Building Yourself

A Unique Step-By-Step Guide to Living a Successful Life

By Elliot Essman

Some Excerpts

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These segments are short excepts from the ten chapters and hundred individual sections of BUILDING YOURSELF. Copyright © 1994 Elliot Essman, All Rights Reserved.


Chapter One: Savvy
From Section 1.04: Question Authority

You were born with the right to question authority; you have the duty to do so. We've seen how difficult it is to think freely in our present environment. If you free your thinking process from the many dark forces that seek to cloud it, you're the one who can and should question authority. When you yourself arrive at a position of authority, expect to have your own authority questioned.

Questioning authority is a positive act; it's not rebellion. It's not even non-conformism. Both these reactions to authority are wasteful. They're damaging side roads that take you away from the real issues in life. A truly successful person avoids the trap of rebellion, but still questions authority.

Authority in all its manifestations has to be dealt with as a reality. Rebellion doesn't make it go away. The rebel, by refusing to play the game at all, doesn't get very far. Better to question authority, stand up to it on equal terms, and learn the hard reality of playing the game to win. Too often, rebellion is reaction,. not well-thought-out action.

Non-conformism for the sake of non-conformism is not only useless, it's silly. A person with a high self-regard needs neither to conform nor to refuse to conform. He or she maintains a well-evolved sense of independence regardless of the outward trappings of conformity: the clothes you wear, the furnishing in your home, the car you drive, the profession you follow, the people with whom you associate.


Chapter Two: Sweat
From Section 2.04" The Magic Word--"ASK"

It's time to get very specific about doing things for yourself. To get ahead in life, to build yourself, to develop your talents, to bring others to your point of view, to get anything that you want, you must first ask someone for it.

Imagine (if you're not one already) that you're a teenager. You need twenty dollars and the keys to the car for tonight. Do you think your parents are going to anticipate this need?

No one thinks with your brain. No one anticipates your needs and desires. You must ask. And ask again.

The Ask Equation has several important elements. First, you must know what you're asking for. Your goals must be clear. Second, you must know yourself. You must have a clear idea of how you'll act and react if you don't get what you're asking for. Third, you must understand the perspective and needs of the person being asked. How will what you're asking for benefit that person? How will you motivate that person to say "yes?" Fourth, and most important, you must articulate what you're asking for so the other person understands what you want. Finally, you need to find the right forum for the act of asking, the right time, mood and place.


Chapter Three: Skills
From Section 3.05: Public Speaking

Surveys consistently find that people are more afraid of speaking in front of an audience than nearly anything else--including death, snakes and audits by the Internal Revenue Service. As someone who lives daily with a fear of not having an audience, I have always had difficulty understanding why people are afraid to speak up. I have had numerous occasions to coach and counsel people who are just starting out in speaking before groups. Doing hand-holding with someone with sweaty palms can be messy.

There are many theories as to why this fear is so pervasive, but they don't really matter. All fears keep you back, but the fear of public speaking keeps you back from one of the most enriching areas of personal growth available to you. There is something magical about addressing a group, getting your point across. Thoughts come together in your mind. You leave the platform with more energy than when you stepped up to it. Public speaking is achievement.

Another key fact to remember is this: for a small effort, you take giant steps in personal growth. When you learn to speak you break through barrier after barrier. You move away from those comfort zones. You do something difficult that has immediate reward. You hone your communication skills at the highest level. Many complex personal and interpersonal areas interact when you speak. Even if the career you choose will never put you in front of an audience, the ability to speak will positively affect every other area of your life.

Jump into public speaking as soon as you can. Within a few months, perhaps even at your first exposure to the new world of speaking in front of groups, you'll begin to understand just what I mean when I tell you that public speaking is a non-stop, straight ahead express route to accelerated success.


Chapter Four: Sources
From Section 4.02: Ask for What You're Worth

So your time is precious. Since you're a person of ability, it's extra precious. It's natural that you want to be rewarded for the value of the time you spend. But how much? You may have come to believe that society has set rules about how much it will pay for various types of work: carpenters get this, accountants receive that. To an extent, there are certain ranges of value. But the return on effort you may now expect is based on the average human being. You have above average skills. You ask for what you're worth. Whether you sell a product, charge professional fees, or work for someone else, you stand tall and ask for as high a return as you can get. This doesn't mean that you ask for outrageously high amounts. What it does mean is that you always push the high end of the accepted range. It will take some experience for you to figure out what the range is, and how much you can stretch it. Do your homework on this.

I've been in business more than ten years, and every time I raise my hourly rate, I kick myself that I didn't raise it sooner. The work I do is top notch. Others in my business charge much less, some half as much. But my clients know they can depend on me. The work I do is exceptional, and I am out there to help them make money every step of the way. I am above average and I expect above average compensation. After so many years, I've learned to ask for it.

Yes, you may be rejected. You may not get the job or client. But do you really want the client or employer who is so small minded that they aren't willing to pay top dollar for excellence? Do you really want that client or employer who can easily pay you all you're worth, but who likes or needs to play ego and negotiation games with the price?


