The Strangest Secret is strange indeed, shared quietly amongst knowing entrepreneurs for decades. I first heard of it late last year during a meeting with successful business owners. They mentioned it in passing, and then declared how it’s changed their lives and those around them. If you haven’t heard of The Strangest Secret, you’ll be glad you finally did. Just be sure to pay it forward.
Say Hello to the “Dean of Personal Development”
The Strangest Secret is a 1956 recording by the “Dean of Personal Development” Earl Nightingale. He recorded the talk for a small group of salesmen as he couldn’t make it to a meeting one Saturday morning. The group was immensely inspired, and they requested copies for family and friends. And the requests kept pouring in, to the point Nightingale made arrangements to press album copies. “The Strangest Secret” quickly became the first spoken-word album to go Gold — yes, 1 million copies sold with virtually no promotions.
Nightingale went on to publish other successful works and hosted a highly popular, globally syndicated radio show. However, I want to spread this particular gem as everyone I’ve shared it with so far (even self-professed jaded individuals) have found profound meaning and value in his words. Many, like me, download the podcast and play it in the car habitually to stay focused and remain on the path of success.
Words of Wisdom
Here’s the script that spawned the entire development industry, across Canada and the US, and from the West Indies to South Africa. Remember, this was recorded back in the 1950s, so you’ll need to overlook some references to dated gender roles. Without further ado, enjoy…
“I’d like you tell you about the strangest secret in the world. Not long ago, Albert Schweitzer, the great Doctor and Nobel Prize winner was being interviewed in London and a reporter asked him, ‘Doctor, what’s wrong with men today?’ The great doctor was silent a moment, and then he said, ‘Men simply don’t think!’ And it’s about this that I want to talk with you.
“We live today in a golden age. This is an era that man has looked forward, dreamed of, and worked toward for thousands of years. But since it’s here, we pretty well take it for granted. We in America are particularly fortunate to live in the richest land that ever existed on the face of the earth — a land of abundant opportunity for everyone.
“But do you know what happens?” asks Nightingale, setting the stage for a dose of reality.
“Let’s take 100 men who start even at the age of 25. Do you have any idea what will happen to those men by the time they are 65? These 100 men who all start even at the age of 25 believe they’re going to be successful. If you asked any one of these men if he wanted to be a success, he’d tell you that he did, and you’d notice that he was eager toward life; that there was a certain sparkle to his eye, an erectness to his carriage, and life seemed like a pretty interesting adventure to him.
“But by the time they’re 65:
One will be rich;
Four will be financially independent;
Five will still be working;
54 will be broke.
“Now, think a moment. Out of the 100, only five make the grade. Why do so many fail? What has happened to the sparkle that was there when they were 25? What’s become of the dreams, the hopes, the plans? And why is there such a large disparity between what these men intended to do, and what they actually accomplished?
“When we say about 5% achieve success, we have to define success. And here’s the definition I’ve ever been able to find: Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. If a man is working toward a pre-determined goal and knows where he’s going, that man is a success. If he’s not doing that, he’s a failure. Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.
“Rolo May, the distinguished psychiatrist wrote a wonderful book called Man’s Search for Himself. In this book, he says the opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice. It is conformity. And there you have the trouble today. It’s conformity – people acting like everyone else without knowing why, without knowing where they’re going.
“Now think of it. In America right now, there are over 40 million people 65 years of age and over, and about 30 million of this 40 million are broke. They’re dependent on someone else for life’s necessities.
“Now we learn to read by the time we’re seven. We learn to make a living by the time we’re 25. Usually, by that time, we’re not only making a living, we’re supporting a family. And yet, by the time we’re 65, we haven’t learned how to become financially independent in the richest land that has ever been known.
Conformity — the Enemy of Growth
“Why? We conform. The trouble is that we’re acting like the wrong percentage group – the 95% who don’t succeed.
“Now why do these people conform? Well, they don’t know really. These people believe that their lives are shaped by circumstances, by things that happen to them by exterior forces, they’re outer-directed people.
