Fan Mail

Why I find it so embarrassing.

Every once in a while, I get an e-mail message that’s clearly categorizable as fan mail. The messages are usually the same in tone: “I can’t believe how much you’ve accomplished! I try to do some of the things you do and can’t manage to succeed. How do you do it?” The only thing they don’t say is “You’re my idol,” but if you read between the lines sometimes, it’s there.

I’m embarrassed by all this.

I’m a pretty normal person from a pretty average background. Lower middle class parents, not much money in the family. I got my first jobs at age 13: paper route, babysitting, fence painting. Because there weren’t too many things handed to me, I quickly learned that if I wanted something, I had to work to get it. So I did.

(Personally, I think this is why America is doomed. With so many parents handing out things to their kids, kids don’t build healthy work ethics. They’re lazy and unmotivated, concerned more with what they’re wearing than what they’re learning, and someday they’ll be running this country. Hopefully, I’ll be dead by then. But I digress.)

I think the only thing that sets me apart from other people is that I’m driven. I see something I want to achieve and I do what I can to achieve it. I work hard almost all the time. As I finish one project, achieve one goal, I’m thinking of the next.

Back in college, I took a management course where they discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the top of the pyramid is Self Actualization, the need that must be filled after all others are filled. The trouble is, if you fulfill the need for self actualization, there’s nothing left. So to remain happy, self actualization must always be growing and changing, like a moving target. That’s the way I understood it back in my late teens. And I think that’s what drives me to this day — the need to always have something different to reach for and achieve. I think you can say that I live for challenges.

But are my achievements that incredible? I don’t think so. I admit that I’m fortunate in that I have a good brain and decent health (although the health thing has been a bit questionable lately), but there’s nothing special about me. I’m not a genius. I don’t live on four hours of sleep a night (I wish!). I’m not rich. I just make the most of what life’s dealt me.

People marvel at my achievements as a writer. I’ve written 60+ books and hundreds of articles since 1992. Do you think that’s because I’m the world’s greatest writer? Of course not! It’s because writers generally don’t make much money, so if you want to earn a living as a writer, you have to produce an awful lot. I learned how to work with editors and publishers to deliver what they wanted when they wanted it. My mind has the ability to take a task and break it down into its most basic steps — this is natural to me and I don’t know why. My writing skills make it easy to communicate the steps of a task to readers — my writing skills come from years of reading and writing. I don’t let ego get in the way of delivering what my editors want. By reliably producing year after year, I got into a position where I didn’t have to look for work anymore. It looked for me. I kept producing. And I still keep producing.

People think it’s incredible that I fly a helicopter. It’s not that incredible. It took me a year and a half of part-time lessons, driving 180 miles round trip each lesson day and thousands of dollars, to build my flight time and to get my private helicopter license. That’s not an achievement — it’s perseverance and the willingness to throw large sums of money at what I thought would be a hobby. If I’d quit doing my other work for a while, I could have completed that training in three months. But you’re not independently wealthy or supported by someone with deep pockets, you have to work before you can play. And, for the record, just about anyone can learn to fly. Helicopters aren’t harder to fly than airplanes, either; they’re just different. Anyone who says they’re harder to learn is using that as an excuse for not really trying. Unfortunately, they are more expensive to learn. And that’s usually the stumbling block that stops people from learning.

You want to achieve something? Go out and do it! Stop making excuses, stop procrastinating, and for God’s sake, stop watching crap on television — the eternal time-waster. Only when you dedicate yourself to your goal, fitting each task of its achievement into your regular work and family schedule, can you make it happen.

If you keep at it, the achievement of one goal will surely lead to the next.

And please, stop embarrassing me with fan mail.

What do you think?