Chapter Five: Save
From Section 5.03: Compund Your Income

Saving your money and letting it compound is not one of my original ideas. Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the first world-famous American celebrity, believed wholeheartedly in thrift. As we've discussed, you must cure yourself of habits that lead to waste. To add to this, learn to put money aside and let it grow for you. Start early in life and keep at it. Saving means putting aside and keeping it there. Put saving into your monthly budget just like any other expense: so much for rent, so much for food, so much for transportation, so much for saving. Put money into tax-deferred accounts of course, but when you reach the limits of these, save in regular accounts. No matter what your budget, put aside something regularly. Keep at it and never stop.

And the money will grow. It will pay you back for your discipline and spending restraint many times over. The money--especially the tax deferred money--will double and redouble. Of course, you can't just let it sit in the bank. You have to pay attention to how you invest it. But without the habit of putting money aside, all the investing skill in the world won't do you any good.

The very simplicity of the concept of putting aside is difficult for some people to handle. It seems to be something that dull, uninteresting people do--people who don't know how to enjoy themselves. But it's not that at all. A "nest egg" gives you freedom against the bumps and shocks of life. It allows you to take prudent risks. As far as retirement accounts go, you can expect to be retired longer than you can expect to work. Life expectancy keeps increasing. The economic world becomes more and more unstable. The basic Benjamin Franklin advice about saving is even more true now than it was in the past when things didn't move so fast.

No--saving is not easy. Seductive ways to spend your money push at you from all sides. But, remember, you think for yourself. Do you really want to spend your creative sweat on all those shiny things they want to sell you?


Chapter Six: Spouse
From Section 6.01: The High Cost of Experience

Practice does make perfect. For a person intelligent enough to learn, a bad marriage should bring on the skills and perspective to create a good one. But at what cost?

Marriages take a great deal of emotional energy. If the two people are in tune, that emotional energy can grow in a positive way. But if you're closeted with someone who pulls you in a direction you don't want to go in, you'll be spending all your time and energy just trying to get back to square one. The physical closeness you share will often mask your essential incompatibility. Every negative human emotion will come into play until one or both of you has the courage to realize that you made a mistake.

There is nothing more emotionally damaging to the human psyche than to see hopes and expectations dashed. To watch helplessly as love flickers and dies, despite all those cute things you said to each other. What makes marital disappointment much worse is our wishful thinking. Because of it, we often lie to ourselves.

It's a shame that we have to dwell on bad marriages, but the numbers don't lie. In any given year in the United States, the number of divorces amounts to about half the number of marriages. Out of the half who don't get divorced, a sizable number are miserable together. Just look at the statistics on spouse abuse. I am not against marriage- -I am very happily married myself. But for a person who wants to be a success in life, who wants to achieve things, marriage should be treated very carefully. You see rosy marriages on television and in movies. Even other couples, who may be desperately unhappy, may appear to be lost in eternal love for each other. You find out differently only when they stop speaking to each other.

Marriage is fraught with peril. It's an area in which it's very costly to learn by experience. Imbed that in your mind before reading any further.


Chapter Seven: Society
From Section 7.04: Society Conditions Thought

In Chapter One on "Savvy," we covered the difficult task of thinking for yourself. Why is thinking for yourself so tough? All it seems to require is finding a quiet moment to sift the evidence and reflect.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a quiet moment to reflect. We're constantly bombarded by outside thought control. Whole professions and industries are dedicated to the molding our thought and behavior. If you take these professions and industries apart you find regular people like you and me. None of these people are out there to commit evil acts. But neither are lions, tigers or sharks. The big cats will kill you and eat you without any trace of malice. The thought controllers will sap your ability to think without any bad intentions. In both cases, however, the possible harm is grievous. Arm yourself well.

Who are today's controllers? Advertising, the media, the makers and molders of public opinion. None of us will ever be totally free of thought control, unless we live in isolation. The advertising professionals have even carefully isolated people who are resistant to the mass-culture group appeal of conventional advertising. After finding that these people don't like to be considered part of the main group, the ad people, having analyzed every nuance of their behavior, have geared a certain new variety of manipulative, "go your own way" advertising to them.

Let's look at just one of the many examples of thought conditioning in society: the question of what we eat every day. Diet and nutritional fads come and go. A major diet book will come out. A doctor will make pronouncements about what foods are healthy and unhealthy, which foods will make you lose weight. The media will ignore the lack of long term scientific evidence; they'll fill space with the doctor's pronouncements because they know people will read what they write. At the time of this writing, the grand culprit is supposed to be fat in the diet. Now it's probably a sensible idea to watch the intake of certain kinds of fat, but the public isn't satisfied with that. Millions of people now feel they can gobble down anything as long as it is low in fat. Unhealthy products filled with chemicals and sweeteners succeed because they label themselves as "light," "no-fat" or "low-cholesterol."

