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‘Little Old Me-ism’ and external validation seekers

Posted by John Reed on

I just heard Rush giving life advice. I heard no reason to believe he got it from me, but he said almost exactly two things that are big in my Succeeding book.

Succeeding book

One is my Little Old Me-ism principle: “Reject Little Old Me-ism. Substitute all they can say is no-ism instead.” You can see a YouTube of my telling about the first time that worked for me at It’s about my getting into West Point where, parenthetically, I became a classmate of Dan Limbaugh who is a close relative of Rush.

I suspect that if every old-enough boy in America who wanted to go to West Point in 1964 had applied, I and many of my West Point classmates probably would not have been admitted. But they did not. They succumbed to Little Old Me-ism—that is, they decided they would be rejected so they rejected themselves. In fact, many of them would not have been rejected. But they didn’t even try.

I thought I probably would not get in, but I decided, because of encouragement through his book The Power of Positive Thinking from Norman Vincent Peale, that I would give at least it my best shot. And I got in, and graduated, which was not a given at West Point just because you got in.

A great deal of the rest of my life resulted from my repeating that “don’t reject yourself” policy in all sorts of realms.

‘The System’

They had no girls at West Point then and few nearby or near the various Army bases where we were stationed after graduation. So a classmate and I invented what we called “The System.” There is a chapter about it in Succeeding.

Basically, we figured out who was the most attractive girl within 60 minutes drive of our apartment, then invited her to lunch. No “Little Old Me isn’t cool or good-looking enough to date her.” Rather, our attitude and plan was all she can say is no and if she did, we would just extend the same invitation to the second-most attractive girl within 60 minutes drive, and so on. Ultimately, about half the girls we invited among those who had not gotten married or moved away said yes to our invitation—to our great surprise. And get this—beautiful girls complained to us that it is hard for them to get men to ask them out because of—you guessed—Little Old Me-ism—the guys were all too sure that either such a beautiful girl is already taken or that, if not, she would never agree to go out with Little Old Them.

Thus did we meet beauty queens ranging from Miss Podunk to a first runner-up for Miss America Bowl queens, stewardesses (they were essentially beauty queens back then), NFL cheerleaders, models, and girls who later became TV and movie stars.

I married a woman I met through The System. We met in November 1972, married in May 1975, celebrated our 40th anniversary in May 2015, have three sons, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson. I am considering putting a photo of that family on the cover of the next edition of Succeeding, in contrast to the dollar signs or luxury items often put on success book covers. 

During our engagement, I again rejected Little Old Me-ism. I applied to the MBA program at Harvard Business School. I was not as sure that I would not get in as when I applied to West Point at age 17. But when I went to Princeton to take the test for Harvard Business, one of hundreds of test sites around the world that day, I found I was assigned to an auditorium for people whose last name started with M to R. It was packed. I thought, “I’m screwed. Every single one of those people is applying to Harvard.” Then, when the exam started, I noticed a guy who had something like 20 sharpened # 2 pencils. I only had two. Another guy had acoustic earmuffs. I felt like an amateur.

But I got admitted to Harvard Business after all. While we were there as newlyweds, my wife, who previously assumed little old her would not get into Harvard Business, figured what the heck, I’ll give it a shot. And she was admitted into the class behind me and we both graduated in 1977 and 1978.

I could go on with regard to my writing career in the same vein. One would think there would be better qualified people than I to write books like mine, but—after getting a West Point appointment, dates with zillions of beautiful girls, a Harvard MBA, and other similar things—I long ago stopped assuming those invisible superstar guys would beat me out.

You should do the same. Don’t reject yourself. If you want to do something, give it your best shot. All they can say is no. Don’t surrender without firing a shot. Half of life is showing up, or more precisely, attempting the various things you dream of doing.

Begging for anointments, promotions, awards

The other thing Rush discussed is my denunciation of people who spend their lives going hat in hand to beg commissions or boards or bosses to anoint them or promote or award them. The contrast between such people and guys like me and Rush is stark. I call them external validation seekers. They play well with others. You can see the contrast in high relief if you look at the resume of an external validation seeker and compare it to the bio of a self-propelled person.

The self-propelled guys like me or Rush or, to a large extent, Trump, list books written, net worth, buildings owned or built, number of radio listeners, number of TV viewers, etc. in our bios. The external-validation guys list on their resumes positions held within organizations (VP, SVP, EVP, CEO, professor), subjective awards received e.g., (the Emmies John Stossel got before he became a libertarian), the boards or commissions on which they sit (anointing others).

‘Who appointed you?’

There’s another telling manifestation of the two groups which makes me chuckle. When the external-validation guys clash with the self-propelled, the former often hurl the accusation that I or Rush or Trump are “self-appointed.” “Yes, we are, but don’t you really mean self-anointed?” Or they demand to know “Who appointed you…?” Generally, the precise answer to that is we self-propelled people nominated ourselves and my readers, Rush’s listeners, and Trump’s customers made the “appointment.” Our success is generally measured by objective, large numbers of “judges” or events like sales, Nielsen ratings, public-opinion polls or by private accomplishment like creating something that is useful and important.

As Rush said, the external-validation seekers have a profoundly, deeply held notion that all career success is determined by the anointers above and that any self-propelled success is somehow cheating or invalid. The external validation seekers seek the blessing of the “great and glorious Oz.” We, the self-propelled, seek to BE the great and glorious OZ as long as OUR Great and Glorious OZ is the real thing, not some phony hiding behind a curtain.

I love what George Bernard Shaw said about these two groups of people: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

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