The home of Uncommon Sense: Providing Clarity, Promoting Intelligence


I want to alert you to 5 individuals I am deeply drawn to. Let me describe them.

Person #1 is an individual that is sinking in the mire of extreme poverty. Being impoverished and destitute, he is unable to even afford to attend school and is dependent on being self-taught to gain any measure of education.

Person #2 has his own problems. He is given to epileptic fits at the least opportune times. These seizures are frequent and unpredictable and render him completely helpless, even during very dangerous circumstances.

Person #3 can neither see, nor hear, nor speak.

Person #4 was once caught in a terrible house fire that resulted in serious burns to his legs to the point that he was unable to walk.

Person #5 has a serious stuttering problem. It is very difficult for people to understand what he is trying to say, and they write him off as a freak.

These five individuals point to this unassailable truth: we can either be the creatures of circumstance, or we can be the creators of circumstance. We can either be reactive or we can be proactive. And all 5 of these people turned out to be the creators of their circumstance.

Person #1 was Abraham Lincoln. Though impoverished, he went on to become a successful lawyer and one of our greatest Presidents.

Person #2 was Julius Caesar, one of the great military generals of antiquity.

Person #3 was Helen Keller, a woman who, with the help of her mentor and teacher, Ann Sullivan, learned to communicate effectively, and became a great philanthropist, lecturer, and disability rights advocate.

Person #4 was Jim Thorpe, who exercised his legs relentlessly and went on to become America’s greatest over-all athlete, winning two Gold Medals in the 1912 Olympics, in the Pentathlon and the Decathlon.

Person #5 was Demosthenes, who figured out that by filling his mouth with pebbles, he was able to manually control his jaw and mouth movements to slow down his tendency to stutter and eventually became the greatest orator of ancient Athens.

From this we learn that there are 3 kinds of people in the world: people that make things happen, people that watch things happen, and people who don’t know anything happened.


Much of my professional work involves developing people. I do this through several means – writing, seminars, speeches, coaching, consulting, etc. Last month I delivered a series of seminars on goal setting to a group of professionals which included the italicized content above. I took that content from a seminar I myself attended back in 1978. That content was presented by one of my earliest mentors, Donald W. Atkinson, who at the time was a Vice President and Regional Manager of Marcus & Millichap, the commercial real estate firm. While I’m not convinced that every detail above is historically accurate, the principles being conveyed are powerful and potent.

Now, lest you think this column is about goal-setting and the like, let me disabuse you of that notion. This column is not about being proactive or being creators of circumstance, even though that would be a worthy topic.

Instead, this column is about the fact that I was inspired by content I was exposed to in 1978 – 45 years ago! I remember, to this day, what Donald Atkinson taught me about human motivation in 1978, just like I remember what Professor Richard Draper taught me about New Testament Greek in the summer of 1983, just like I remember what Peter Drucker taught me about Self-Management in 1997, just like I remember what Stephen R. Covey taught me in one of our many one-on-one sessions about the value of risk-taking in 1986.

My point: all of us can be people of influence. We can lead others by sharing with them profound life-lessons that will stay with them for a lifetime. Thus, if you want to truly lead others, teach them. Open their eyes to concepts, strategies, practices, stories, and information that will have impact, relevancy, and inspiration.

If you do this, you will not only grow as a leader and a person of significant influence, you will elevate the capabilities of others, and they will carry those lessons with them in the distant future.

Be a leader. Teach and inspire others.

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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