Have you heard:
The Strangest Secret?
Dear Why Team member,
Have you heard:
The Strangest Secret?
When I was about 23 years of age, my Step Dad gave me an audio recording by Earl Nightingale. It was the first spoken record to sell over one million copies. Earl was a survivor of Pearl Harbor and one of the great early inspirational speakers. What is fascinating is how the Strangest Secret largely remains a secret. I still remember exactly where I was, driving through an intersection in Central Florida, when I heard him reveal the secret. For the rest of my life since that moment, I came to appreciate that it is not the majority, but rather the few, that break through the ceiling of mediocrity.
Well, that’s the secret.
It was particularly surreal for me to listen to Earl Nightingale share the secret again 27 years later and I am grateful to my friend and fellow Why Team member who reminded me of it. To call the recording a classic, does not do it justice. I invite you to hear the recording for yourself.
Earl asks, Why is it that out of say 100 people, age 25, all filled with vigor and desire to make something of their lives- that only a handful will achieve their objectives?
Ingrained in us, is this primordial default-mode to conform.
In many situations there truly is greater safety in numbers, so over time we have developed a natural tendency to go with the flow, to identify with a particular group - a group that we feel we are most alike and that is most like us. It’s where we get the saying: we like those who are most like us. Unfortunately this can lead to conformity and stifle the unique possibilities each individual can bring to the world. The desire to fit in, to be good enough, to be accepted - can ironically find one to be critical of differences - their own and others’ - differences they deem unacceptable. These desires, make many…complacent; stick to the norms of the group and refuse to see the possibilities within you. Few may have the wisdom and the courage to create their own path and goals and work hard to achieve them.
Brene Brown, outstanding author and expert on vulnerability and shame, brings forth a number of reasons why we limit the possibilities that reside within us.
Her research finds that everyone, short of the psychopath, experiences shame. She concluded that we internalize regret as ‘I did something bad’; on the other hand, we perceive shame as ‘I am bad’. Regret is formative, it informs and forms us. Regret hurts and thus leads us to avoid that hurt in the future - regret therefore teaches and helps us in our development. Shame however, can stop us in our tracks. Shame is the belief that I am bad, I am less than, I am not good enough. And in our desire to avoid shame, so many don’t try new things, they’re afraid to be different. Individuals so identified with a group will use shame in an attempt to reform and conform others to the group, but more limiting is the way we shame ourselves. Everyone knows from Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, but fear of shame, fear of not being able to go all thousand miles, has so many not taking the first step, and worse yet, criticizing others for doing so.
And what about the ones who dared? We read their stories and we learn their names. I just finished reading an amazing biography on the life of Roald Amundsen, a gift from my son, titled “The Last Viking” by Stephen R. Bown
“In the early twentieth century, many of the great geographical mysteries that had intrigued adventurers for centuries remained unsolved, leaving unexplored blank spots on otherwise increasingly detailed maps...the Northwest Passage, the South Pole and the North Pole...one man would undisputedly claim all these prizes within a twenty-year span”.
Roald Amundsen time and again moved beyond the limits set by the fearful majority. I particularly enjoy this quote from his fellow explorer Lincoln Ellsworth:
“No man more than the explorer is tempted to adopt the doctrine of ends justifying the means. An explorer soon discovers that the world is full of busybodies righteously ready to save him, as they probably think, from himself. The only way to deal with such people is to agree to their terms and then go ahead as one pleases. There are enough legitimate discouragements in the world without submitting to artificial ones”.
Life is a great adventure.
Be not discouraged!
My Dad, and Earl Nightingale, gave me the gift of “The Strangest Secret” at a beautifully formative time in my life. It emboldened me to embrace my differences, even revel in them. Whenever I have been called crazy, I often smiled, knowing that the judgment can only be found in comparison - and more often than not, it’s a comparison to the majority. Can we find and bring our unique gifts to the world when we allow ourselves to be shamed into obedient acceptable behavior?
While there is great benefit to connection and collaboration, it’s bringing our uniqueness to the whole that best serves the whole.
When fear of failure and loss of acceptance keeps us from our dreams and answering our callings - we do a great disservice to ourselves and others.
A preoccupation with what is most acceptable to others - to find one’s own place in the world - can lead to conformity and over identification with a particular group. Being too comfortable with belonging, can lead to heightened judgment and criticism of self and others. Not seldom, as Lincoln Ellsworth mentioned, the ones that try to break the mold are asked to conform, to ‘be different than self’ and conform to the group just so the group may feel comfortable.
In this New Year, more than ever, embrace your uniqueness; be free to follow your inclinations - all while being empathetic to those you might make uncomfortable along the way. Your courage can be a gift of challenge to others - challenging them to be more true to themselves and more open to their own possibilities.
Consider listening to The Strangest Secret - and be okay being perceived at times - a little strange - differences make a difference - revel in yours - for yourself and for others.
Make it a great week!