Recently, Chris Locurto was interviewing me for Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership podcast, and he asked me a question I had never been asked before: “What would you tell 21-year-old Rory if you could go back in time?"
It took me only a moment to respond, “I wish I would've really grasped the concept and importance of attitude.”
Spending five years working in the Southwestern Advantage summer program selling books door-to-door when I was in college was one of the most enriching and amazing experiences of my life — because I was able to make more than $200,000 in those summers, sure — but more importantly because they constantly promoted attitude.
Getting to meet and be mentored by the late Zig Ziglar and his family taught me a lot about attitude. And lots of speakers and books I had come across talked about the importance of attitude. But attitude never fully made sense in my head until I met a Jamaican cab driver.
A few years ago, my wife and I were traveling to Jamaica for a vacation. In my mind, I had pictured lying out in the warm sun, sleeping on the soft beach and looking out over crystal-blue waters. When we landed, however, it was in a torrential downpour of rain! Being that I’m somewhat of a motivational speaker for a living, you’d think I would’ve had a better attitude about it, but I’m sorry to say that my nega-tude (short for negative attitude — because when I’m upset I don’t have the patience to say both words in their entirety) got the best of me, and I wasn’t very happy.
Leaving the airport, our cab driver was a big, tall Jamaican man — and I was being somewhat flippant. I whined, “Geez, cabby, what is the deal with all this rain? This is supposed to be Jamaica, the land of sunshine! Is it going to rain all week? Seriously, what is with all the rain!”
He looked back at me slowly, smiled and with a thick island accent said, “In Jamaica, man, we don’t have rain, we only have liquid sunshine, man.” That’s when it finally hit me: Attitude is simply the way you choose to see things.
Attitude is a choice. You can choose to see it as rain or you can choose to see it as “liquid sunshine.” What we do not get a choice of, however, is whether or not the drops fall from the sky — and that is the part that many of us get confused.
At 21 years old, I didn’t understand that attitude was a choice that was separate from my situation. Instead, my attitude fluctuated with my circumstances. When things were going well — whether at school, knocking on doors, or socially — I had a good attitude. But when things got tough, my attitude got worse. I didn’t realize that because attitude is a choice, that it is independent of what is going on around me, and that at any moment I can choose to have a great attitude.
Because I didn’t realize that attitude is a choice, I also wasn’t aware that I was in control of it, so I’d allow my attitude to wander in whatever direction it felt like going. The danger about our thinking though, is that when we aren’t thinking about our thinking, our thinking starts to think on it’s own.
Today, I now know that if I’m not consciously choosing a good attitude, I am almost always unconsciously choosing a negative one — but I didn’t then. Back then, attitude just seemed like a fluffy, abstract concept, not a pragmatic skill that could be learned and developed.
In fact, when I look back at my time at Southwestern Advantage, I realize that the true value of that experience was much less about the money I earned and much more about the attitude I learned. Going through difficult and intense situations (and for me selling books was quite challenging at times) forces us to learn how to control our attitude.
While we never enjoy difficult circumstances as they are occurring, they give us a chance to sharpen our skill in choosing a good attitude. And developing the skill of choosing a good attitude in difficult situations is far more important in determining the likelihood of your success than any other skill you’ll ever learn.
Now, as our team consults, coaches and speaks to companies all over the world, we know that attitude is one of the primary things that employers and customers pay attention to in who they decide to do business with. It makes perfect sense because when it comes to doing business, if I can’t appreciate your attitude, then I can’t value your opinion.
As it turns out, attitude is one of our most important choices we make in life. And not choosing an attitude is a choice in and of itself. I wish I would’ve known back then.
Rory Vaden is co-founder of Southwestern Consulting, self-discipline strategist and speaker and New York Times best-selling author of “Take the Stairs.”