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Jim Rohn is someone whom many consider America’s foremost business philosopher. He’s been sharing his success philosophies and principles for over 40 years, with over 6,000 audiences and over four million people worldwide. Jim is the recipient of the coveted CPAE Award for Excellence in Speaking, as well as the 2004 recipient of the Masters of Influence Award from the National Speakers Association.

He’s authored over 25 books, audio and video programs, and he’s been hailed as one of the most influential thinkers of our time. Jim has helped to motivate and train an entire generation of personal development trainers, as well as hundreds of executives from America’s top corporations.

He’s been described as everything from a master motivator by Mark Victor Hansen; a national treasure by Vic Conant; one of the most profound thinkers and mind-expanding individuals of our time by Les Brown; one of the most articulate, powerful, thought-provoking speakers ever seen by Harvey Mackay; an extraordinary being and mentor by Anthony Robbins; a modern-day Will Rogers by Tom Hopkins; to a true legend by Nido Qubein.

This interview is conducted by Chris Widener who has written over 350 articles and five books, and has produced close to 30 audio programs. His best-known book The Angel Inside is a best-seller, and his programs on leadership and motivation have inspired thousands and thousands of people.

Chris Widener: You’ve been at the top of your field, the speaking business, but also in the businesses you run and own, for four decades. You’ve inspired and motivated many of the leading teachers and authors in the world today. In fact, I was at the event when you won the 2004 Masters of Influence Award at the National Speakers Association.

I remember, very distinctly, they asked, How many of you would say you’ve been significantly influenced by Jim Rohn’s teachings over the years? In a room filled with about 2,500 people, nearly two-thirds of the room raised their hands. That was such a testament to the teachings you’ve given and which are now being further taken out into the world by so many professional speakers.

You obviously are one of the great leaders of our generation. As we talk about passions, we’d like to ask what role your own passions, the things which are most important in your life, played in getting you to where you are today, as a leader in this field?

Jim Rohn: Well, it started a long time ago with my parents. I grew up in Southwest Idaho, where I still have the old family farm overlooking the Snake River, where I make a little wine, grow a few crops, live the good life. They were an incredibly important influence in my life.

The spirit to do well, the spirit for accomplishment – those strong feelings to excel, to learn, to grow, to change – really started there with my mother and father. They laid an incredible foundation of spirituality. The teachings that they shared with me, along with my early schooling, I guess, really laid the foundation.

Chris Widener: People talk about being money-motivated, or some are driven to achieve fame or accomplishment. What were some of those things, early on in your life, where you said, This is something I’m passionate about and I want to achieve?

Jim Rohn: Early on in school, it was sports and music. I played a little basketball and football-all those things really inspired me. I wanted to be the best of the best. Sports can do that-it captures your attention with team play as well as personal achievement. A lot of that started with my parents, my early schooling. I really enjoyed high school. I only went to one and a half years of college.

I made the foolish decision after one and a half years: I’m smart enough to get a job. How much smarter do I need to be? So with that rather limited intelligence, I quit school and got a job, a little while later, got married, and started my family. Like the normal, average American family, we worked hard to try to make the best and to make things go.

Chris Widener: Tell us how your career started. You’ve had a couple careers and they segue together, so how did this whole thing take place 40 or 45 years ago?

Jim Rohn: It was actually 50 years ago, in 1955. I’m working hard and things just aren’t all coming together. Once in a while, a creditor calls, saying, You told us the check was in the mail, I’m embarrassed by that, I want to do much better. Then I think the climax of it all was when I was at home alone one day and heard a knock on the door.

I went to the door and there was a little Girl Scout, selling Girl Scout cookies. She put the big story on me-best organization for girls in the world, we’ve got these cookies for sale, only $2.00. With a big smile, she very politely asked me to buy. No problem, I wanted to buy. Big problem: I didn’t have $2.00 in my pocket.

I didn’t want to tell her that. I’m a grown man, I live in America, I’ve been to one year of college, I’ve got a little family going. I thought, next best, I lied to her. I said, Look, we’ve already bought lots of Girl Scout cookies. We’ve still got plenty in the house we haven’t eaten yet.

