed it with this card. These are exactly the things I did in my career." He went on to explain that he had been a baseball player, and that to see anything happen in his career, he had had to overcome more obstacles than he ever would have imagined. People always responded to his dreams by telling him that he should learn to be realistic - he might be a pretty decent baseball player, but heąd most likely never make it to a major league team. He wasnąt good enough. He should be content with minor league play and be thankful for the talent level that he had. But he continued to believe in himself and see no such limits for his potential. And then, when he proved all the naysayers wrong, and did make it to a major league team, they said that he shouldn't get cocky, because he surely wouldnąt play much. He was up against too many great players. He should just be thankful for even being there, and not try to stretch too far in his dreams and aspirations. It was no shame to sit on the bench when the bench was in a major league ballpark.

When he did get playing time, people told him to just do his job and forget dreams of home runs and baseball greatness. Role players had an important part on any team.

Despite all the unsolicited negative advice and all the gloomy prognostications of so many people around him, this gentleman maintained his focus and his unwavering belief in himself. How did he do it? His plan was very simple, and just as powerful. He told me that day that one of his chief techniques for confidence building and implementation was to go into the locker room alone before a game, sit quietly, and visualize vividly the challenges and opportunities to come. He would see himself at bat, watch the pitch coming, experience his swing, and feel the powerful hit that would send the ball aloft. Then heąd go out and do it.

"Use your imagination not to scare yourself to death, but to inspire yourself to life."
- Adele Brookman

By working as hard on his inner confidence as with his outer game, he had ended up hitting 475 home runs, including upper deack whoppers and rockets that left the ball park, while leading his team to two world championships, as well as six National League Division titles. When I got off the plane that day and was met at the gate by one of Bayer's top corporate attorneys, I said "Hey, I just met a man who used to play baseball here!" He said "Who was it?" I replied "Willie Stargell." I thought he was going to faint. He said "WILLIE STARGELL!!?? - He is a GOD in Pittsburgh! He is the greatest baseball player who ever played here!" I was able to say, "He's a really nice guy too! And he had all his success doing seven things that I'm going to talk about today." I probably never had such a great lead in to a speech, and such fun on the flight getting there. And the talk that day? It was a home run. Easy.

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