Don't Let Tradition Cage Your Ambition

Last week I attended a mastermind event hosted by my good friend and partner, Harvey Mackay (Author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive). The group is a fascinating collection of successful entrepreneurs from a diverse range of industries. We meet once a year to inspire and help each other.

Our speaker this year, the stratospherically successful 34-year-old Brendon Burchard (also a best-selling author), shared that he grew up in an economically depressed copper mining town. Except for his teachers and pastor, everyone he knew worked in the mines or at a blue-collar job. Few aspired to college. Fewer made it to college. This was the life his friends and peers expected for him.

Fast forward to today. Brendon is one of the top personal development trainers in the world. His Facebook page has an astounding four million "likes." He heads his own multi-million dollar company.

Brendon asked our group, "How many of you are the most successful person in your family?" Everyone in the room raised their hand. He then followed with, "How many of you are the most successful person from your hometown?" Many (but not all) hands raised again. I heard someone whisper, "Dang!"

Brendon commented that when he typically asks those two questions, only a few raise their hands. No doubt, our group was exceptional. The biggest question, then, is "why?"

I thought a lot about those two questions. In every family, peer group, school, business and community there are rules of tradition, rules we are expected to follow, rules that set our path and define what our future is likely to be.

Like Brendon, most of my mastermind members did not come from affluence. They didn't have the benefit of connections or influential families. Yet each has been wildly successful. What was the common denominator? They were all mavericks, rule breakers.

Each had envisioned a different and bigger future for themselves, beyond their families, friends, and even their hometowns. Like Brendon, they had broken through boundaries, viewing traditional rules as a place to start, not stop. They had redefined norms and rules, expanded thought, broken boundaries and shook off the flak from those too rigid to see beyond "the way it's supposed to be." They didn't just dream, they barreled into the unknown, with a passion to make their dreams come true.

One "rule breaking" member of our group is business maverick, Brandon Steiner. Brandon grew up in a Brooklyn apartment, with a single mom who struggled to put food on the table. Like Brendon, Brandon's community had low expectations for themselves and for him.

Brandon would not accept what others expected. He looked for what I call "gaps in the herd." What normal was, he did differently.

In Brandon's wonderful book, You Gotta Have Balls, he shares how he leveraged a meager $4,000 in savings into a mega-successful $50 million sports empire, Steiner Sports, by breaking the traditional rules of action and thought in the sports industry, finding ways to take the old guard off guard every day.

Brandon's "rent an athlete" program is a sports industry rule breaker. It enables the average person to easily and affordably hire a celebrity athlete to accompany them anywhere, from a charity dinner to a daughter's birthday party. Without having to deal with an agent or players' union, you can call Brandon's company and have a well-known local athlete accompany you for an afternoon of golf with your buddies or customers. Brandon initially received major league flak when he dreamed up this norm-breaking program because it eliminated red tape and middlemen. He shook off the resistance and naysayers, refused to accept no, and made it work.

Speaking of flak, you had better expect it when you break from what others think you should do. I remember when my first real estate firm introduced a variable commission plan for home sellers. You would have thought I was a real estate criminal for breaking the "cast in stone" 6% commission model. Of course, home sellers loved it. It was my competitors who shot daggers at me for "going rogue." I was dubbed a "Maverick Realtor" in a local newspaper article (and while I doubt that was how it was intended, I considered the moniker a high compliment.)

We all know there are legal rules we must follow or risk fines and imprisonment. But that's not true with the rules of business and life.

Don't blindly succumb to what's typical in your town, traditional in your family, set by your company, expected by your peers, restricted by your capability, limited by your energy and barred by your fear. Question everything. Don't let normal be your norm.

Wake up each morning determined to accept nothing at face value. Find the maverick in you. Refuse to let the shortsightedness of others limit your vision. That's the Achilles' heel of those stuck in tradition. It's also your opportunity.

I have a sticky note on my bathroom mirror. It's the first thing I see each morning: "I will not let tradition cage my ambition."

"Never forget . . . If you don't set your own rules, someone else will" -- Greg Hague