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First is First and Second is Nothing

Picture of Karl Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk
August 20, 2008

There’s an old movie most people have never heard of called The Big Combo.

In this movie, “Mr. Brown” is a big hoodlum. His motto is “First is first and second is nothing.”

Mr. Brown expresses that motto again and again and again. Until the time he’s shot dead.

Sometimes, our culture beats into us that the only place that matters is First. And, truth be told, a disproportion of the rewards go to the top 1%, 3%, and 5%.

But how you get there matters a lot, too. Look at the Olympics. On one hand you have the Chinese, who are openly cheating in Gymnastics. Every medal they win will be tarnished. Every award will have an asterisk.*

On the other hand, you have thousands of athletes who have working to get to the Olympics for at least four years, don’t cheat, and do deserve to win. Almost all medalists will have true gold, silver, and bronze medals. They will be real winners and deserve the reward they receive.

There Are Three Primary Elements of Success

What is success? In the big picture, success consists of determining what you want to do and then getting that done.

The first primary element of success is to have goals. Of course.

Specific, written, definable, measurable goals that you share with other people so they can hold you accountable.

The second primary element of success is the process of working to achieve your goals. What’s the process? It’s everything you do that’s remotely related to working on your goal. It’s how you live your life. It’s how you interact with others. It’s who you are as a human being in pursuit of what you want.

The third primary element of success is achieving your goal. This is the “finish line” if you will. This is when you reach $100,000 in salary, or $1 million in sales, or $10 million in sales. Whatever the goal.

The most important thing about the first element, setting goals, is that you have to do it. More than 90% of the people you meet have never consciously set goals, written them down, figured out how to measure them, and shared them with others. That means you get to be in the top ten percent by simply setting goals!

It’s true.

The most important part of the third element, reaching your goal, is that it becomes far less important once you get there.

For most big goals (e.g., reaching a big money amount or raising a child safely to adulthood), you can see the goal line approaching. $1 Million looks a lot easier from $900,000 than it does from $100,000. Age 18 looks a lot easier when your kid is 16 years old than when she’s 16 months old.

As your approach your goal, there comes a time when you know you can do it. As a result, your mind and heart begin thinking about the next level.

And the second element of success — that’s the most important thing in your life.

The second element of success is how you live your life every single day. It involves your integrity, your discipline, your willingness to help others, your honestly.

It is who you are every day.

And if your goal will take ten or twenty years to accomplish, then the second element is who you are over the decades.

When you look back on what it took to achieve your goals, how many asterisks will there be? Who will you have to deceive, cheat, and abuse?

I absolutely believe that you don’t have to do any of those things to get ahead.

After all, you have the rest of your life. Take your time and do it the right way.

Your goals are intimately intertwined with who you are and who you will become. Respect that. Don’t take shortcuts and don’t treat other people poorly.

There’s an old saying:

Remember the people you meet on your way up the ladder of success.
You’ll meet the same people on your way down.

So, first might be first, but second isn’t nothing. How you get to be first matters a lot. And if you come in second with your soul intact, that’s important, too.

– – – – –
* Cheater!

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