Attitude: the little thing that makes a big difference

Many years ago at a conference, I tried the following experiment. I asked the crowd, “What one thing will determine our success more than any other?” The audience answered with words like job, money, education, and time. Finally someone said attitude. What I consider the most important area of our lives had come as a second thought. I believe that our attitude is the primary force that will determine whether we succeed or fail.
History’s greatest achievements have been made by men and women who excelled only slightly over the masses of others in their fields. Many times, the difference was attitude. The former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir underlined this truth in one of her interviews. She said, “All my country has is spirit. We don’t have petroleum dollars. We don’t have mines of great wealth in the ground. We don’t have the support of a worldwide public opinion that looks favorably on us. All Israel has is the spirit of its people. And if the people lose their spirit, even the United States of America cannot save us.”

Certainly aptitude is important to our success in life. Yet success or failure in any undertaking can more often be traced back to mental attitude than mental capacity. I remember when my wife Margaret was a schoolteacher. She would often come home frustrated with the emphasis in modern education on aptitude over attitude. If she’d had her way, the kids would have been tested on their A.Q. (attitude quotient) at least as often as they were tested in their I.Q. (intelligence quotient). Every year, she would talk of students whose I.Q. was high yet their performance was low. And every year, she would have students whose I.Q. wasn’t particularly high, but their performance was.

As a parent, I always hoped for my kids to have excellent minds AND outstanding attitudes. But if I had to choose an “either-or” situation, I would favor their A.Q. without hesitation.

A university president once gave advice to the president of another school: “Always be kind to your A and B students. Some of them will return to your campus as a good professor. And also be kind to your C students. Someday one of them will return and build a $2 million science laboratory.”

There is very little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.

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