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Wednesday, April 24, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

Partly because my undergraduate degree is in psychology, partly because I'm a classic Type A personality and partly because I'm a want-to-know-it-all Aries, I've always had an interest in self-help books - or at least that was the case back when I had full-time jobs and always looking at the next rung up on the career ladder. Zig Ziglar, Steven R. Covey, John Maxwell, Ken Blanchard and their ilk always had a place on my bookshelves.

And once, I read one by Stedman Graham, chairman and CEO  of S. Graham & Associates perhaps more universally known as Oprah Winfrey's significant other. In fact, he's penned something like 10 books including this one. Although I'm far less inclined to read books like this now that I'm mostly retired and my legs are a bit too old to try that ladder, I enjoyed the one I read so many years ago, and this one sounded like a good bet as well (and it didn't hurt that I was able to snag the Kindle version free at Amazon).

Actually, there's another reason for my interest in self-help books: For several years, I conducted what I'd call motivational/employee development workshops, and I was always looking for tidbits I could use in an attempt to get folks to become "internal" thinkers - taking charge of their own lives instead of wasting away blaming everyone else for their problems. "There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree," was one of my favorites (from Ziglar, if I recall correctly). "You can go out and climb it or sit on an acorn and wait for it to grow."

Graham's latest book emphasizes that same theme; it's your life, and if you want to get anywhere (however you choose to define "anywhere"), you've got to take charge of yourself. As such, he's developed a Nine-Step Success Process - sort of a variation on the "Conceive, Believe, Achieve" espoused by another biggie in the motivational market, Napoleon Hill.

And therein lies one of the first truths about motivation: There's nothing really new in the world or on the horizon. The difference between any two of these well-known speakers and writers is mostly in the packaging: You might say each has developed an "identity." In this book, Graham encourages readers to do the same - and that's not a bad thing.

The whole thing is put together concisely and well; each chapter offers insights from Graham as well as success stories from well-known people who have made it big, like the late Steve Jobs and Sen. John McCain. The core idea, Graham says, is this: "Your happiness and success in life flow from becoming clear about who you are and establishing your authentic identity - first inside yourself and then externally in the world."

Or, put another way, "I've learned that, for the most part, extraordinary people are simply ordinary people doing extraordinary things that matter to them." 

The point of this book, then, is to show you how to stop thinking of yourself as a victim of your circumstances and become "extraordinary," starting with becoming self-aware. In that regard, it is a bit reminiscent of Pastor Rick Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life.

The nine steps, for the record, are appropriately titled for a journey, such as "Develop Your Travel Plan" and "Master the Rules of the Road." But as you might expect, the devil is in the details;  success stories of Graham and others round out each chapter and are followed at the end with questions to answer that will help you uncover, with the goal of eventually living, your true "identity."

If nothing else, if you walk Graham's talk, you'll learn a lot about yourself. And that's not a bad thing, either.

Identity: Your Passport to Success by Stedman Graham (FT Press February 2012); 222 pp.

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