Loyalty Starts with You



Every business wants loyal customers – few understand how to earn them.

Most businesses think loyalty comes from issuing a “frequent flyer” card and giving something away for free. That’s not loyalty. That’s buying repeat business from customers who are loyal to the prize, or to the price. Eliminate the freebies, and you eliminate the customer.

You can’t buy loyalty. You have to earn it.

Earning loyalty is a daily undertaking. It’s not earned with one action; rather, it’s earned with repeated, consistent actions that demonstrate your commitment to serving your customers in extraordinary and memorable ways. And, unless you’re a sole proprietor with zero employees or colleagues, earning customer loyalty is the job and the mission of every single person in your company. It takes a coordinated effort. A universal philosophy. It takes your customer’s perception that you care at least as much about their success as you do about yours. Loyalty is a feeling. It’s an emotional commitment to doing business together.

Emotion is best created through the personal relationships and rapport that you establish with your customers. You have to give your customers a reason to care about you. And, the best way to get them to care about you is to show them that you care about them first. It’s about serving your customers more than it is about selling your customers. It’s about helping. It’s about the long-term relationship more than the short-term quota you’re chasing. It’s about wanting and fighting for a positive outcome for your customer more than you wanting the commission from the sale.

People can be loyal to a brand. They can be loyal to a company. But brand or company loyalty is often temporary. One negative experience, and your customer may jump ship. The strongest kind of loyalty, the least vulnerable kind loyalty, the most valuable kind of loyalty is the loyalty that is earned by your people to your people. A customer who is loyal to a person will do business with you for life, send referrals your way, and give you the opportunity to fix a problem before they leave you.

Every person in your company is tasked with earning customer loyalty. The receptionist, the sales guy, the accountant. Even the janitor. It’s tough to get customers to drink the Kool-Aid, though, if your employees aren’t drinking it. Your employees, your colleagues, your team will only be able to earn the loyalty of your customers if your employees are loyal themselves. And the only way your employees will be loyal to you is if you earn their loyalty.

Yep, you have to earn your employees’ loyalty before you can even think about earning your customers’ loyalty. If you want loyal customers, you have to have loyal employees first. How do you earn employee loyalty? By answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”

If you ask your employees what they get out of working for you and their response is, “A paycheck,” that’s not loyalty. Yes, money is a big part of why people work, but it can’t be the only reason they work for you.

Loyal employees are the prerequisite for loyal customers.
Loyal employees show up early, stay late, and act in the best interest of the company.
Loyal employees don’t complain about problems, they solve them.
Loyal employees don’t blame the customer, they help them.
Loyal employees are the secret ingredient in the formula for success.

Earn your employees’ loyalty, and you’re on your way to earning customer loyalty. Don’t “get around to it when you’re not busy.” Start with earning employee loyalty, and let your employees work their magic with your customers. Earn it early and earn it often.

Here’s how:

1. Ask your employees questions about their work, about their lives, about their challenges, about what excites them, and then listen to their answers with genuine interest.
2. Get your employees to believe that you care about them by, well, actually caring about them – and by showing them as well as telling them.
3. Give your employees your time. Daily.
4. Check in with every employee every week.
5. Show up early, stay late. If you can’t do it every day, do it every week. A little goes a long way.
6. Tell your employees that you value their work and their insight.
7. Take your employees to lunch or to breakfast. Start by taking one a week.
8. Have a party where you serve the food or man the grill.
9. Lead by example. Practice what you preach. Do the work.
10. Celebrate wins.
11. Reward your employees in public.
12. Correct them in the privacy of your office.
13. Catch them doing something right daily.
14. Get and maintain a great attitude. Set a positive tone from the moment you walk in the door.
15. Back your employees. Start by defending their decisions rather than dismissing them.
16. Be involved. Be engaged.
17. Get your hands dirty.
18. Talk about life goals as well as professional goals.
19. Help your employees achieve their goals.
20. Pay for (related) education.
21. Encourage. Root for your employees. Reward the effort and the outcome.
22. Communicate. Don’t assume that people know what’s going on. Be sure of it.
23. Involve people in decision-making. Include them in the research and in the evaluation. Let them be a part of the process.
24. Provide constant feedback. Don’t wait for the annual review. Be a coach.
25. Be willing to admit your failures. Endear yourself to your employees by apologizing when you screw up, and by fixing your mistakes quickly and appropriately.
26. Create a mission statement with your people, rather than for your people to follow. Make it something they can believe in, get behind, and live.
27. Be accountable. Be known as the person who follows up, who finishes on time, and who delivers.
28. Do what you say you will do.

