It’s an unfortunate subject for the holidays, death. Jim Rohn very recently passed away, at, I believe, age 78 or so.
I knew Jim very well as a student of his written and recorded works, and reasonably well, personally. We appeared on a number of events together, including a multi-city tour in Canada; some of the SUCCESS events; and twice, at my SuperConferences. On the trek through Canada, we spent quite a few hours talking, largely about a shared favorite topic: philosophy. We corresponded from time to time.
In his career, Jim went from being a MLM-industry flak, a speaker promoting one such company after another – a characterization he would not find flattering, to a venerated elder statesman of the personal development field. Of the Earl Nightingale school, he was a compiler of material, author, philosopher, and speaker. As a speaker on personal development, he was the Sinatra. I’ve not seen anybody with better stuff who could put it across better, as smooth, as relaxed, as seemingly personal – regardless of audience size, each person felt Jim was talking only to them. And like Sinatra, long after this year’s departure, he will be remembered, shown on film, talked about, his books and CD’s popular. Not long enough by as many, and not as long as Sinatra, I suppose. But for quite some time. Unlike a great many speakers, Jim was sincere and authentic; he knew he spoke truth. There is no gimmickry to his material, nor were there gimmicks to his presenting. No proprietary, made-up language or psycho-babble, no way-out-there concepts, no Power Points or props or firewalks or costumes. He just went out there, for years with only a chalkboard, later, grudgingly, a whiteboard, and talked. And could for hours or days. Plain-spoken. A little Will Rogers-y. Every time I saw him, I thought of Sinatra’s own disdainful statement: “Anybody who needs more than a microphone and a spotlight is a punk.” Although he could do so persuasively, he grew less and less willing to sell his own products from the platform in later years, and he was one of only two speakers I’ve ever seen who connected with audiences well enough that significant buying occurred even when neither he or a surrogate “did a pitch”. He was a consummate professional: honest, reliable, respectful of audience and client/host and peers. He worked entirely “clean” 100% of the time. And he did affect people deeply, and motivate a goodly number to making significant and sometimes dramatic changes in their lives, in which he genuinely took great pride.
He was a masterful storyteller, creator of powerful life-lesson stories, and shared much of himself in their telling. ‘The Day I Turned My Life Around’ story involving Girl Scout at door; the only woman with a rose; the postcards sent to his father, and his father showing them off at the coffee shop…classics that leap to mind. He is someone I studied in developing my own storytelling and in learning to convert little life experiences into teaching stories, and I probably don’t give him enough credit for that, day to day.
Jim was not much of a success in business, and twice, that I know of, went bust. Once, from very high-flyin’, with offices in a number of cities, private jet, etc. – he knew the pain and inevitable self-doubt that such failure brings, and that helped him connect authentically with many people. Not that I wish such experience on anybody, but I do think not having it is actually a handicap in this business. Authentic compassion absent experience is, I imagine, hard to come by. After recovering from his last entrepreneurial crash, he stuck to making the most of his greatest skills, maybe talents, as author and speaker, and established lasting financial independence. He was a quiet connoisseur of fine wines, fine food, and other luxuries, comfortable in La Jolla and Beverly Hills and the finest resorts and restaurants, although reclusive retirements to his ranch in, if I recall correctly, Idaho (between tours or engagements) suited him.
Many owe some sort of debt or gratitude to Jim. There are quite a few speakers whose careers were virtually birthed in Jim’s incubator, the most famous, Tony Robbins. Many others helped along. I know of instances and individuals where Jim went out of his way to give them lift up, often invisibly, not seeking credit, and I’m sure there are many more I know nothing about. A good measure of a man, by the way, isn’t found in the numbers of people he has assisted for personal gain, but the number he has assisted regardless of personal gain and absent personal gain. That’s not to suggest giving away expertise or services. But if you have the ability, through your influence or business, to provide opportunity to worthy individuals from time to time, with ‘no skin off your nose’, and never do, you own a unique poverty. Beyond that, of course, tens of thousands of people have been positively, philosophically affected by his words. We are all saddened by his departure.
In the time I got to spend with him personally, I took special note of two things. He was a thinker; introspective, thoughtful, thus interesting to talk with. He was extremely considerate of his ‘fans’, as well as the ‘working people’ along the way – drivers, bellhops, waiters. I strive for the same.
It would be futile and insulting to attempt summarizing his teachings in one or few sentences. But, among many things, Jim stood for and advocated three that I’ll mention. One, studentship. Unending study, learning, thinking. Care and feeding of a personal philosophy. Two, stewardship – self-reliance, resourcefulness, self-discipline, prudent investment, so as to marshall and make the best possible use of all your intelligence, capabilities, and opportunities. Three, creating and living a quality life, with no apologies for doing so.
It was a privilege to know him.