As a boy my interests were in sports, music and movies. I had this rotating dream of being like Dan Fouts of the San Diego Chargers, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Harrison Ford from the Indiana Jones films. How wonderful to be as wealthy and famous as these guys! But did I ever play football? Very little. What about learning the guitar and taking voice lessons? Of course not. As for acting? I never enrolled in a single drama class. These weren’t real goals of mine, they were whims. Like most people I just dreamt of being great.
Consequently, I spent all of my childhood and most of my adult years thinking that success came naturally to people. These gifted individuals didn’t have to earn their success or have someone show them how to get it. A cosmic force had granted them special talents that I didn’t deserve. I was left to toil away in mediocrity with the rest of the common folk.
But that all changed in 1994 while working as a photojournalist for KMGH in Denver, Colorado. For the first time in my professional life I set a goal. It was to become the National Press Photographer Association Regional Photographer of the Year. I’m not exactly sure what prompted me to set this goal, but I was determined to reach it. I started spending hours at the TV station before and after my shift watching other photojournalists’ reels. I immersed myself in the craft. I convinced some of the best in the business to mentor me, guys like Dan Dwyer, Roel Robles, Tim Jensen, Gilbert Zermeno and Erik Lee. Within one year I had my trophy.
As I reflect on this accomplishment and the many others I’ve had since then, I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long to discover that success is not pre-ordained and certainly not a do-it-yourself proposition? History is ripe with stories of great men and women who attribute their success to a mentor, or series of mentors. They didn’t do it on their own; they had a lot of guidance.
Benjamin Graham mentored one of wealthiest business owners and investors of all time. Born in 1894, Graham lived through and actually prospered following the Great Depression. His book, The Intelligent Investor, was published in 1949 and inspired a generation of value investors. Mr. Graham’s most successful protégé was so inspired by the book that he moved to New York from his modest, Midwestern hometown at the age of 20 to attend Columbia University. Graham taught classes there at the time, in addition to managing his very successful investment firm, the Graham-Newman Corporation.
Graham’s star pupil was named Warren Buffett. Buffett would later write in a revised edition of the Intelligent Investor, “I knew Ben as my teacher, my employer, and my friend. In each was an absolutely open-ended, no-scores kept generosity of ideas, time and spirit. If clarity of thinking was required, there was no better place to go. And if encouragement or counsel was needed, Ben was there.”
So there you have it. If arguably the most successful business owner and investor of all time had a mentor then shouldn’t you and I? The truth is we are all born unsuccessful. As Earl Nightingale points out in The Strangest Secret, “success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.” We don’t become successful until we set out on the journey to make our goal a reality. For me it was to win an award, for Warren Buffett it was to become a millionaire by age 35.
The journey can be very cold and lonely without help. So set your goal and then immediately begin to surround yourself with people who can help you achieve it.