This list is incomplete. You can help finish it.

Are you a business owner or manager? What have you done to earn the loyalty of your employees?

Are you an employee? What can your boss do to earn your loyalty? What can your company do?


This Father’s Day, Give Me Something I Really Want


I’m a dad. It’s the title I am most proud of. Being a dad is both an honor and a responsibility. I’ve often said that marriage gave my life meaning; fatherhood gave it purpose.

I’m not sure how I feel about Father’s Day, though. Father’s Day is a cool idea, but I think we’re doing it wrong.

It’s Father’s Day. It’s not my birthday. I don’t want a cake. No candles, please. I don’t want another shirt, or a tie, or a pair of socks.

If we are able to get together, it’s not because I think I deserve a party.

If you want to wrap a present because it’s important to you, make the present meaningful. Like an art project from school, or a handmade card, or a framed picture of you that I can hang in my office, or a memento of something special we did together. Maybe it’s a ticket stub, or photograph, or a drawing, or postcard, or a trinket.

I will love anything you give me. Really. But it’s the things money can’t buy that I will cherish.

So, please, don’t spend your money on me. Spend your time with me.

Kids have this amazing ability to create a birthday wish list that somehow makes its way into the hands of parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and really anyone willing to take it. I’d like to give my kids a wish list for a change.

Here’s what I really want (this year, next year, and forever):

  • I want to know that I’m doing a decent job as your dad. Just a little recognition and perhaps an admission that I’m not the worst dad in the world.
  • I want to know that I’m setting a good example for you. Maybe you could write a little story about something you learned from me that’s helped you in your life.
  • I want you to spend the day with me. Heck, the whole weekend if you can. I value every minute we have together, and I’d like as many as I can get with you.
  • I want a hug. And a kiss. And an “I love you, Dad.” I’d take a hundred of each. More is better.
  • I want to see you happy.
  • I want to know that I’ve done everything I can to give you the opportunity to chase your dreams, from sending you to the best school Mom and I can afford, to encouraging you to try new things, to cheering for you as you perform or compete in sports or dance or music.
  • I want to feel close to you. Like we share the same bond we had when you were six months old and you could only fall asleep if you were lying on my chest.
  • I want to know that you feel my love. I love you more than anything in the world, and want to be sure you believe it.
  • I want to know that you see me for what I am. That you take the best of me and emulate it, and the worst of me and eschew it. Learn from my life. Sometimes you should do what I do, and sometimes you should do the opposite. I hope you develop the wisdom to know when.
  • I want “I love you,” more than I want “Thank you.”
  • I want the sound of a baseball game in the background, the smell of the grill in the air, and the warmth of being surrounded by family for the day. And, I want it to last forever.
  • I want to play catch with you.
  • I want to play a board game or cards with you.
  • I want to tell stories from our past and laugh about them.
  • I want to talk about your life and how I can help you the most.
  • I want to talk about your future and what you’re most excited about.
  • But above all else, I just want to spend time with you.

Yes, it’s a long list. But it would mean everything to me.

What’s on your list?

What do you want from your kids?

What are you giving your dad?

What do you wish you would have given him?

What Your Voicemail Greeting Should Sound Like

Creative and Memorable Voicemail Greetings That Will Help You Stand Out from the Sales Crowd

If you’ve been following along with my series of articles on phone skills (Have You Heard of the Telephone?, If They Aren’t Available, Should I Leave a Voicemail?, “I’d Call My Prospect, But I Don’t Have Their Number”, How to Get Past the Receptionist, Answer the Phone!) by now you should be well on your way to mastery of the single greatest sales tool ever invented: the telephone.

I’m going to ask you to consider something you probably have never given much thought to: your own voicemail greeting. You may call this your outbound greeting or outgoing message. No matter what you call it, this is what callers hear when you don’t answer your phone. Or should I say, it’s what callers are forced to listen to even though they don’t want to.

