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Fear The Ghost Of ‘Might-Have-Been’

All things come to the person who goes after them.

Harvey Mackay headshot
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Harvey Mackay
Fear The Ghost Of ‘Might-Have-Been’

Suppose you have five birds sitting on a wire and three of them decide to fly. How many birds would you have left on the wire?

Five birds remain. Making a decision to fly without acting on the decision gets you nowhere. Thinking about something won’t make it happen. Hoping won’t make something happen either. You have to do something about it.

As artist Pablo Picasso said, “Action is the foundational key to all success.”

Opportunities do not come to those who wait. They are captured by those who act.

When Nolan Bushell was asked about his success in founding Atari, he said: “The critical ingredient is getting off your butt and doing something. It’s as simple as that. A lot of people have ideas, but there are few who decide to do something about them now. Not tomorrow. Not next week, but today.”

Don’t be like the husband, lounging on the couch, who says to his wife: “I’ll think about weeding the garden in a little while. Right now, I’m thinking about painting the windows.”

All good things come to the person who goes after them. “I must do something” will always solve more problems than “Something must be done.”

A famous novelist was lecturing to a group of college students determined to pursue literary careers. She asked the group, “How many of you really want to be writers?” A flood of hands shot into the air. “In that case,” she said, “the best advice I can give you is to go home and write.” Then she left the room.

Wayne Gretzky, the leading goal scorer in National Hockey League history, said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

Likewise, people miss 100% of any goal they set for themselves, idea they have or project they want to accomplish if they don’t take a shot at it. A lot of people have great ideas, but nothing in the world is cheaper than a good idea with no action.

Paul “Bear” Bryant, the Hall-of-Fame college football coach at Alabama, had this sign hanging in his locker room: “Cause something to happen.”

You have a better chance of getting your desired result if you take charge, rather than waiting for something to happen to you.

We could learn a lot about action by observing insects. Consider the bee. It will make honey visits to 125 clover heads to make one gram of sugar. That comes to 3.4 million trips for bees to make only one pound of honey. Ants are admirable creatures as well. They’re not concerned about their stature but go about their diligent, tireless work of storing up food for their colony.

One of the best lines on the silver screen about the importance of action came from Yoda, the Jedi Knight trainer in the Star Wars sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.” While teaching Luke Skywalker about the power of The Force, Yoda says, “Luke, there is no try, there is either do or not do.”

Kevin Plank played football at the University of Maryland and was frustrated by his sweat-soaked cotton T-shirts, so he designed shirts that would wick away his sweat. He convinced his former teammates who were then playing professionally to try his product, and word spread. Today Under Armour’s sales are more than $5 billion.

Sara Blakely was selling fax machines door-to-door when she was promoted to national sales trainer. She was forced to wear pantyhose in the hot Florida weather, which she couldn’t stand, so she experimented with more comfortable undergarments. Her Spanx sales are estimated at nearly $400 million annually.

I interviewed Tom Stemberg for my book “We Got Fired! … And It’s the Best Thing That Ever Happened To Us.” He was fired from a supermarket chain and was working on his Apple IIc computer when the ImageWriter ribbon ran out on a July 4 weekend. He went from store to store and couldn’t find one. That’s when he realized that there was a shortage of office supply stores, and that inspired him to launch Staples.

An anonymous verse maker once made this insightful observation titled “Mr. Meant-To.”

Mr. Meant-to has a comrade,
And his name is Didn’t do.
Have you ever chanced to meet him?
Did he ever call on you?
These two fellows live together
In the house of Never-win,
And I’m told that it is haunted

By the ghost of Might-have-been.

Mackay’s Moral: Ideas without action are worthless.

This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine May 2022 issue.
Harvey Mackay headshot
Harvey Mackay
Published on
May 16, 2022
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