“True Success” by Thomas V. Morris

M Y FRIEND DON considered himself a musician. He played the tambourine in Junior high school and, by my recollection, wasn’t very good. He also thought of himself as a singer, but he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. Years passed, and we lost touch. I went to college and graduate school, becoming a philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame. Don nurtured his dream of becoming a singer-songwriter and moved to Nashville.

Once there, Don made the most of limited resources. He bought a used car and slept in it. He took a job working nights, so he could visit record companies during the day. He learned to play guitar. As the years passed, he kept writing songs, practic-ing and knocking on doors. One day I got a call from a friend who also knew Don. “Listen to this,” he said, then held the phone close to his speakers. I heard a good song playing. Good singer. “That’s Don,” my friend said. “Capitol Records. It’s on the country charts. Can you believe it?” I couldn’t believe it. A song Don had written and recorded. He had made it.

The next time I was home, another friend asked if I had heard that Kenny Rogers had recorded one of Don’s songs. “The Gambler” was the title song for one of the best-selling country-music albums of the time. Don Schlitz has since had 23 No. 1 songs. As a result of his focused concentration, the teen-age dreamer became a success. What Don did almost intuitively is based on principles I’ve discovered in reading the world’s great literature on human excellence and personal success. I’ve found five basic conditions we need to satisfy to launch ourselves into a life of true success.


THE QUEST FOR SUCCESS always begins with a target. As baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once said, “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.” Too many people wander through life like sleepwalkers. Each day they follow familiar routines, never asking, “What am I doing with my life?” And they don’t know what they’re doing because they lack goals.

Goal-setting is a focusing of the will to move in a certain direction. Begin with a clear conception of what you want. Write down your goals and date them—putting them into words clarifies them. Rather than concentrating on objects to acquire and possess, focus on fulfilling your desires to do, to produce, to contribute--- goal- setting that yields the true sense of satisfaction we all need. It’s important to visualize yourself accomplishing your goal. While losers visualize the penalties of failure, winners visualize the rewards of success. I’ve seen it among athletes, entrepreneurs and public speakers. I’ve done it myself. I was terrified of air travel. Friends quoted statistics contrasting air and highway safety, but it made no difference. I had read too many articles describing crash scenes and imagined these

scenes vividly. I had programmed myself, without realizing it, to stay off planes.

Then one summer I had the opportunity to fly on a private plane with friends to a resort. I didn’t want to miss out on a great vacation. So I spent two weeks imagining a smooth flight on a beautiful sunny day and an easy landing.    When the day arrived, I was eager to go. To everyone’s surprise, I got on the plane and flew. I loved every minute of it, and I still use the techniques I employed that day.


Mv FATHER was 17 when he left the farm in Cameron, N. C., and set off for Baltimore to apply for a job at the Martin Aircraft Company. When asked what he wanted to do, he said, “Everything.”

He explained that his goal was to learn every job in the factory. He’d like to go to a department and find out what was done there. When the supervisor determined his work was as good as anyone else’s, he’d want to go to a different department and start over. The personnel people agreed to this unusual request, and by the time H. T. Morris was 20, he’d made his way through the huge factory and was working in experimental design for a fantastic salary. Whenever he went to a new department, he looked for the guys who had been around forever. These were the people novices usually avoided, afraid that next to them they’d look like the beginners they were. My father asked them every question he could think of. They liked this inquisitive young man and showed him shortcuts they had developed that no one else had ever asked about. These sages became his mentors. Whatever your goals, plan to network with those who know more than you. Model your efforts on theirs,

adjusting and improving as you go.


THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE between people who succeed and those who don’t is not usually talent but persistence. Many brilliant people give up. Who wants to run the risk of getting knocked down again and again? But highly successful people don’t quit. It’s often been said that they are just individuals who got up one more time than they fell down.

On my way to work one morning, I met Daniel E. Ruettiger, who is now a motivational speaker. “Rudy” had grown up in Joliet, Ill., listening to legends about Notre Dame and dreaming of one day playing football there. Friends told him he wasn’t a good enough student or athlete to be admitted. So he forfeited his dream and went to work in a power plant. Then a friend was killed in an accident at work. Stunned, Rudy suddenly realized that life is too short not to pursue your dreams.

In 1972, at the age of 23, he enrolled at Holy Cross Junior College in South Bend, Ind. He got good enough grades to transfer to Notre Dame, where he finally made the football squad as a member of the “scout team,” the players who help the varsity prepare for games. Rudy was living his dream, almost. But he wasn’t allowed to suit up for the games themselves. The next year, after Rudy requested it, the coach told Rudy he could put on his umform for the season’s final game. And there he sat, on the Notre Dame bench during the game. A student in the stands started yelling, “We want Rudy!” Soon others joined in. Finally, at the age of 27, with 27 seconds left to play, Rudy Ruettiger. was sent onto the field—and made the final tackle. His teammates carried him off in triumph.

When I met Rudy 17 years later, it was in the parking lot outside Notre. Dame stadium, where a camera crew was filming scenes for Rudy, a motion picture about his life. His story illustrates that there is no limit to where your dreams can take you.


WITHOUT a deep commitment it is difficult to pursue a dream. Great success requires risk—whether financial, social or physical. Always, emotional risk is involved. We can’t play it safe if we want to win in life. One year I had 29 football players in my introductory philosophy course. On the first exam 26 of them went down in flames. What was I going to do? I wanted them to learn, and I couldn’t just give them passing grades. So I formed a club for any student, athlete or non-athlete, who had made a grade of C or lower on any previous assignment. I called it “The Below C Level Club.” Our slogan was: “Keep your head above water. Come to the Below C Level Club on Thursday nights.”

More than 50 students showed up. Most of these were young men who were very successful on the field. Suddenly here they were confronted with a failure. It would have been easy for them to give up. But I cared about philosophy, and I cared about them. My enthusiasm and commitment were contagious. Those students began to study and understand.     The result? Those who had failed or had made a D on the first test got a C+ or B on the second. It was astonishing—and gratifying. 5 Review and renew your goals.


REREAD your list of goals now and then. If you decide one should be adjusted or replaced with a better or larger one, make corrections. And when you have achieved your goal or made a big step toward it, celebrate. It can be anything you enjoy—to mark the moment and rekindle and revise upward the vision.

But it shouldn’t end there. After a goal is reached, many people ease up. That’s why it’s possible for this year’s top sales agent to become next year’s has-been.   For many years I lived in an old house. Whenever I turned up the thermostat on a cold day, the ancient furnace had to work hard before the temperature reached the new setting. When the furnace got to the temperature I set, it stopped. It went no higher.

We humans tend to be like that too. We tend to go no higher than the goals we set for ourselves a long time ago. . That is why we should notch up our expectations. Go to the next level. Set new goals. NOW!  If life is leaving you out in the cold, do something about it. Turn up the heat. Strive. It’s worth it.


“TRUE SUCCESS; A New Philosophy Of Excellence.”

Copyright @ 1994 by: Thomas V. Morris


                      200 Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016

Appeared in READER’S DIGEST Magazine

                      March 1996, (pgs. 43-48)


Surgical and medical professionals have been on one another’s cases for so long their competition has been incorporated into an adage: “The surgeon does everything but doesn’t know anything; the medical man knows everything but doesn’t do anything; the psychiatrist doesn’t know or do anything; and the pathologist knows everything but it’s too late.”

                        —Wayne Miller, The Work of Human Hands (Random Home)

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