“A survey was made one time that covered a lot of men, working men, and these men were asked, ‘Why do you work?’ ‘Why do you get up in the morning?’ Nineteen out of 20 had no idea. If you ask them they will say, ‘Everyone goes to work in the morning,’ and that’s the reason they do it — because everyone else is doing it.
Success is Not an Accident
“Now, let’s get back to our definition of success. Who succeeds? The only man who succeeds is the man who is progressively realizing a worthy ideal. He is the man who says, ‘I am going to become this,’ and then begins to work towards that goal.
“I’ll tell you who the successful people are. The success is the school teacher who is teaching school because that’s what he wanted to do. The success is the woman who is a wife and mother because she wanted to become a wife and mother and is doing a good job of it. The success is the man who runs the corner gas station because that’s what he wanted to do. The success is the successful salesman who wants to become a top-notch salesman and grow and build with his organization.
“A success is anyone who is doing deliberately a pre-determined job because that’s what he decided to do deliberately. But only one out of 20 does that. That’s why today there isn’t really any competition unless we make it for ourselves.
“Instead of competing, all we have to do is create. Now, for 20 years, I looked for the key which would determine what would happen to a human being. Was there a key, I wanted to know, which would make the future a promise that we could foretell to a large extent? Was there a key that would guarantee a person’s becoming successful if he only knew about it and knew how to use it? Well, there is such a key. And I found it.
“Have you ever wondered why so many men work so hard and honestly without ever achieving anything in particular, and others don’t seem to work hard and yet seem to get everything? They have a magic touch. You’ve heard them say that about someone. ‘Everything he touches turns to gold.’ Have you ever noticed that a man who becomes successful tends to continue to become successful? And on the other hand, have you noticed how a man who’s a failure tends to continue to fail?
Goals Are Dreams with Deadlines
“Well, it’s because of goals. Some of us have them; some don’t. People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going. Now think of a ship leaving a harbor and think of it with a complete voyage mapped out and planned. The captain and crew know exactly where it’s going and how long it will take. It has a definite goal. 9,999 times out of 10,000 it will get to where it started out to get.
“Now let’s take another ship, just like the first, only let’s not put a crew on it, or a captain at the helm. Let’s give it no aiming point, no goal, and no destination. We just start the engines and let it go. I think you’ll agree with me that if it gets out of the harbor at all, it will either sink or wind up on some deserted beach, a derelict. It can’t go any place because it has no destination and no guidance.
“It’s the same with a human being. Take the salesman for example. There is no other person in the world today with the future of a good salesman. Selling is the world’s highest paid profession, if we’re good at it and if we know where we’re going. Every company needs top-notch salesmen, and they reward those men. The sky is the limit for them. But how many can you find?
“Someone once said the human race is fixed. Not to prevent the strong from winning, but to prevent the weak from losing. The American economy today can be likened to a convoy in time of war. The entire economy is slowed down to protect its weakest link, just as the convoy had to go at the speed that would permit its slowest vessel to remain in formation. That’s why it’s so easy to make a living today. It takes no particular brains or talent to make a living and support a family today. So we have a plateau of so-called security, if that’s what person is looking for. But we do have to decide how high above this plateau we want to aim for.
“Now let’s get back to the strangest secret in the world, the story that I wanted to tell you today: Why do men with goals succeed in life, and men without them fail?
“Well, let me tell you something which, if you really understand it, will alter your life immediately. If you understand completely what I’m going to tell you from this moment on, your life will never be the same again. You will suddenly find that good luck just seems to be attracted to you, the things you want just seem to fall in line, and from now on you won’t have the problems, the worries, the gnawing lump of anxiety that perhaps you’ve experienced before. Doubt, fear, well, they will be things of the past.
“Here is the key to success and the key to failure. We become what we think about.
Now let me say that again. We become what we think about.”
Thoughts and Experience
Everyone will hear different messages and lessons, based on your preconceived notions, influenced by parents, friends, school, culture, society and other factors. The key message I received from Nightingale was you have to first decide to be successful. So I wrote down personal and business goals and mapped out a plan, complete with specific deliverables and KPIs to hold myself accountable. Within weeks of listening to The Strangest Secret, it changed my life personally and professionally. And now I hope it changes yours.
The Original Version of The Strangest Secret
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