She said, That’s wonderful. Thank you very much, and she walks away. When she leaves, I say to myself, I don’t want to live like this anymore. I mean, how low can you get – lying to a Girl Scout? That’s about as low as it gets. I promised myself that day, I would start a never-ending search until I found opportunity and people to help me grow, change and develop.

That experience radically changed my life. I called it the day that turns your life around-when something happens and you say, I don’t want to live anymore with just pennies in my pocket and nothing in the bank, embarrassed by my situation. I was always willing to work hard and I was a pretty nice guy, but that doesn’t always do it.

Sure enough, at age 25, I found this extraordinary mentor. He invited me to go to work for him. I spent the next six years in his employ, and he was the one who got me started on personal development, developing skills and disciplines, and all those good things that changed my life. Six years after I met him, I was a millionaire, but that was just the money part of it.

The greatest part of that six-year journey was the personal development; the changes I made in my concepts, my philosophies, the disciplines I picked up, the skills I learned-managing time, managing money. All those things were, for me, during that six years, an accelerated program that just literally made an incredible impact on my life.

I made my first fortune, and where would you move if you made your first fortune, if you were raised in the farm country of Idaho? To where I live now, in Beverly Hills. I get to Beverly Hills, and one of my friends said, Why don’t you come to my service club? (He belonged to the Rotary.)

I think they’d love to hear your story: how does an Idaho farm boy make it to Beverly Hills? If I arrange this luncheon meeting, would you come and make a little presentation? I said, Sure, so I went and made this talk for about 30 minutes. Evidently, they liked it because by the time the day was finished, I had two or three more calls, saying, You’ve got to come and tell our club that story.

That started me on a whole brand-new adventure, which was telling my story, sharing ideas that might help others by using my own experience. That started about 45 years ago.

Chris Widener: You’re still going strong. In fact, in 2004, how many countries did you go to?

Jim Rohn: Probably 25. I just finished a tour of seven countries in 21 days, and I just celebrated birthday number 75.

Chris Widener: Finishing strong? You’re still going, you’re not even ready to finish. You just keep on going.

Jim Rohn: I’ve got a long ways to go. My father lived to be 93, so I’m trying to break his record.

Chris Widener: There are speakers half your age who didn’t do seven countries in 21 days.

Jim Rohn: Thanks to my mom, who was a health fanatic. In fact, she extended her life about 10 years, maybe 20, by studying and practicing all the good health stuff. I was an only child. Some of the stuff she mixed up for my father and I was pretty hard to take. She used to say, If this doesn’t kill us, I think it’ll help, and we’re gagging down all this stuff. That early training on taking care of myself, good nutrition, has really helped me develop a good, strong constitution and my current ability to travel the world and tell my story.

Chris Widener: You mentioned your mentor, Mr. Shoaf. Obviously, you’ve shared so many Shoaf-isms over the years, but what are one or two that really stuck out as the pivotal ones for you, that turned your life around and set you on the course for fulfilling your passion?

Jim Rohn: One of the big ones that I’ve taught in Russia over the past 10 or 12 years… I’ve made about six trips to Russia, teaching capitalism. The one that made my fortune, he said, Profits are better than wages. Wages make you a living, which is fine. Profits can make you a fortune, which is super fine. That one changed my life.

Then the big one, I think, he said, The greatest value in life is not what you get. The greatest value in life is what you become. That was one of the big ones. Then he always attached it to economics. As a young man, I’m 25 years old, he said, Why don’t you set a goal to become a millionaire? This is America, all things are possible here.

He said, Set a goal to become a millionaire, then he added this, and it was life-changing for me, For what it will make of you to achieve it. I had never heard it put like that before. Then he said, Once you’ve made your million, you can give it away because the greatest value is not what you get, but what you become, but set those goals that really help to utilize all of your energy, power and direction, zeroing in, focus, and attention.

