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Dr. Ben Carson, who served as Surgeon General of the US as well as running for President in the 2016 Republican primaries, came from a challenging background. He was raised by a single mother in a poor neighborhood. While working multiple jobs to raise her family, his mom insisted that he and his two siblings read books. Her formula was three TV shows and two books each week.

Dr. Carson credits his mom’s insistence on reading as a fundamental foundation for the academic and other success he has achieved during his private and public service life. Dr. Carson’s difficult background and his struggles to grow up and do something meaningful with his life are detailed in his well-known biography, Gifted Hands.

Like all truly successful people, Dr. Carson’s success is not measured by his economic wealth or the number of toys and houses he has accumulated during his lifetime. Rather, his success and satisfaction with his life is a function of the impact that he has had on the world around him. In his autobiography, he shares an acronym that commemorates the core elements that enabled him to achieve extraordinary success.

His acronym is THINK BIG. The list of beliefs and activities that he acknowledges with his success formula has something for each of us. Here is a list of what each letter stands for and the place each played in Carson’s life. As you go through the list, pick two or three that will help you to reach your potential. I have also added my commentary to each item to help make the list more practical.

  • T is for both talent and time. Carson suggests that we recognize each of these as gifts. This perspective indicates that they are things we have that we don’t deserve. The idea of gifts also portrays that they are something good that has happened to us and that we should value them.
    • Talent is critical to success. The fact is that we are unlikely to achieve real success in any profession or area where we have not been given talent. On the positive side, as soon as we learn what our talents are, we will have a good start toward achievement.
    • For example, Dr. Carson learned in his teens that he had excellent fine-motor skills. As he progressed on his path to becoming a physician, recognition of these skills led him to become a surgeon.
    • Time may be the most sought after gift of all. Many, many extremely successful and rich people through history have taken radical and bizarre actions to have more time. Our culture’s obsession with youth and trying to look young even when we are not is an example of how much we value time. Use your time well for it is one gift that is in limited supply for everyone.
  • H is for hope for good things and for being honest. Hope is critical to help us through the difficult times. Growing up in the inner city of Detroit with a single mom and two siblings was difficult for Dr. Carson. Hope is what propelled him to strive to achieve even when the despair of the ghetto threatened to overtake him.
    • Without hope we will soon cease to strive for success. We will become discouraged and fall into a life of not trying, failure, and apathy. Hope is a difficult thing to find and to hang on to. Some people find hope in their spiritual beliefs. Others find hope in their own way. But to have a happy and successful life, you must have hope.
    • Honesty is an old fashioned trait that is in short supply in modern culture. Because we live in an era of spin and fancy words, people of integrity who deal straight with others and whose word can be trusted stand out. They will be valued and excel over the long haul. Untrustworthy people may rise up for a while but ultimately their lack of integrity will destroy them and the world around them.
  • I is for insight from people and good books. The key here is learning from other people and from books. As noted above, much of Carson’s academic success can be attributed to his mother’s requirement that he read two books each week.
    • If you read one book a month on any subject for two years, you will have knowledge that is the equivalent of a master’s degree after two years. I wonder why our marketplaces have not yet realized that a person who has self-educated themselves in a particular field likely has more ability and drive than the person with a college degree or a master’s degree in the same field.
    • Learning from people is a shortcut to increased knowledge. This is particularly true in that learning from mentors and experts often allows us to apply knowledge more quickly. Seek out people that you can learn from.
  • N is for being nice to all people.
    • Not much needs to be said here. Mean or arrogant people may succeed financially and politically for a period of time. However, eventually they will destroy their relationships with friends and family. Over the long haul, their success is likely to be impaired due to the fact that talented people will not work for them. They will end up with an organization full of unhappy marginal performers who keep working for them only because they can’t get a job elsewhere.
  • K is for knowledge and Dr. Carson believes it is the key to living.
    • When we talk about knowledge, we tend to think only of academic knowledge. However, I believe, as does Dr. Carson, that the key is to become a lifelong learner. Our formal education, as valuable as it is, teaches us how to think and how to find the information we need to grow during our adult lives. The true goal of education should be that we learn how to gain knowledge for the rest of our life. If we do not continue to learn after we leave school, we will soon become a modern dinosaur.
  • B is for books and Dr. Carson says to read them actively. Books are an essential part of continuing to learn and grow throughout your life.
    • Read all kinds of book. Read biographies and history. Read philosophy and self-help books. Read about current events and about the future. But also read fiction. You will learn from all of these.
  • I is for in-depth learning skills. Dr. Carson says you need to develop them and then keeping refining them.
    • Twenty years ago most adults could barely do email on a computer. Now most of us access the internet on the phone. Last night during dinner, my wife, who struggled with doing email fifteen years ago, used her phone to look up information about 1970s rock stars as we discussed Carly Simon and James Taylor. Her progress with being able to use the internet and a smart phone is an example of developing skills and then refining them.
  • G, for Dr. Carson, is for God. Dr. Carson states that everyone has their own beliefs. His question is, when you THINK BIG, what does the “G” stand for in your life?
    • Everyone’s spiritual journey is unique and extremely important. For Dr. Carson and many others, G stands for God. Most people who have a belief in God will say that their beliefs about God give them a great deal of hope. Other people’s spirituality is founded on different beliefs. However, history clearly shows that most really successful people have a strong spiritual component to their lives. Their beliefs are a core part of them living a successful life.

Again, I want to remind you to consider picking two or three of these to help you to reach your potential. Go ahead and THINK BIG!
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