I WAS REMINISCING with two of our executives on the high estimate I placed on myself in earlier life ; in my twenties. I was a very important individual in my own eyes then, I mused. You have no idea how far I've skidded backward since then.
They laughed. Well, exclaimed one, I wish you'd give us the formula of how to go backward like that!
Reflecting on this bit of banter later, I decided seriously it would be profitable to write that formula for all our readers. For it is the formula for the only kind of success that is real and satisfying and lasting.
For as long as I was important in my own eyes, I was actually of no more importance than a paper bag filled with air. True, I was ambitious. I worked hard, studied hard, drove myself on relentlessly to achieve what I then viewed as SUCCESS. But actually, as I know now, it was a striving after wind ; pure vanity ; a swelled-up self-exaltation that was like a toy balloon that will burst when pricked with a pin.
The skidding backward began with the flash depression of 1920, which sent numerous big corporations, among which were my main customers, to the wall. It was a national flash catastrophe over which I had no control. It left me, by 1922, a deflated, near-frustrated young man of 30. But not for long. I said: I'll bound back. You can't keep a good man down.
Self-confidence returned. I began developing another business.
But by 1926, just when my new advertising business was beginning to accelerate, another nationwide occurrence, not of my making ; or even my knowledge, at the time ; wiped out that business.
Once again the SELF was deflated. The ego was punctured. I took a new look at myself. And what I now saw was pretty humiliating. I called myself a burned-out hunk of junk. I felt unworthy to be cast onto a junk pile. At this point a soul-jarring experience and a new self-apprais al resulted in a total about-face. A jolt changed the direction of my life.
Events and experiences of earlier years now played their part in shaping a new life from this point on. The inflated ego and self-assured ambition had been aroused at age 16. But as far back as memory extends I had a passion for UNDERSTANDING.
I have written elsewhere of the experience, when 22, as the idea man for the editorial department of the country's largest trade journal. In continual travel throughout the United States, I was assigned not only to search out successful sales ideas and business management techniques, but also seek out the reasons for the success of the few, and the failure of the many.
On this assignment I pioneered in making surveys, based on the law-of-average principle, sampling public opinion, attitudes, consumer buying habits, facts about life ; about failure and success ; about mental states of happiness or depression, about life itself as people lived it.
Now as I reflected back, I realized that the most successful people I had interviewed were the least happy. Bank accounts were full but lives were empty. Now, having taken the count twice as a result of nationwide occurrences not of my making ; now reduced to actual economic poverty ; it became clear at last that, truly, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
This whole world, it became painfully clear, was operating on the GET philosophy. The philosophy of I love ME, and I care nothing about you. The way of competition, strife, taking, acquiring, amassing ; of being served rather than serving. Actually, in economic poverty I found rest from the nerve-shattering driving, striving after that which NEVER SATISFIED when acquired! I began to see that LOVE is not spelled 1-u-s-t but rather is pointed in the opposite direction ; LOVE is an outgoing concern for the one loved.
It became crystal clear that there are two overall philosophies or WAYS of life. One is the SELF-centered way. It is simply VANITY. It loves self only (which, as I had learned from a text on advertising psychology, includes that which you call YOURS ; your wife and family, your club, your political party, your football team, your country in time of war). It includes not only love and greed toward SELF, but envy, jealousy and even hatred toward others.
I could see why so many marriages break up ; or, at least, are unhappy. One confuses falling in love with the sex attraction that stimulates DESIRE ; toward SELF. And when one does not GET what is wanted from the mate, resentment sets in.
The mate is no longer part of one's empirical SELF. Resentment turns to bitterness, and bitterness to HATE.
Happiness is a funny thing ; or is it? The more you GIVE, the more you HAVE. But the more you try to TAKE, the more miserable you become.
It became clear. One WAY of life is the SELF way ; the incoming way ; the GETTING way. The OPPOSITE WAY is the selfless way ; the way of humility, getting rid of the SELF (which is your biggest enemy), the way of GIVING, serving, sharing.
In the summer of 1933 we were, living in Oregon. I planned a series of lectures in and near Eugene, Ore., to share this BASIC KNOWLEDGE of this right WAY OF LIFE with others. I was without money. But a man with whom I had come in contact, believing in this WAY, happened to be a member of a country school board. He offered me the use of a one-room country schoolhouse eight miles west of Eugene. There was no rent. I walked out over the countryside, inviting neighbors to come to the series of lectures. There were only 35 seats, but attendance averaged 36 ; an average of one standing.
That was a very small group of people, but the response was electric. Some of those lives became happier!
A little later an invitation came to lecture over radio. The response was entirely unexpected. There was then only one station in Eugene, KORE, owned by Frank Hill. He called me into his office, handed me a handful of letters. He suggested I plan a regular half-hour program ; offering to contribute substantially by reducing the cost below cost of operation. The price was $3 per half hour. That was the start of The World Tomorrow program. It could not have started smaller. The station then broadcast on only 100 watts. But it was a NEW KIND OF EDUCATION.
Education as organized in this world is restricted primarily to the physical sciences, technologies and the professions ; teaching how to earn a living, but not HOW TO LIVE. I saw the need of this broader kind of education IN THE HOME. Without any request from me, radio listeners volunteered to become contributors.
That was the start. As new co-workers volunteered to join with me, other radio stations were added. Growth was small. But I never would solicit contributions over the air. The radio program started on the air the first week in 1934. I managed to put together a homemade magazine called The Plain Truth, printed on a borrowed mimeograph, ready by Feb. 1. This was offered, free, to radio listeners.
Little by little it grew. In 1947 Ambassador College was opened in Pasadena ; with four students and a faculty of eight. It was a new type of campus education. We not only began teaching students how to earn a living ; but also HOW TO LIVE.
And now, after another nearly 34 years, I look back on a life that has been filled with happiness ; because it has been devoted to SHARING this WAY to REAL SUCCESS with, first, about three dozen, then hundreds, then thousands and today into the HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people.
From that high estimate I placed on myself during my late teens and twenties, seeking STATUS and a recognition of IMPORTANCE, I skidded backward;all the way DOWN to self-abasement in economic poverty. In financial poverty I found THE WAY to true SUCCESS. I learned that setting one's heart on money, material possessions or status only brings a CURSE. Financial success is seldom true success, because it is sought for its own sake.
There is a CAUSE for every effect. TRUE success may, and perhaps usually should, include financial success. Money is power, but usually it is used to CAUSE curses, not blessings and happiness. Money is good or evil depending on how it is used. If money is the end you seek, it will wreck you in the end. Self-centeredness, self-seeking ; the GETTING, grasping way of vanity, jealousy, envy and greed ; is a CAUSE that always produces a most UNHAPPY effect.
To HUMBLE the self, to be little in your own eyes, to be honestly and sincerely concerned for others ; to get on the GIVING, helping, serving, sharing way ; that is the WAY OF LIFE that CAUSES real success!
To have the SELF brought down to that junk pile was a painful experience. But not for long. Yes, I'm glad I skidded backward from self-esteem, ego and vanity and self-seeking.
By Herbert W. Armstrong