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Three weeks ago, a middle-class city kid from England met with a boy who grew up poor in a small town in Kentucky. Both of their mothers were elementary school teachers.

The Coventry lad was there to learn. The other boy (now 73) shared that his mother had raised him to believe he was the smartest kid in town – and he thought it. He was introduced to notice anything that reinforced this belief. The UK boy had a mother who also told him when he was little that he'd be a millionaire, but the challenges of life got the better of her, and she mainly was highly critical of her son, and he grew up fearing that most people were better than him in some way.

The Kentucky boy needed to decide whether to live on the streets and hitchhike around the world or become a college professor. He opted for b) and thought life was good enough. Then, by chance, he met someone widely respected as a leadership expert, and, seeking some variety in his life and curious about where it would lead, he decided to work for him.

One day his boss was accidentally double-booked for a one-day workshop, so this boy from Kentucky had to step in. This began a journey that led to him becoming named the “World's #1 Leadership Thinker” by Thinkers50 (a global survey sponsored by Harvard Business Review).

Here are five things I learned from three hours with Marshall Goldsmith at his home in Nashville.

1. Choose your self-concept and feed it

What self-concept are you instilling in yourself (and your children, for that matter)?

It was fascinating to hear Marshall Goldsmith tell me his life story earlier this month in his own words. I was so struck by our mothers' impact on us as young children. It's crazy to think that we can grow up believing whatever messages come from our parents without consciously realizing it – and that it can stick with us forever if we're not careful.

It also reinforces the idea that we can believe anything we want – from useless to empowering. So what is it you want to think about yourself?

Lesson: Choose your self-concept and feed it.

Want some free coaching like I got from him?
I remarked on not being good at something, and he said:

2. “Never label yourself in a way that doesn't serve you!”

It's one thing to read this in a book (or here), but to hear him jump on my comment was startling. And I'll tell you why: after decades of coaching Fortune 100 CEOs, his ear is innately trained to listen for ways we limit ourselves. It created such an adverse knee-jerk reaction from him; it jolted me to realize how damaging it is for us to do this to ourselves because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

From now on, when your self-talk labels you as “no good” at something, catch it and concede that you are merely making an excuse or telling yourself a story that doesn't have to be true.

Goldsmith uses a great one-liner in his latest book, The Earned Life: “Although I've been bad at x in the past, that was a previous me. I do not have an incurable defect that prevents me from improving.”

It reminded me of Stephen Covey's point: “Argue for your weakness, and it's yours.” I've read or heard that point many times, but it's proof that knowing isn't doing. It's valuable information if we do something with it!

3. Success is trying your best regardless of the result

My perspective shifted on ‘success' after three hours with him, and I'm unsure I can explain how. Since he's worked with so many people who have accomplished at the elite level, I was struck by how often he referenced luck or timing as a factor in some people's success (including his own) that few of them would ever admit themselves. Isn't it interesting that very few people who have achieved something big acknowledge that luck or privilege played a part? It's not socially acceptable, or our egos won't allow it. But it happens. We all like to convince ourselves that we earned our 100%.

As we walked around this gated community in Nashville, TN, filled with rock stars and movie stars' homes, I also heard unsavory stories about some well-known people and about problems they had that none of us would wish for. I was reminded that each of us has flaws. Nobody has everything figured out – Goldsmith shared his opinion that almost everyone has idiotic beliefs about the world. Yes, many people do things that warrant great respect, but putting people on pedestals is unwise – and I've made this mistake more than I'd care to say.

Goldsmith writes this in The Earned Life: “We place our heroes on pedestals too high to reach, rarely considering them as role models to copy.”

There are two points I'm making. First, I have a chapter in my new book, The 5 Habits to Mine Your Gold: “Define True Success and True Failure” for yourself so you are purpose-driven and not just blindly chasing money, power, or fame.

Second, you can do all the right things and still not necessarily get identical fame, fortune, and outcomes as another person. No one likes to talk about this. Goldsmith admits he can't help assure a specific result, which does not always include “a trophy ceremony.” Instead, his work aims to “help you try your best to reach a goal” – because all we can do is our best. This is the closest we can get to being the world's #1.

“The reward of living an earned life is being engaged in constantly earning such a life.”

Score yourself daily on a scale of 1-10: did I do my best?

4. Start closer to the top

I don't know about you, but I started a business at the bottom. I scavenged at the local Chamber of Commerce events and got heavily involved in BNI – and that's how I survived, so this was a great use of my time. Working your way up is not easy and can take a long time. Goldsmith was pretty lucky to have a chance to introduce himself to the global leadership expert who ultimately provided him with an opportunity in business. It also gave him an excellent, consistent income, allowing him to do unpaid work for many years with other leaders in the industry and philanthropic world.

Granted, many people would not have done such work for no pay for as long as he did. This enabled him to co-author books with some of them and, over time, collaborate on other, bigger projects. More doors got opened. These nationally known leaders endorsed his work and books.

How can you knock on some bigger doors and find a way to serve and build those relationships? It will make a huge difference in going to bigger places: who you spend time with is who you become.

5. If nobody knows about you, you can't help anyone, and your results will be poor

During my time with Marshall Goldsmith, he reminded me that we must ask for what we want and never stop marketing. I'm guessing that you are like me and wish everyone could tell that you are a good person trying to help people, but sadly, it doesn't work that way. Goldsmith told me he was “shocked” how hard he had to work on marketing his most recent book even though he had already had three New York Times bestsellers. It made no difference. He still had to get out there and shake a lot of trees.

I, too, wish it were otherwise! Unfortunately, none of us are going viral. Better get busy asking! Create a power habit of making a specific number of asks per week.

To become the world's #1!!!
Matt Anderson
Founder & President
Matt Anderson International
1177 Oak Ridge Drive, Glencoe, IL 60022, USA
Phone: +001 (312) 622-3121