Your voicemail greeting is an overlooked marketing opportunity if all you’re using it for is to give instructions to the caller for what to do after the beep. Here’s a news flash: they already know what to do!

This is an opportunity to create a memorable impression with something that would differentiate you from everyone else. Most people are professional (think, boring) in their greetings. Why not do something fun instead? The goal is to get the caller to leave a voicemail, but also to reflect your brand identity and stand out from the crowd.

Give your callers something to talk about with their friends and colleagues. Give your callers something that would make them want to tell their friends to call and listen to your greeting. Give your callers something to smile about. Give them something to think about. Give them something creative. Something smart. Something…you.

Most people use something like one of the four greetings below:

  1. “Hi, it’s Bob Johnson. I’m either away from my desk or on another line. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”
  2. “Hi, it’s Mary. Today is Monday, and I’ll be in meetings until 11am and then on sales call until early afternoon. Please leave me a message and I’ll return your call then.”
  3. “Hi, it’s Jane. I can’t get to my phone right now. But if you leave me a message I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”
  4. “You’ve reached John’s voicemail. I’m away at the moment, so please leave me a message. If you need immediate assistance, press zero for the operator.”

Sound familiar? Of course these do. Because your greeting probably sounds just like one of them, or some combination of them. Which means your voicemail sounds just like every other voicemail your customers and prospects hear.

If you’re using something similar to the ones above, you’re missing a strategic advantage that would be memorable, impactful, and potentially valuable to your callers.

Try something like one of these 6 creative messages below instead:

  1. “Hi, it’s Noah. I’m out saving the world, one sales team at a time. If you’d like me to help inspire your team to increase your sales, just leave me a message and I’ll get back to you shortly. If you’re calling for any other reason, well, I’ll call you back too!”
  2. This one came courtesy of my friend David who is a manufacturer’s rep: “You’ve reached David. I can’t answer your call right now because I’m out selling your products. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you with the order soon.”
  3. “Hello, Bob here. Rather than give you instructions you already have memorized, I’m going to use this time to share my favorite quote of the week: ‘(and then you’d read one of your favorite quotes)’.”
  4. My friend Jeffrey Gitomer used to ask people to leave their credit card numbers after the tone just to catch them off guard. Funny enough, Jeffrey says some people actually used do it!
  5. My assistant, Jennifer Porter, injects a little of personality in her greeting on her mobile phone: “Hi, it’s Jennifer. I can’t find my phone right now. It’s probably in the bottom of my purse somewhere. Or I can’t hear it ringing because I’m singing loudly in my car!”
  6. “Congratulations! You’ve called the right guy! It just so happens to be the wrong time. Please leave a message and I’ll be back in touch before you know it.”

I’m out of space for now. But that was fun, right?

Maybe I sparked a little creativity in you. Or maybe you already have the world’s greatest voicemail greeting. Either way, please share in the comments below:

photo credit: image source

What’s fRickun Cool at the Marriott?

This week’s frickun cool discovery comes by way of my assistant, Jennifer Porter. While on a recent trip to New Orleans, LA, Jennifer had the chance to try out one of the most innovative new features in hotels today.

From Jennifer:

After checking in at the downtown Marriott, I walked to the elevators and had to stop for a second. Rather than your typical “Up” and “Down” arrows, this is what I saw instead:

With this type of elevator service, guests simply select their floor number and the letter of the elevator car to take them to that level appears. 

Different? Sure. Efficient? Absolutely! The entire time of my stay, I wasn’t in an elevator with more than 2 people at a time, getting to my floor in what felt like seconds.

Pretty fRickun cool, right?


Answer the Phone!

Caller ID is both a blessing and a curse. Not in the way you’d think, though. You might think that Caller ID is a curse for the caller (especially if the caller is you, and you happen to be a sales person) and that it’s a blessing for the prospect because they can choose whether they want to be interrupted by an “Unknown Caller.” OK, maybe you’re right.

But I’d like you to consider how Caller ID may curse your sales even if you are on the receiving end of a phone call. Ever since the advent of Caller ID, when your phone rings, you don’t answer it. At least not without first looking at your Caller ID to determine who it is. And, if you’re like most people, here’s what you think to yourself:

“Oh, it’s just that annoying customer. I’ll call them back when I’m done with lunch.”

