To Change a Nation

Can one woman with a courageous heart and entrepreneurial passion change a nation? Before answering that question, let me back up eighteen months. In November 2012 I received an email from a Lithuanian woman named Neringa Oboleviciute, then living in London. Neringa was writing to tell me and my Go-Giver coauthor Bob Burg about a dream she had to bring The Go-Giver to her native country in a Lithuanian edition. “Your book can change my beloved country,” she wrote. “Even if it’s just for a couple of people — every life is so worthy.” She went on to explain, in passionate detail, exactly what this mission meant to her: “On March 11, 1990, Lithuania had the courage to be the first Soviet Republic to declare its independence. A year later, in mid-January, when Soviet Army and tanks came to fight our country back, people came to protect TV station and parliament — without guns. I remember staying with my mum and my little brother at home when my dad went to one of the main governing places in my town. They stood next to each other, sang hymns, prayed, shared food, helped to stay warm in the cold night. The people who went risked their lives; they did not think of themselves; it was not just about them, it was about others, about their kids, future generations. “And this is how Lithuania protected its independence. Fourteen people died because tanks drove over them or Soviet soldiers shot them, and hundreds were injured. It’s sad and inspiring at the same time, because hundreds or thousands could have died if they...

Your Dog Is Right

Do you sometimes worry that you’re a fraud? That secretly, you are not as capable, or as smart, or skillful, or honest, or noble, or whatever, as people (especially the people who matter to you) think you are? Let me ask it this way: Have you ever had a dream where you suddenly realize you are in public without any pants on? Or you’re taking an important exam and have no idea what it’s talking about? Or some other, similar dream, where you all at once find yourself unprepared, ill-equipped, exposed? (A recurring dream of mine: I am on stage, violin at my chin, before a huge audience, orchestra and conductor poised behind me. All are breathless in anticipation, awaiting the first note as I light into an especially demanding violin concerto. And it occurs to me: I don’t play the violin.) I don’t think it has anything to do with actually being a dishonest person or with low self-esteem. I think it’s about having the honesty and humility to face the fact that even our best accomplishments are mostly a mystery even to ourselves. Especially to ourselves. Last week I compared writing and living to diving off a cliff. Diving off a cliff, I might have added, with no pants on. This has to be why highly accomplished writers, actors, and other artists so often say they have the secret fear that one day the world will suddenly wake up and realize they are a sham. For example, guess who said the following: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to...

Diving Off a Cliff

Today I started writing a book. This morning when I woke up I had no idea how it started. It’s a book about a well-known CEO (alas, can’t reveal the name just now) whose story I’ve been struggling to figure out exactly how to tell. Today in the shower a thought came to me and I wrote it down: “In English grammar, they have what they call first person and second person. First person is when I talk about me. Second person is when I talk about you. I think grammar may have it backwards. Anyone who has had any measure of genuine success knows that focusing on myself comes second. Focusing on you comes first. “So here’s the thing. I’m going to tell you my story. But the point is not to tell you my story—it’s to offer whatever experiences and perspectives I can in hopes it may help you work out what your story is, and muster the courage to live it.” Right now I have no idea if these hundred words are good, or so-so, or awful. That’s not false modesty. I truly don’t know. I have no idea if they will end up being the way the book starts, or even whether or not they will appear in the book at all. But that’s not important. What’s important is taking that first step — that one that takes you off the cliff and into freefall. That’s what writing is like: flinging yourself off a cliff every day, without knowing if there’s a net there or not. Living is like that, too. They’re similar in a...

Finding Time

My father was a university professor, music scholar, and choral conductor, and very active in all three careers. He had an office at home where he worked on manuscripts and corrected papers. He loved his work, and had a lot of it. But as a child, every time I went to knock on his door, whether it was because I needed something or just wanted to tell him the latest juicy bit of five-year-old’s news, he never once said, “I’m busy!” or “Can this wait?” or even “Just a minute.” He would drop whatever he was doing and give me his full attention. It still amazes me how he was able to do this. He always seemed to have time. But where did he find it? For years I have struggled with the feeling of not having enough time. What some might call a “poverty mentality,” not in relation to having enough money but to having enough time. I think I’m starting to understand how my father did it. There’s even some fascinating science behind it. A few years ago, some researchers approached a few dozen complete strangers on the street with envelopes containing a little cash, either $5 or $20. The subjects were instructed to spend their little windfall by the end of the day. There was a catch, though: half were told they had to spend the cash on themselves; the other half were instructed to spend it on someone else. Interviewing the people after all the money was spent, the researchers found that one group derived far more happiness from their little spending spree than the...

Fiat Lux

You know how a baby’s smile lights up a room? It’s as if there’s some vast light source hidden behind a screen, and that little round face is a tiny window letting a smidgeon of the billions of gigawatts out there spill into the room we’re occupying. You don’t have to be an infant to let that light spill out. Adults do it too — at least to the extent they retain enough of their baby selves intact. This weekend Ana’s mother, Sylvia, slipped out of the room forever and escaped back out to that illuminated space behind the screen. She left a great deal of light behind. During her stay at the nearby nursing home over the past four years, Sylvia was eventually promoted to a room at the front of the building with a large bedside window with full sunlight access. (The nursing-home equivalent of the top executive’s coveted corner office.) Every day when we would go to visit her, we would walk by that window on the way into the building and peek in. Most days we would be rewarded with her beaming face and an enthusiastic wave of the hand. There was as much sunlight streaming out of that window as there was going in. Sylvia’s roommate’s husband used to visit every day. After his wife died, he kept right on visiting. How could he not? Sylvia was a beacon that prevented many a ship from foundering upon the rocks of loneliness. One nurse’s aide had a visit not long ago from her out-of-state daughter. In the twenty-four hours they had together, what did she...