See not only what you can accomplish, but in the striving for accomplishment, see what you can get out of it in terms of personal development: learning skills, becoming a person of dignity and power, influence, wealthy, a person who gives and shares. I went for that. I thought it was just a unique way of putting a simple philosophy that for me, turned out to be incredibly unique.

Chris Widener: There is the old saying, In this life, you will have troubles, and of course you’ve been so successful. I think sometimes people can look at a person like Jim Rohn and say, Oh, he’s so great, successful, wealthy and has it all. What they fail to see about people like you, who are such high achievers and so successful, are all the hard obstacles that everybody has to go through.

What have been some of the obstacles or challenges, over the course of your career, that you had to face and overcome, and how did you do it?

Jim Rohn: Part of it was-I became rich early, which was like 31-and then it all went away. As a young man starts saying this when he goes shopping and he’s looking at a piece of clothing, How many colors does it come in? I’ll take them all, he’s not going to have his money very long.

I started making unwise decisions. One, especially, in economics. A company wanted to borrow a quarter of a million dollars, which back then was a huge amount of money. The bank said, We’d be happy to loan the company the money if Mr. Rohn will sign personally. No problem. These were friends of mine. I knew they could pay it all back, so I signed.
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Sure enough, they paid all the money back. Then I happened to leave the area and they went back to the bank a little later, borrowed that quarter of a million again, and I heard about it. I said, Well, I hope the bank doesn’t call me, because this time I won’t sign, because I know they’re not going to make it.

Sure enough, they don’t make it, but I get this letter from the bank saying, Dear Mr. Rohn, since we have your personal guarantee, and the company now cannot perform, would you send us this quarter of a million dollars? I said, Hey, there’s been some mistake. I did sign the first note. When they went back to borrow again, I never got a letter, they never called me. I never signed the second note, so it’s a mistake, thank you very much.

What I didn’t realize was, and they pointed out, that originally I signed a continuing guarantee, so now I know what the word continuing means. In fact, I know how much it costs per letter. Anyway, that was flying high and then falling out of the sky and starting back again. I made it all back in much less time than I did the first time and I’ve made my share of fortunes since then.

That’s one of them-to lose it all. It wasn’t all that much, but it was all I had-that’s when it’s that much. Fortune reverses, you can get in over your head. I’ve made some decisions that I thought were going to work out and they overwhelmed me.

Let’s say you put a football under your arm and we followed you out to the nearest football stadium and you walk across the goal line. Would we cheer and call it a touchdown? The answer is no. It’s not a touchdown, Chris, until you’ve faced the 300-pounders who want to smash your face in the turf, and if you can muscle by them and dance by the secondary and cross the goal line with the football under your arm, now we all cheer, call it a touchdown and maybe you won the championship.

Not without the contest. In the beginning of the beginning, one writer said it was God and Satan, God and Lucifer who created this great drama. Lucifer went for God’s throne, didn’t make it, took a third of the angels with him, they didn’t make it, got thrown out. It’s called the highest drama of all. In this contest here on Earth, it seems that is the drama.

It’s to minimize the dangers, minimize the negative, maximize the positive, so that within this struggle, within this hard work, that’s what the six days are for out of the seven, to work on this struggle – to gain good health, to gain success over failure, to gain life over death. Death seems to want to move in prematurely and if you want to live a long time, you’ve got to push back, do your exercises.

I’ve got to do it all to stay healthy at 75 and travel the world. I’ve got to go through all the stuff you can possibly imagine. Then there’s that little voice I heard this morning that said, You don’t have to do your exercises this morning. You’re running a little bit late. You can make up for it tomorrow.

One more time, I had to resist this little voice on the negative side and fall on the floor and do the crunches and the push ups, and then the jogging and the fast walk and all the rest of it-and then paying attention to my diet every bit of the day today. Unless you do that, you’re going to lose ground. Illness is going to encroach unless you work on your health plan.