“It’s an unknown caller (or a private caller). I’m not answering this one.”

“I don’t recognize this number. I’ll let it go to voicemail.”

“What an interruption! I really don’t want to talk to this prospect right now. They are driving me up the wall!”

“That’s a work call. I don’t take work calls after hours.”

“Ah, shoot. I forgot to get back to this guy. I’ll just send him an email later so I can pretend I was tied up in meetings all day.”

That’s crazy talk! What are you doing? You’re a sales person…and your success is directly tied to the number of people you meet and talk to. Customers and prospects are impressed with your availability and your responsiveness. If they can’t reach you, they can’t buy from you. Or they won’t want to buy from you, because they’ll be worried about how hard it will be to reach you when they need support.

And, there’s a great deal of stress that goes along with you having to remember to call someone back. Not only is there the stress of having to remember, there’s also the stress from the anticipation of what that conversation is going to go like. You’re pretty much always starting out in a deficit position when you say “Hi, Bob? It’s me, Noah. Yeah, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I’ve been tied up in meetings and then I had this family thing, and then I was out of the office. Anyway, how can I help you?”

It’s always easier to get it over with now. In fact, the longer you wait to call someone, the harder it becomes. Every minute that passes just adds to your anticipatory anxiety and to the eventual pain of having to eat crow when you apologize for taking so long to get back to them. Unless you wait long enough to the point when you don’t have to call them back because they are already buying from your competitor. Then you can just call your boss and tell him that you lost a customer because your price was too high.

The reality is that more customers and prospects are lost because of something that you failed to do than because of price. And most often that something is your failure to communicate quickly.

You may think it’s an interruption, an inconvenience, or an inefficient use of your time. In reality, it’s your job! It’s your singular purpose – to talk to as many people who can buy from you as possible.

Here are 6 great reasons to answer the phone when it rings:

  1. Every time a prospect calls you, they’re qualifying you. How easy are you to reach? How responsive are you? How helpful are you? They don’t know what it’s like to do business with your company yet, so how available you are is about the only thing they can judge you on.
  2. If you never answer your phone and if you’re slow to call back, that tells the prospect that you are not that interested in their business. You might think you’re “playing hard to get,” but that’s a strategy for dating, not for selling.
  3. When you’re easy to reach, that gives your prospect confidence. Confidence is the number one factor in determining who to buy from. If I need a new roof, and there are only two roofers in my city, I’m buying from the one that gives me confidence in their ability to perform, commitment to deliver on time, and availability after the sale. If the other roofer is 25% cheaper but I have a hard time getting a hold of them, and they take a day or two to call me back, I start wondering if I’m buying junk product and junk work.
  4. Fast answers result in fast sales. A lead is never hotter than the moment it appears.  When’s the best time to make a sale? When the other guy wants to buy!
  5. Customers call you because they need help. They have a question about how something works, or where their shipment is, or why they’re experiencing a problem. When you don’t answer their frustration rises. And, if you don’t call them back quickly, they are more likely to decide they don’t want to buy from you next time.
  6. From a productivity standpoint, it’s better to answer the phone when it’s ringing. It takes far less time than listening to a message, returning the call, and then having to leave a message if you can’t get through. Phone tag is about the worst use of your time ever. Well, that and watching television. If you’re really on a roll on a project that you just have to finish, answer the phone and explain that. Set a specific time later in the day when you’ll call back with answers. Most customers will be OK with that – and they’ll be able to relax knowing the ball is in your court for a few hours.

So if you’re reading this and your phone is ringing, stop reading! Start answering your phone, and start selling your heart out!

photo credit: visage

Why Five Guys is fRickun Cool

Once or twice a year, I allow myself to indulge in a delicious cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys. I’ve always loved Five Guys, but I try to eat healthy. On a recent “cheat day,” I saw something totally new to me: a touchscreen Coca-Cola soda machine that mixes an almost infinite number of flavors. I rarely drink soda, but I was so excited to try this thing out that I gave in to a Diet Cherry Vanilla Coke.

I watched other customers as they used the machine as well. Their excitement level was at a ten. Kids were begging their parents to come back again tomorrow. I have a feeling this will bring in new customers and will also keep others coming back more often.