As any responsible nutritionist or doctor will tell you, sensible, balanced eating habits along with a sensible level of exercise is the best course. But this kind of advice rarely makes a media splash. It takes work to change old ways and maintain lifelong health habits. Many people have done this. But writing about it doesn't sell many newspapers or get you on the best seller list.

Beneath the bust of Mark Twain in the Hall of Fame is a wonderful inscription: "Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul." It wouldn't do you harm to write this short sentence down on an index card and tape it to your refrigerator, so it can impress itself into your brain. Society conditions thought. It's up to you to uncondition it and to keep your thinking process healthy.


Chapter Eight: Strange
From Section 8.00: Strange is Perspective

You've kept an open mind, so far. Good, so far. But this chapter is where keeping an open mind really pays off. To build yourself to the maximum, to get the most out of yourself, you must cross the great hurdle of "Strange." What we're talking about here is how you react when you're confronted with the strange, the different, the new.

You inhabit only a small corner of the world. In your life you'll meet but a minuscule percentage of the earth's people. Most of the people on this earth are foreigners. Most people differ from you in some fundamental way. Don't feel threatened by the people. They offer you a fabulous richness.

Viewing someone or something as strange is purely your choice. It reflects your attitude. It's something you have total control over, something you can change if you want to. How you handle the different, the strange, the new will often tell how you handle life itself. You only have one chance to go through life. Better to do it with your mind open.


Chapter Nine: Strength
From Section 9.09: Pleasure

Pleasure isn't everything. Pleasure isn't nothing. You need pleasure in your life, but if you're obsessed with finding pleasure--well, that doesn't seem too pleasant to me. If pleasure becomes the norm rather than the exception, it feels less pleasurable. Pleasurable things can also generate obsessions and addictions: whether it's gourmet food, heroin or sex. Pleasure seeking can become more important (and more time- consuming) than the pleasures themselves.

There is a sensible way to approach pleasure. What pleases one person may not please another. Me--I like a nice day off during which I can write without the phone ringing every ten minutes. I like to take a nice walk down by the river. I like to listen to music. I like to attend art lectures. I like to cook and eat fine foods. I study foreign languages for the joy of it.

Pleasure is a matter of personal temperament and personal taste. What most truly successful people do have in common is their balanced approach to pleasure. They work hard and enjoy their leisure time without feeling guilty about it. On the other hand, they know that an obsession with pleasure is not good for them--it's not even truly pleasurable. Their approach to both work and leisure is mature, evolved, developed. And many of them find great pleasure in doing their work well.

We live in a world of sound bites and instant gratification. But instant gratification doesn't gratify for very long. It leaves your deeper needs unmet. On the other hand, you can't live a full life if you feel guilty about pleasure. Guilt is useless.

People and institutions may try to prevent you from seeking pleasure. They're only important if you let them be important. Shrug them off rather than resenting them. Rebelling against them by obsessive pleasure seeking is also playing by their rules. You should play by your own rules. And these rules tell you that you do what is good for you, finding a reasonable balance, based on your needs, and respecting the needs of others.


Chapter Ten: Select
From Section 10.06: Beware the Helpless

The weak suck on the strong all over this world. People who are perfectly able to work live on and perpetuate welfare, then cry for the rich to "get off our backs." In the cities of the United States grown men who don't even have enough imagination to peddle hats on the street hold out their own hats for money--and guilty people who work hard give it to them. Immense governmental and political systems are created and administered to "protect" the weak from the strong, which usually means cutting into every scrap of spontaneous human energy and reining it in. People who can't or won't think, envy those who can and do.

Unless you're a political reformer, you can't change the nauseating way in which government and the social system suck on people of ability and manipulate people of integrity. But on a lower level, you can fend off the weak in their incessant campaign to take wealth that doesn't rightfully belong to them. For example, there is the friend or relative who "doesn't have much money." As if the amount of money either of you has depended on some mystical force up in the sky. Our present economic climate and social setup is so flexible, so dynamic, that there is simply no excuse for anyone of intelligence not to have money. Plain and simple: that person doesn't have money because he or she is too weak or lazy to go out and get it. The dedicated artist or poet who must make a tradeoff between art and money is very rare. Most people of ability who don't have money lack that magic substance because of self indulgence or because they need to fail.

The achiever might have money to spare and may lack the true perspective to realize how damaging it is to give money to the weak without receiving something in exchange. That money could so much better be used to allow the achiever to earn more, to achieve more, to take more risks. That's the only way the economy moves or creates jobs. People who get money for nothing, whether they're rich playboys or welfare-dependents, don't often show or even feel gratitude. The opposite--contempt--is usually true.

Charity--private charity not funded by taxation--has a definite place in the scheme of things. But the traditional charities have usually stuck to the notion that giving out money is a temporary fix, meant to get able people on their feet. That's not the way it works when the government redistributes your money to people who in no way deserve it. That's not the way it works when you subsidize your poor friends or relatives or give them valuable services for nothing. The weak person is dependent. Like a heroin addict, every "fix" makes the addiction worse. You can't win this game.


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