That’s the key. Fortunately, we’ve got everything good working for us if we work with it. In your blood stream, there are red corpuscles to nourish like a mother and white corpuscles to fight and kill like a father. White corpuscles say, It’s my job to keep you alive and fight infection and kill it every time I see it. We say, Thank you very much! Then the red corpuscles, like a mother, nourish and give life, so that struggle goes on whether it’s in your blood stream or in life.

I’m teaching capitalism in Russia. They were dominated all their lives, except the last 15 (years), by communism and their philosophy. The communists said capital belongs to the state and not the people. We’ve been saying capital belongs to the people, not the state. The communists taught that people are too dumb and stupid to know what to do with capital.

You’ve got to take it away from all the people, give it to the state and let the state run everything. It was an evil society; not the people, but the government. Now they’re learning that if you invest time and money as capital in an enterprise that brings value to the marketplace, you can change your life, and change the life of those around you.

There’s another one that Shoaf said. Formal education gets you a job. Self education gets you rich. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s it. I didn’t have all that much formal education. He said you can make up for that swiftly by engaging now in what we call self education. Learn as you go, at every seminar, take notes. Do your best to learn in an accelerated manner and you can change your life forever.

Then I learned a valuable lesson from Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. He said, Going to the moon is just a couple of simple problems to solve. I thought that was interesting. He said, Problem number one-how to get there, then he said, Problem number two-how to get back. I thought that made good sense.

Then he said, The wise thing to do is to understand not to leave until you’ve solved both problems. I’m an entrepreneur primarily. I didn’t start out to be a speaker until I came back to Beverly Hills and they started asking me to make these talks.

That started it all, so I’m primarily an entrepreneur, but in those early days, before I learned this lesson, I figured out how to get in, got in too fast and hadn’t figured out how to get out. I’ve had my share of those, all the way from building homes to raising crops to you-name-it. That’s really my life, being an entrepreneur.

As you know, I’ve enjoyed this career since it started back there 45 years ago, sharing ideas that make such an incredible difference in peoples’ lives. One of the greatest returns for me, as well as fortune (that, of course, aside), is an experience all of us can have, but I’ve enjoyed it so much all these years. It’s when your name appears in somebody’s testimonial.

I guess that became a passion of mine. When someone says, Here’s the person who’s found me. Here’s the person who got me started. Here’s the person who wouldn’t let me quit. Here’s the person who gave me more reasons for staying than for leaving. Here’s the person who believed in me until I could believe in myself, and then they mention your name.

As you know, Chris, there isn’t a much better feeling because you can’t buy it with money. It’s something you have to earn by sharing your life experience and seeing what it can do for another human being.

Chris Widener: I can testify to how many people look at you that way because I’ll be out and about, doing my business and I’ll mention that you and I have done some things together and they always give testimonial to you.

Jim Rohn: Also, part of it, in the things we do, whether it’s sharing an idea from the podium or in books, tapes or videos, is a chance to have a bit of immortality after we’re gone. I’ve got this vision of someone, after I’m gone, up in the attic of an old home, going through a box of old, dusty books, and there’s one of my books.

Sure enough, they dust it off, they read it and maybe use it as a guideline to teach others. After I’m gone, the words I said that got printed or recorded may benefit someone, I’m sure, on and on for years to come. Someone once said, An idea never dies. Even after you’re gone, it lives on. One person tells 10, those 10 tell 1,000, so no telling how many people can be directly and indirectly influenced if you just take the time to share.

You don’t have to give lectures and seminars for it to happen. If you recommended a book to someone you cared about, on a Tuesday morning at Denny’s, years later, someone might say to that person, Wow, you’ve got some success going. When did it all start?

They say, Strange you should ask. A few years ago, on a Tuesday morning, I was having breakfast at Denny’s with this friend of mine. He recommended this book and said it really benefited his life. I got the book, that started me on a brand new journey and here’s part of the reason for all of this success today.

It’s not like you have to give big seminars or talk to 1,000 people to affect somebody’s life. Just pass along something valuable at breakfast at Denny’s on a Tuesday morning.

This cover story is an abridged version of the full 1-hour plus interview
with Jim Rohn conducted in front of a live Tele-Audience.

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