It’s a great example of a company using new technology and fun to engage customers and build loyalty. Yes, the novelty will eventually wear off. But there’s a ton of money to be made in the meantime.


How to Get Past the Receptionist*

*(or gatekeeper, or anyone in your way of reaching the REAL decision maker) in Ten Easy Commandments

One of the hardest steps in the sales process is connecting with your prospect. I’m not talking about connecting as in “making a connection” or finding something in common and bonding with your prospect. I’m talking about actually getting through and getting a chance to talk to your prospect in the first place.

I don’t care what stands between you and your prospect – receptionist, assistant, gatekeeper, phone system, voicemail, armed guards (yep, I’ve tried dropping by unannounced in NYC with very little success), purchasing department, mid-level manager, Vice-President of No, SPAM filter, etc. – the fact of the matter is that many salespeople never even get the chance to make their pitch to the right person.

It’s a complete waste of your time and a total morale buster to meet or talk at length with anyone other than the real decision maker. When you’re all done presenting, they can’t buy! All they can do is say, “I’ll talk to my boss and see what he thinks.” That’s not selling…that’s visiting.

One of the most important things you can do to improve your chances for success is to put yourself in front of people who can say yes to you. I learned that lesson from Jeffrey Gitomer and I’ve been grateful ever since.

Anyone in the company can say no to you, but only a few people can say yes. Get to them. It’s hard work, though. Here’s the good news: I’ve created a list that will help you below.

The Ten Commandments of Getting Past the Gatekeeper, Getting Through to the Decision Maker, and Getting on with the Sale

1. Thou shalt have no other objective than to sell the appointment. Face it – you’re never (or VERY rarely) ever going to make a sale over the telephone the first time you call. So don’t try. Instead, focus on engaging the prospect in a way that they are willing to take an appointment, be that in person, on a GoToMeeting, or on the phone. Get them to commit to the next step, not to the purchase order.

2. Thou shalt not make unto thee a fool of thyself by mispronouncing thy prospect’s name. If somebody calls my office and asks my assistant if they can speak with “Noel Rickoon,” “Noha Rickman,” or “Nick Ripken” it’s over before they start. Do your homework.

3. Thou shalt not be a jerk. This might seem like common sense, but salespeople are not necessarily known for their politeness. If you treat the gatekeeper with disrespect, if you’re rude to the receptionist, or you just act like everybody owes you something, you’re hurting your chances of getting to the boss. And, even if you do get through, when the boss says “Hey, Ms. Assistant,” please put Johnny Salesguy on my calendar, the assistant will reply, “Really? You’re going to meet with that jerk?” Executives listen to their assistants. Assistants are often the eyes and ears of the organization, their trusted advisors, and their opinions of you matter.

4. Remember the value, to keep it holy. The one word secret to getting past the gatekeeper is value. If you don’t provide value in your first call, you’ve got little to no shot. And, remember that it’s not what you think is valuable – it’s what your prospect perceives as being valuable. Call with a new idea that they can use to drive profit or efficiency and you’ll get right through.

5. Honor thy contact and thy gatekeeper. Show respect to everyone that you talk to. You’ll make more sales with honey (in other words, be sweet). I think you’ll be surprised what can happen if you make friends with the gatekeeper and ask for their help. People love to help. But only if they like you.

6. Thou shalt not kill thy chances of making a sale by lying thy way through the gatekeeper. If you lie, you lose. Oh, you may think you’ve won because you got past the gatekeeper by using a fake name or reason for the call, but you’ll eventually be found out and you’ll eventually lose out. The ultimate honor a salesperson can earn is that of “trusted advisor,” and the root of the word “trusted” is truth. Got it?

7. Thou shalt not commit to meeting with anyone but the REAL decision maker. Sometimes when you’re asking to speak with the big cheese, a very helpful gatekeeper will offer to put you in touch with someone else instead. Someone lower on the totem pole. Don’t be distracted. Don’t take any meeting just because it’s a meeting. Ensure that you’re meeting with the real decision maker. Tell the gatekeeper that only the big cheese will do. You’ve got something of value to discuss with them and you promise you’ll make the gatekeeper look good. Say it with a smile – it works half of the time. The other half of the time, you can try a line Jeffrey Gitomer gave me: “I’d like to speak with Mr. Decision Maker (insert real name). What’s it about? Well, it’s a business matter that’s personal in nature.”

