"Goals are not absolutely necessary to motivate us. They are essential to really keep us alive." —Robert Schuller
Robert H. Schuller was a force. When he died recently at 88 years of age, I felt as though I had lost a friend. Although I never shook his hand, his influence in my life was profound.
His leadership journey really took a huge step forward in 1955 when he began a church in a drive-in movie theater in Garden Grove, California. His congregation eventually grew into a megachurch which later built the Crystal Cathedral, the world's largest glass building at that time.
In 1970, Schuller launched his television program, The Hour of Power. At its height, he was seen in 187 countries of the world with a weekly audience of over 20 million people. You could hardly watch television on a Sunday without seeing him in his blue doctoral robes preaching words of encouragement and challenge.
Schuller's life message was often described as a "Theology of Self-Esteem" and he was not without his critics. By his own admission he was enormously influenced by Norman Vincent Peale whose wildly successful book The Power of Positive Thinking had made a huge impact on his life. Many of the themes from Peale's book wove their way into Schuller's messages.
I return, though, to the impact he had on my life. I was raised on a dairy farm outside Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The early direction of my life was to follow in the footsteps of my father. When I was in Cornwall High School I joined the FFA (Future Farmers of America) because that is what I was going to do.
But when at 15 years of age my father died, my values in life turned upside down and I began to sense a divine calling into the ministry. And though I went to college to prepare for the ministry, I suffered from enormous insecurity. In fact, I think I may have had what professionals today call a social phobia. Doing anything in public was painful but public speaking was literally torturous. Yet I still felt this calling for public ministry.
Right about that time my grandmother introduced me to the writings of Norman Vincent Peale and also Robert H. Schuller. It was Schuller's book Move Ahead with Possibility Thinking (1967) which literally helped transform my life. Through that book and others like it my entire approach to leadership was revolutionized. Even today I feel a measure of insecurity with public speaking and I still have a tendency to over-prepare but I don't know what would have ever happened to me had it not been for that wonderful man in his flowing blue robe who wrote a book for which I will always be grateful.
Many people criticized Schuller over the years and that sometimes happens to preachers who preach motivational messages. I can understand that, but I always try to eat the chicken and spit out the bones. Like Zig Ziglar said, "People often tell me that motivation doesn't last, and I tell them that bathing doesn't either. That's why I recommend it daily."
Here are a few of my favorite Schuller quotes: "Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation. The only place where your dream becomes impossible is in your thinking. Tough times never last but tough people do. Always look at what you have left; never look at what you have lost."
Words like those and these keep on inspiring me: "If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been. Turn your scars into stars. Problems are not stop signs; they are guidelines. Press on. Obstacles are seldom the same size tomorrow as they are today."
Perspectives like these help us transform the familiar ad "Just do it" into "Just did it."
Think about it.
Don Meyer, Ph.D. is the president of the University of Valley Forge in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.
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