Today I'd like to share two of the key things I learned by interviewing very successful people. Although these two come from my book, 21 Questions for 21 Millionaires, I'm finding that these principles are also consistent among the Olympians I've interviewed so far. I hope you find the principles helpful in your own life.
Line upon Line
“Line upon line...here a little and there a little,”1 is the most accurate way to describe how these millionaires approached their lives.
“Step by step” might be another way to think of it, but that phrase isn’t as accurate since it implies a uniform progression, which is not how the millionaires did things. With the exception of one or two, they did not have concrete plans for their lives and did not start by visualizing the end and working backwards to create it. They didn’t force the moment or have a clear path on which they stayed unwaveringly.
Instead, they took life as it came and built their success little by little, piece by piece, without knowing what the finished product, or even the next step, would look like. They were happy just to be productive in the moment.
Think about Jeffrey’s story from above. He didn’t have a grand vision of what he wanted to accomplish nor did he know where each preceding step would lead. He didn’t envision himself as the head of a multinational consulting firm with satellite offices and a private plane – he wanted to be a high school shop teacher for heaven’s sake! Then he just wanted to make some money for a year or two. All of the rest of it built line upon line.
Likewise, most of the other millionaires didn’t follow a programmed path, nor did they have a vision that guided their decisions. Even those that had a vision, with the exception of one, said it wasn’t concrete and that they had to be flexible and take life as it came. Each millionaire was open to opportunities and situations as they presented themselves and weren’t locked into something that blinded them to other options.
They followed their intuition and took steps that they said seemed to make sense at the time. Looking back on it, it was in the first interview that I heard the truth about that, but it didn’t register.
Millionaire 1 Lee Carlson didn’t get into real estate because it was his passion or because he always had a goal to do it and worked backward to get there. He got into it because he learned what real estate agents made, was tired of farming and dairying, and thought real estate was a good way to make some easy money. That’s as deep as it went.
As I mentioned, the millionaires didn’t try to manufacture opportunities in life or set their own timetable for when things should happen. They didn’t dictate to the universe how they wanted things to happen. They were open to how things were happening.
The millionaires worked day-by-day and in so doing built a foundation that opened opportunities and put them in a position to capitalize on them. In Jeffrey’s case for instance, 20 years after starting on his original journey he was primed and in a position to start a company.
As with Jeffrey, each step for the millionaires built on the last in a way that they couldn’t anticipate but in a way that made the next move the logical step. Jeffrey said his education and experiences “all came together in a very serendipitous way. I could not have planned it. But that’s the way it came out.”
Moving little by little means not having all of the answers at once. Many of the millionaires, Jeffrey included, didn’t write a business plan before starting their business. Most of those millionaires who now advise others to write their goals down and have a plan did not have solid goals and plans at the time, if they had any at all.
Line upon line also means not being fanatical. Although the millionaires worked hard and enjoyed building their businesses, most of them struck a very good balance between work and family. A few were even heavily involved in volunteer positions at church or in coaching their children’s teams.
Additionally, moving line upon line means that the millionaires were not what you might call “risk-takers.” Sure, some of them took risks, and some talk about having to put yourself out there to be successful, but most started their businesses in small and simple ways and moved a little bit at a time so the hazards were minimal.
The millionaires also weren’t looking for their big break or the big next step. They “executed on the opportunities” as they were presented without knowing at the time that they were opportunities; it was only in hindsight that they recognized their significance. In the moment, they didn’t know where a decision would lead, only that that it made sense to take it.
Even those who were good at planning and goal setting, like Millionaire 9 Theresa Szczurek and Millionaire 20 Rob Emrich, moved line upon line.
Szczurek left a corporate job to start her own business because it was the next logical step, not because she had always planned to do it. And although she had an intention to start a business, she and her partner had to go line upon line to discover what that business would be.
Emrich felt moved to do something and along the way it grew and morphed into many other things. He also talks about the need to be flexible with plans and goals.
None of these 21 ordinary people became a millionaire by doggedly pursuing their original plans.
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”2
Maybe it was the lack of rigid plans that gave them the freedom to take advantage of opportunities that came up. And when they took advantage of something that didn’t turn out so well, they had the next commonality working for them.
Kept Moving Forward by Course Correcting
These millionaires casually mention that they made a lot of mistakes and found a lot of things that didn’t work.
They didn’t dwell on them, though. They added that information to their knowledge base and moved forward trying something else.
These are average people. They are not proficient in everything they do. None of them has the Midas touch. For examples refer to Millionaire 1 Lee Carlson’s discussion on farming and dairying, Millionaire 5 Heidi Ganahl’s discussion on The All American Girl Gone Wrong, Millionaire 6 Steve Rosdal’s discussion on scrimshaw, Millionaire 7 Vance Andrus’ discussion on failed businesses, Millionaire 14 Doug Krug’s discussion on starting from nothing multiple times (you get the point). But they keep doing something and that is what propels them forward. If it’s the wrong something, they correct for it or move on to something else.
These millionaires understood that failure is for a moment, not forever. Millionaire 18 Shawn Kane said, “A failure to me is not a failure. It’s a challenge to learn a better way to do something.” Millionaire 19 Judith Briggs said, “I look at failures as learning experiences.” Millionaire 8 Barry Hamilton remarked, “I had failures and successes early on in life. I think it taught me to continue to pursue things that I liked and if I didn’t quite get there and failed, it didn’t mean I was a failure. It just meant that it wasn’t meant to be and I needed to go to the next one.”
Also, the millionaires weren’t super intelligent people who sensed the shifting winds and made their moves ahead of the market. They weren’t opportunists who seized the next big thing. It was much simpler than that; they followed intuition and changed when necessary.
1. The Book of Mormon. 2 Nephi 28:30
2. As quoted by Todd Goodsell, “Single in a Family-Oriented Church,” Ensign, June 2011, 50