I remember my first sales job out of college. It was working for a company that sold investments – limited and general partnerships – to high net worth individuals around the country. My job was to make 150 cold calls a day, identify prospects, and then send out a brochure that I would follow up on a few days later to pitch and try to close. It was hard going, lots of resistance and lots of hang ups. Frankly, I wasn’t very good at it. Soon I began to long for the care-free days of college life.
One thing that always intrigued me, though, was that out of an office of 25 sales reps, there were always three top producers who seemed to easily make triple to quadruple the amount of sales that I was making. At the end of each month, these were the same reps who won the bonuses, and at the end of each quarter, they were the ones winning the trips, and making the president’s club. They were the ones who drove the Porches and Mercedes, and they were the ones who were buying nice houses. As I watched them easily excel at the same work I was doing, I wondered what I was missing. I began to ask myself whether I had what it took to perform like that.
The answer to that question began with a different question that was about to change my life. It was asked by my boss, who was a very forward thinking man, constantly on the lookout for tools, training, and technologies that would allow himself, and his company, to succeed. He had found a program that he was using in his own life to set personal goals and to help grow his company, and he decided he would mentor me and share this information with me. Each day, we got together in the mornings and he taught me the system that was not only changing his life, but that would change mine as well. And he started by asking me this question:
“Mike, can you run a marathon?”
I didn’t need to think about that because the answer was clearly “No.” I had a lot of evidence to back that up. Ever since I was a kid, I was never very athletic. I didn’t participate in team sports in school, and in P.E., I was the last kid picked on any team. I still remember the horrors of Junior High School when we were all forced to run four laps around the field. Four! After the first one I wanted to die, and by the third, I didn’t care if I got an F – I was through. I grew to dread P.E. more than any other class. So my answer was easy and clear: “No, I can’t.”
I can still remember the sly smile that crept over my boss’s face as he told me something that was forever to change the way I viewed my life and my ability to do things. He said, “Mike, you actually ‘can’ run a marathon – if you choose to – because ‘can’ actually refers to your ability to do something, your potential and capacity to do it, not whether you are doing it now.” That made no sense to me, so he explained.
He told me that I had the ability to run a marathon because of all the people, who are far worse off than I am physically, who run marathons now. He told me stories people who were born without feet and without legs who nonetheless train for and run marathons. He told me people with physical disabilities like M.S., and people who have had heart transplants, and people who are in their nineties and yet run marathons. He challenged me to do some research (and there are plenty of examples on the Internet right now), and to learn more about people with far less potential than I, that nonetheless had made decisions to train and now regularly run marathons. And then he said something that caused my first shift.
He said: “Mike, even though you may not run marathons now, what’s important for you to acknowledge is that, if you choose to, you can run a marathon. In fact, if I offered you a million dollars cash if you completed a marathon six months from now, could you do it?”
“Absolutely!” was my immediate response. When I looked at it that way, I realized that if I was going to be given one million dollars in six months for completing a marathon, I’d stop off at the nearest running store on the way home from work, and I’d buy the best shoes, work out pants, etc., and I’d start with jogging around the block that very night. In six months, I’d be ready and I would definitely complete a marathon. No problem. Maybe not at the best time, but I would!
And that’s when he explained this concept again. He told me that I have a lot more ability and potential than I use. And the word ‘can’ is just a measure of that untapped ability – and a measure of my attitude towards it. He told me that I should begin shifting my awareness and opening up to the true potential in my life. And he said that it would all start if I began answering any “Can you?” question with an immediate Yes. Because again, “can you” simply asks whether you have the ability or potential to do something, not whether you are doing it now.
My sister, for example, likes to play the game of Mahjong. Once I was over her house and one of her friends asked me if I could play Mahjong and, to my sister’s surprise, I said Yes! The friend than said they needed another player and invited me to sit down with them. And that’s when I said, “I can, but I haven’t learned how yet…”
They looked at me oddly, and I explained: “I can play Mahjong – in other words, I have the ability to play the game – but I haven’t learned how yet. But I ‘can’!” And that’s when another little shift occurred for me. I then told them that I had chosen not to learn because I wasn’t into games like that. But I could, if I wanted to. That change of awareness was huge for me because it gave me the power to acknowledge my true potential – to look beyond the limits I had set on myself – and it gave me the power of choice over my life.
My boss then explained the concept of potential to me. He said that we all have much more potential than we’re using. He defined potential as the sum of our natural ability – which we all have a lot of, though different amounts in different ways – and our training and knowledge. Another component to using or maximizing our potential, and one that many people think as the regulator or driver of potential, is our level of desire or motivation. We’ll examine these other components in a moment, but for right now, it’s important to recognize that we all have vast amounts of potential and ability that we don’t use.
And one of the big reasons we don’t use it is because of the beliefs and words we use. The “I cant’s” which simply aren’t true and that severely limit our natural ability and our – what some would say unlimited – potential. And these self-imposed limitations also limit our results in each and every area of our lives.
After we went through this first lesson, my boss asked me whether or not I had what it took to be a top producer at his company. As I waivered and began coming up with excuses for why I couldn’t, he quickly asked me, “If these other reps can do it, can you – if you choose to do it – can you become a top sales rep, too?”
He was asking if I had the ability to do it if I decided to. I immediately realized that I did. In fact, I made up my mind right then and developed the mantra, “If they can do it, I can do it better.” And in that instant, I decided I was going to outwork, outlearn, and do any and everything I needed to to become a top producer at that company. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was committed to learning how.
My boss told me we would next examine that second component of potential – training and knowledge – and that I might be surprised by what I’d learn. I couldn’t wait. In the meantime, he gave me a challenge that I’ll give to you. He told me to start examining all the areas in my life where I had more ability than I was using. He challenged me to shift my thoughts from, “Oh, I can’t do that,” to “I could if I choose to.” He told me to begin measuring the difference this made in my attitude towards my life and the potential I had to make my life the way I might dream for it to be. He asked me:
“Can you speak French?”
“Can you live at the beach?”
“Can you have the ideal relationship?”
“Can you make as much money as you’d like to make?”
“Can you achieve the goals that truly inspire your heart?”
And on and on. This was an interesting exercise because it put me face to face with my limiting and negative attitudes, my self-image, and my old habits of thinking which, I was to learn, were the keys to either releasing or suppressing my ability and potential. I was to learn that I had many, many limits on my ability that were mostly self-imposed and unconsciously held, put there through previous conditioning and false beliefs.
I was to find that my success in using more of my potential, and achieving and enjoying a more fulfilling life, would be determined by how effective I was in transcending these limitations and developing empowering beliefs which would be more in alignment with the ability and potential I truly had.
And I would like to challenge you today to begin examining the “can’s and “can’ts’ in your own life. In fact, begin making a list of what you believe you can and can’t do and start asking yourself a different question: “If you choose to, what can you do in your life?”
Make a list this week of the things you’d really like to do, the things you’ve dreamed about doing, and the things you’ve been afraid of even attempting. And then ask yourself, “Can you” do them? And listen carefully to your automatic, internal response.
Then shift your thoughts and your question to, “Do you have the ability and potential to do them, if you choose to?” If you’re honest, you’ll see your entire life begin to open up for you. And with this first shift in your awareness, and in this process, that can and will change your life for the better.
It is the first step in releasing the enormous and untapped potential you truly have.