8. Thou shalt not be a cold-caller. Do not ask, “How are you doing today?” or “Have you ever heard of us?” Instead ask an engaging question that gets to the heart of the sale. Make them think. Be prepared. You can start by reading “Don’t Ask, Don’t Sell” if you need help with creating your own questions.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy competitor. The best thing you can do is praise your competition. I know it sounds crazy, but this works almost every time. Let’s say the gatekeeper says, “Well, we’re already working with XYZ Company,” you say, “Great! XYZ Company is a really great choice. They’ve got some of the best widgets out there. I’d just like to share a few ideas that will augment your current program. Many of XYZ Company’s customers do business with us as well.” Of course, that better be true. The flip side is that you can say that XYZ Company offers an inferior product, that you’ve recently heard that XYZ Company’s service is terrible, etc. The problem with this is that you just make yourself look bad and you insult your prospect by telling them that they made a bad choice. Bad move.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy brochure. I’m not sure covet is the right word, but this is an important point. Far too many salespeople hide behind their marketing materials and benefit statements. If all you’re going to do is recite everything in your brochure, save your breath and mail the thing instead (don’t worry – they won’t read it, but then again they aren’t really listening to you either). Instead, deliver value by presenting a new idea that you created just for your prospect. Review their LinkedIn profile, website, and Google for something relevant and timely to discuss. Again, you’re calling for an appointment, not a sale…so don’t spend time talking about yourself, your company, or your product. Talk and ask about them. Oh, and if they ask you to send a brochure tell them you’d be happy to bring one to your appointment if they’d like.

NOTE: I’m not attempting to make light of any particular religion; I’m just suggesting that you need to be more religious about your sales activity.

NOTE WELL: I’ve always looked at the (real) Ten Commandments as the most important and central instructions for living a good life and for being a good person. The Ten Commandments are by no means exhaustive (that’s why you’ll actually find 613 Commandments in the Old Testament) nor are they a guarantee. They’re simply a very good start. Staying on the theme, my ten commandments above are meant to serve as a very good start to your becoming a better salesperson.

P.S. Think I’m missing something? Have an idea for the 11th commandment? I’d sure love to hear your ideas and your insight, so please share below in the comments.

The Art of Manliness

I love reading old sales books. The language, the culture, the technology (or lack thereof), the technique, the perspective – I am totally in awe of our forefathers. It’s so interesting to compare their perspective, their obstacles, their challenges, and their successes to ours.

Old books aren’t for everyone. There’s often a language barrier. You might think old sales books are hokey (and that’s because they often are).

So here’s something for every sales person on the planet: vintage motivational posters courtesy of The Art of Manliness.

Trust me, they are fRickun cool!

Why River Valley Bank is fRickun Cool

I had the honor and pleasure to speak to leaders from River Valley Bank yesterday in Wausau, Wisconsin. It’s a family owned bank with 18 locations and it’s a bank that the big boy’s should study and attempt to emulate. River Valley Bank is full of passionate, dedicated, intelligent, and friendly people. People who are willing to do what it takes to serve their customers in memorable ways. And, people who are willing to go out of their way to help.

This passion is evidenced by the information on their front door. Below their hours of operation, River Valley Bank has a note that read, “After Hours By Appointment.”

After Hours? Really? At a bank?

When I asked employees under what circumstances they would be willing to stay open late I received a simple answer: “When a customer asks.”

Wow. Or should I say, fRickun Cool!

What is the Meaning of Life?

This week I depart from my recent series of articles (Have You Heard of the Telephone?, If They Aren’t Available, Should I Leave a Voicemail?, “I’d call my prospect, but I don’t have their phone number.”) on telephone skills. Don’t worry; I’ll be back on track next week with “How to Get Past the Receptionist.”

I write for you. But sometimes I write for me. My sincere hope is that you’ll find value in what I’m about to share with you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death lately. Not in the negative sense, but in the searching for answers sense. This morning, I watched an immensely powerful TED talk, Candy Chang: Before I Die I Want to…” Spend six minutes and do the same. It’s well worth your time.

