Digging Deep Roots

“I have been listening to the roots of my life,” is what I said to Cyndi when I walked into our house. She smiled at me with that look she has whenever I say something like that. She’s used to it.

“I’ve been driving around in my pickup listening to some old lectures by Jim Rohn, and over and over I hear him say things that I first heard in 1983 that have imbedded into my life.  Even as I listen I am surprised. ‘Oh, that’s where I got that,’ I say to myself.”

I recently bought a set of CDs by Rohn from 1981. I wanted those, rather than newer talks, so I could reconnect with the same words and language that first moved me to action.

Jim Rohn entered my life when I was at a crossroad. I was 27 years old, married for four years with a three-year-old son and newborn daughter. I was working as an engineer for a major company in a first-level manager position. I could have easily leaned back in satisfaction with the path I was on: slightly-above-average work, slightly-above-average schedule, slightly-above-average TV every night, slightly-above-average performance, slightly-above-average parenting, slightly-above-average husband. I could have lived the next fifty years slightly-above-average happy, ticking the right boxes, checking the right list, clicking off milestones, living a life of substance if not significance.

That isn’t what happened. My friend Rickey loaned me a set of cassette tapes from a conference with Jim Rohn, and I listened and listened and listened. I took notes, and I took note.

In those days I heard a lot of motivational speakers, but none of them changed my life like Rohn. He was unusual in that he didn’t talk much about dreaming or visualizing, or whatever the mind of man can conceive he can achieve, or tapping the power within, or overcoming fears by walking on hot coals. Rohn used to say, “You cannot grow strong on mental candy.” His message was primarily about personal development and character. He taught me disciplines, practices, and habits that have stayed with me over thirty years.

Sometime in the mid-1990s my friend Bobby, who was instrumental in my twelve years in city government, told me, “You are not the same guy I first met ten years ago.” He was right. I had Jim Rohn to thank for that.

Here are some things I learned in 1983 that still inform my life today:

Don’t be a follower, be a student. When you hear a good idea, don’t accept it at face value. Dive in and study it, learn it, make it your own. Don’t be satisfied reading only one book on a topic, even if it’s a best-seller. It might not be the right book. Read two or three books to get a broader scope of the subject. Better yet, read four or five.

Set goals. Rohn said the greatest value in reaching goals is not the goal itself, but who you become to get it. I’ve set New Year’s Goals almost every year since then, and although I would guess my accomplishment rate is only about 30%, I’m a better man because of the efforts. Rohn said, “It’s true, you will arrive in ten years; the question is, where?”

Casual living breeds casualties. I learned to be deliberate with my plans, intentional with my actions.

Capture wisdom. Write it down. We think we will remember the important stuff, but that is a lie. We won’t remember anything we don’t write down. I started my first journal in 1983, and my first entry was a poem by Shel Silverstein. The journal is full of lecture notes, song lyrics, Bible verses, and personal observations, and it was only the first of many. I never would have seen the wisdom as it passed by, much less captured it, if I hadn’t learned the practice from Jim Rohn. He said, “You have to search for knowledge; rarely does a good idea interrupt you.”

Keep a reading list. I’ve been a reader since I was very young; entering the library reading club every summer during my elementary school years, but Jim Rohn turned me into a systematic and aggressive reader. He said, “How sad if a man spends his book money on donuts. Ten years later he is overweight and behind in his life.”

Rohn said the three treasures we should leave behind are: photographs, a well-used library, and our personal journals. Since 1983 I have been working hard to accumulate all three.

How about you? Who did you listen to? Who’s message changed the way you live?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32