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I've been thinking a lot about the eternal nature of principles. In a "give-me-everything-for-free!" entitled society, I see more and more brats out there than ever before, as well as more and more incredible individuals that are making a huge difference in the lives of others and in their families. With more opposition in the world than ever before, the divide between the dead-beats and elite individuals is widening. One thing that we're constantly faced with is whether to partake of the principles of worldliness, materialism, and greed. So much of our world is dominated by the "getting ahead" mentality that we'll take any free handout, any shortcut to success, and we'll do anything for that one extra toy or gadget that we have to have.
I'm a nerd who really likes to read finance books. I think it stems back to my childhood and the decision I made when I was ten-years-old that I wanted to be a concert pianist. I made the decision after seeing one of my peers - Ryan Brown of the Five Browns - play with the Utah Symphony. After watching the inspiring performance of this kid - who was WAY old, by the way...I mean, he was twelve and I was only ten! - I knew I wanted to do this whole piano thing forever. In my maturity, I knew that my old dream of being an NBA player probably wouldn't pan out, and the fact that I had been recently been cut from the Gold soccer team to the Silver team was a sure sign that my soccer skills wouldn't work out either (they fizzled out by age 13, after which I took up the physically demanding "sport" of golf). Whenever I told people this, they said, "Good luck being a starving musician." Or, "What's your backup plan?" Or, "What do you want to do...teach?!" followed by a mocking chuckle. Little did they know that those insulting questions were the fuel of motivation. Sure, getting an MBA will almost always have a better financial outcome than an MM in Piano Performance, statistically. But who cared about the statistics? I was going to do everything possible to propel my passion. I dreaded doing anything else as a career, and I was going to do everything in my power to beat the system.
My brothers and I were taught hard work from a young age from our awesome parents. My dad is basically made of steel, and my mom is a 3x cancer survivor. If I didn't get my two-and-a-half hours of practice in per day, I had to make it all up the next day. I think I can count on one hand the number of days I ever had to do five hours of piano practice, because I hated those days so much that I'd gladly turn down offers to go out and play with friends to make sure I finished my practicing. My brothers and I had always gone to work with my dad on our breaks from school and during the summers. One day, when my Dad cut his thumb off in his cement mixer and I watched as they had to sew it back on, I knew there had to be something better out there for me, so I quit. He told me, "If you're not working for me, you're going to start your own business. I don't want you flipping burgers." So, I started teaching piano. Pretty soon, my $10 per half-hour lesson (over TWICE the rate he had paid me, and I got to sit in a nice air-conditioned room playing and teaching music!) business took off and I built up a studio of twenty-five students. I saved every dollar I could so I could pay for my college and hopefully "make it" as a musician one day. The principle of creativity was instilled in me as a result of this situation - a seed had been planted for future success. The socialist/communist/whatever-you-want-to-call-it view of "You didn't build your business...your customers did!" never made sense to me, and it still doesn't. Why couldn't I create something out of nothing, especially when the long, hot days doing stonemasonry was the only option I could go back to?
I've recently reviewed a book I read when I was in my teens called The Millionaire Next Door. To be honest, it's a pretty dry read, and I did a lot of skimming. It's basically a book full of statistics about the behaviors of millionaires. Sure, it makes a lot of them look like penny-pinching cheapskates, but there was one example that really stuck out to me. One of the millionaires in the book was worth over five million, and he lived in the same neighborhood he always had, drove a modest used vehicle, owned his own business in the industrial part of town, and was just a "common man." He was strategic with his wealth, however, and amassed a fortune, even without earning an insanely high income. People noticed the success of his business and would ask him for advice. He ended up saving many different businesses of friends and acquaintances over the years, and several of them wanted to buy him something really nice to thank him. They decided to go all-out and buy him a custom-made Rolls Royce. It wouldn't be ready for nine months, and four months into it he found out what they had planned. Gently, he went to them and told them he couldn't accept such a kind offer. How could he accepts such a gift? He enjoyed simple restaurants with simple folks - how could he pull up in a Rolls Royce to the local diner he'd been going to for years and feel good about it? How could he go to work in that car without his workers feeling like he was exploiting them? Most importantly, how could he take that down to the lake to go fishing? After all, you can't throw dead fish in the back seat of a Rolls like you could in his vehicle!
This man said something extremely simple, "Money should never change one's values." This principle - the principle of integrity - was reinforced to me the other day in a piano lesson. The teacher was talking of various types of students, and how they can be broken down into three categories:
1) Lots of talent, lots of integrity (to work hard and focus)
2) Not a lot of talent, but lots of integrity
3) Lots of talent, no integrity
He reiterated that while it's sad that some simply don't have a lot of natural ability, those who work hard far outdo those who have a lot of natural ability but are lazy.
Yet another lesson I recently learned was from my mom, who is taking a college class in psychology. They recently read a book that had a chapter on honesty and justification, and how all of us "cheat" a little bit. Would you rob a bank? No way! But will you point out the missed charge when the cashier forgets to ring up one of your expensive items? Or will you refill your soda even when it says "No refills"? Why would you do one and not the other? The book brought up an interesting point about how people's situations can make them sway in their conviction of their principles.
All of these things have been circulating in my mind, and as I've thought more about them, I realize that principles greatly determine what and who we will become. While situations are constantly changing around us, principles are either upheld, or they are shattered. In the book Think and Grow Rich, an amazing book that talks of the richness of life and spirituality (and surprisingly very little about money), Napoleon Hill talks of the principles that govern the lives of some of the most successful individuals in America. These principles are Desire, Faith, Auto-Suggestion, Specialized Knowledge, Imagination, Organized Planning, Persistence, Creating a Master Mind Team, Harnessing the Power of the Subconcious, Utilizing Your Brain, and Outwitting Fear. These principles are eternal. They will exist whether you choose to utilize them, harness them, ignore them, or never bother to think about them. They are free - you don't have to buy these principles. You can choose to incorporate them at any time. You can choose to abandon them at any time. However, I pose to each of you the following questions, "What do you want out of life? What are you striving for? What drives you?" And finally, "What principles do you need to achieve the answers to the aforementioned questions?" Imagine a huge wall of principles looming before you, and you can hand-select whichever ones you want, good or evil. The power of choice lies with you, but with each principle you select, various consequences will follow. Which principles will you personally select, and what will they make you become?