Candy offers a very comforting notion –giving us permission to talk about the taboo subject of death – when she says, “Thinking about death clarifies your life.”

In my seminars, I offer every audience member the opportunity to ask me any question at all. I give them a few minutes to write their most burning questions down anonymously and pass them up to the front. I do this because I have found that I get better questions. Real questions. Questions that you might be afraid to ask out loud in front of your boss, your peers, your colleagues, or even me. Of course, there’s a comedian in every crowd. Somebody always asks me what I put in my hair or which member of the Village People is my favorite. And, sometimes, there’s a wise guy that asks something philosophical just to give me a hard time.

Recently, one such wise guy submitted, “What’s the meaning of life?” He didn’t want an answer, of course. But I gave him one anyway.

I recounted one of the most influential and inspirational movie moments from my formative years – that oft-remembered scene from City Slickers in which Curly shares the secret of life. Watch it on YouTube here.

“Do you know what the secret of life is?” asks Curly.
“No, what?” responds Mitch.
Curly holds up his first finger. “This,” he says.
“Your finger?” asks Mitch.
“One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean shit.”
“That’s great,” Mitch says, “but what’s the one thing?”
“That’s what you gotta’ figure out…” Curly says and then rides away.

You see, the meaning of life is different for everyone. Your purpose may not be my purpose. And no purpose is more important than the next.

Maybe life means family. Maybe it means friends. Maybe it means legacy. Maybe it means love. Maybe it means religion. Maybe it means progress. Maybe it means money. Maybe it means making the world a better place. Maybe it means writing a book. Maybe it means writing a song. Maybe it means helping others. Maybe it means helping yourself. Maybe it means traveling. Maybe it means planting a garden, or a tree. Maybe it means building something. Maybe it means tearing something down. Maybe it means solving a problem…and maybe it means causing one.

Curly’s point, as is mine, is that it’s up to you to find your own meaning. Your own answers.

I’ve always thought that the purpose of life is to figure out how to live forever. Not in the physical sense, but in the metaphysical. You live on through the people who you touch. You live in their hearts, in their minds, and in their subconscious. Their actions and their decisions are often a result of your impact and your imparted wisdom.

The problem with my thinking, however, is that it creates an enormous amount of self-induced pressure to accomplish something big. Something memorable. Until recently, I thought I had to be as big as Elvis. As recognizable as Shakespeare. As accomplished as Einstein or as impactful as Abraham Lincoln.

Walt Disney
George Washington
Christopher Columbus
Benjamin Franklin
Steve Jobs
Babe Ruth

You get the point.

While reading Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin Yalom, I realized I had it all wrong. I realized I had been selfish. Life is not about becoming someone, it’s about doing something. And that something becomes your legacy.

For me, the meaning of life is both leaving and living your legacy. What you do influences and impacts those you share your life with and those who encounter your deeds and actions. For instance, if you spearhead or fund a neighborhood park, your name may never be uttered after you die, but your deed positively affects the people who enjoy your park daily.

For now, the thing that gives me comfort and direction is a thought I had while watching the recent Olympics. One night I became fascinated by relay races. I watched baton handoff after handoff until it hit me – life is like a relay. Not your life, per se, but life in the greater sense of human life. Human existence is relay race with, I hope, no end.

Before you are born, you have no control over what happens. You wait at your start line and hope that the runner before you (your parents, your family, your community) sets you up for success. Then one day you’re born. You get the chance to run one lap. That’s it. Then you hand the baton to the next generation. Your mission is to do your best – to run your fastest, to get the lead, and to give the next runner on your team (whether that be your child, your loved one, your friend, or someone you’ve never even met) every advantage possible to make their lap better.

Of course, this is not a perfect metaphor. Life is not a race, at least not exactly. It’s not about how fast you run. It’s about how well you run. It’s about how well you live.

But life is about taking the baton from those who came before you when you’re ready, taking full advantage of what has been handed to you, creating new opportunities and experiences, doing everything possible to help those around you and those who will come after you, and then passing the baton to the next generation.

And, life is about having a good time while you’re working so hard. You can enjoy anything and everything if you have the right attitude.

That’s the meaning of life. That’s what life means to me.

What does life mean to you?

photo credit: odilon dimier


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