Career Tips

What Steve Harvey Taught Me About Success

By Dave Isbell

Love him or hate him, you have to admit Steve Harvey is spectacularly successful. As a kid he suffered from a stuttering problem, and a genuine lack of support for his dream of growing up to be on TV. These days, you can’t turn on a TV without seeing his cheesy grin rolling through some topic of the moment meant to inspire a few chuckles if not a few reflective thoughts.

In a short video Steve did for Oprah’s Master Class podcast, Steve tells a poignant story about a specific time he learned a principle of success from his father. Go ahead and watch that here, (it’s worth a couple minutes of your time to hear it for yourself) then come back and read about a few more ideas he didn’t specifically talk about but are apparent within his story.

1.) Write It Down. Steve mentions that writing down what you want is key. If you don’t believe Steve, just spend two minutes in a Google search on that topic and you’ll see that sentiment confirmed over and over again by all kinds of Coaches, Teachers, Experts, Journalists, Etc.

In a Huffington Post article, International speaker, best-selling author, and consultant Mary Morrissey explains why this is so important:

     Just the act of writing down your dreams and goals ignites an entirely new       dimension of consciousness, ideas and productivity to the powerhouse             that is your subconscious mind. This simple act also opens your                         subconscious to “seeing” opportunities that simply can’t be observed if             you’re tied up with THINKING about your goals.

2.) Repeat it. In Steve’s story, he mentions how his dad told him to get that story out and read it every morning and every night. And that is exactly what he did. If there is truth in the idea that writing something down puts it into the Subconscious mind, then repeating it out loud over time is a form of bringing it into the conscious mind, where actions stem from. (By the way, if you’ve forgotten the psychological theory of the mind that Freud introduced us to, and others have expanded on as his thoughts as his theories were debunked, that’s ok. There’s a pretty decent description of that here. )

Obviously, it isn’t the “writing it down” that gets the result, but the repeated actions that are the things that end up with getting the results that we initially wrote down. But if we didn’t write it down, and repeat what we wrote, would we do it? For a quick answer to that question, just take a look at those New Year’s Resolutions you told yourself last year. How’s that going for you? Ouch! The guilt! The shame! (Sorry, I didn’t mean to punch you below the belt.) No worries, just start over by writing it down this time!

3.) Find Your Advocate. As he tells it, Steve’s dad was the one person who believed in him at this juncture. He not only supported the idea that his son wasn’t crazy for believing in his dream, but he actually advocated for Steve. He put some skin in that game when he chose to stand his ground against the teacher, Steve’s mom, and society itself. For a child, that kind of unconditional regard is huge, in terms of building resilience. Numerous studies indicate that childhood resilience is one of those things that is core to not just survival, but for thriving against adversity. Yet it is not just children who need the support from another individual, this is a core human need across the lifespan. Simply put, no person is an island, and the idea of the “self-made-human” just isn’t true. Try to name even ONE successful individual who did not benefit from either the direct help or support from another individual or system that helped to elevate into their position? There is a reason why the cliche’ “it’s all who you know” continues to circulate among the adult population. There are few career experts who would agree with the idea that social capital is not one of the primary factors involved in climbing any ladder.

4.) Know Your Detractors. I would be willing to bet that Steve’s mom had good intentions for her son, that she cared for him in her own way, and her comments may have been a form of protection or fear for him. The same may be said about his teacher in this story. Yet, they were not advocates for the vision that he had for his own life, and thus theirs were not voices to be trusted on this particular subject. Sure, it’s good to listen to the reasoning in your loved one’s dissent. It’s also important to consider their emotional pleas, arguments, and concern for you. However, the informed decision is what you are after here. By including their polar-opposite thoughts into your own sources of information you have the opportunity to make a more well-rounded, careful, and deliberate decision about whatever it is that you are trying to do. In Steve’s case, what he had set in front of him was based in reality. Many people had been on TV before, why not him? Even if someone like him had never been on TV before, why not him being the first?

It is a perfectly legitimate idea that some of the people who love you deepest may not understand your dream. They may rally against the vision you have for your future. They may actively try to disrupt you from accomplishing your next steps. That doesn’t make them all bad people, necessarily. In fact, it may just be your detractors who provide the most fuel for you. The mom who constantly questions your college major, may be the one who gets you to stay in class, get straight A’s, and thrive beyond what she could have imagined for you. The dad who questions your mid-life career change may be the one adding fuel to your fire to get that new business started, off the ground, and into the zeitgeist. You may even have those who have gone beyond “detractor” status to “enemy.” Use that sense of injustice, or anger, for your own good! The simple truth here is that our detractors create a “yin” to our advocates “yang.” You’ll show them what you can do and they will eventually come around, quiet down, or end up not bothering you at all anymore even if their tone hasn’t changed.

5.) Follow the Rules Until You Can Break the Rules. When Steve’s dad told him to write a second paper for the teacher, but keep his own, he was imparting to him deep wisdom. The secret to success is all about amassing power. Thus, those who are the least powerful typically have to play by the rules of the game until they can change the rules. Think about this for a moment from your days back on campus as a student. When you wrote a term paper that disagrees with the Professor’s theories, what tended to happen? If you said you provided lots of opposing research but still didn’t get an A+, you are probably right. The goal of higher education should be to learn how to learn. Yet so often the path to good grades can become more about compliance than about learning, and compliance doesn’t always win the golden ticket. This can follow suit in the “real world” beyond the classroom as well. Your Producer wants a scene edited? You do it how she wants it or you may never work again. Your boss wants you to present at the Board meeting? Show up and present or you may not have a job. Yes, there are times when you need to write those papers in the way the professor wants you to, or dance the way your director tells you to, but there are also times when you must stand your ground and do what evidence, and conviction, tell you is right. Becoming a leader is not just about giving your best performance on command, it is also about knowing when to pick your battles and on what front is best to wage them.

I’m not saying that Steve Harvey has got it all together, or even that I’m a fan of his (if I’m being honest, I find him a bit annoying.) Yet, though he is as flawed as the best of us are, there are some lessons you can learn by listening to his story. In fact, learning from other people’s stories can be one of the best ways to learn which is exactly why I recommend contacting one of the “Helpful Spartans” listed on this site. They have already raised their hand when asked if they would be willing to provide informational interviews for other Spartans. You never know who may lead you to your next “aha!” moment. What are you waiting for? Get out there and take your next step today!


Dave Isbell is the Assistant Director of Alumni Professional Enrichment in the MSU Alumni Association and is the primary person responsible for this blog and our corresponding twitter account. His primary role in the MSUAA is to develop online content that helps Michigan State alumni to live, work, and play better in their own communities. Dave is not able to accept individual appointments, but in developing programs and projects he does draw from his experience as a Licensed Master Social Worker and his background as a professional Career Coach since 1999.



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