From the August 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Once he was a homeless bum and an alcoholic. He was ready to pull the trigger, but lucky for us he couldn't afford to. Much later he would tell his audiences that he had only $29 in his pocket when he walked into a gun shop. He wanted to buy a gun and blow his brains out, but the gun cost $35 and he couldn't talk the store owner into selling it to him for less.

Who was this hopeless failure? One of the most important mentors of my life. He is also the author of the only book I ever really needed to read and reread to remind myself what success is really all about--The Greatest Salesman in the World (Bantam Books).

Last September, at age 72, Augustine "Og" Mandino passed away to a better place. His close friend, author and speaker Pierre O'Rourke, wrote shortly after his death: "Og replenished lives."

I thought it would be interesting to see just exactly how Og did that. So I made a quick study of his body of work: Nineteen books translated into 21 languages, and The Greatest Salesman in the World still continues to sell thousands of copies a month worldwide.

Making Choices

The magic of Mandino was his compassionate understanding for what truly makes us human. It doesn't matter if you're a rock star or a street sweeper. It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor. Each of us makes life-and-death choices every second of our day. Each of us has the power to celebrate or desecrate who we are.

Mandino was a master storyteller because he lived his own stories. He made early choices that temporarily destroyed his life. Like the characters in his books, he knew about death and resurrection options firsthand.

Mandino's longtime friend and agent Cheryl Miller of Speakers International, a speakers' bureau in Long Grove, Illinois, often traveled with him on the lecture circuit. Miller said it didn't matter who the audience was--Mandino always connected. He would tell the story of that dark day in Cleveland when he went to buy the gun to kill himself.

"And then," Miller says, "he would look out at that group lovingly and say he knew that somewhere in that audience was a Mr. or Mrs. X who was feeling the same way he did on that fateful day. And it was for them that he was there to say `Don't buy that gun. There is a better way.' "

Miller remembers one time in Chicago when a very well-dressed gentleman came up to her after Mandino's speech, holding an envelope for her to give to him. "Later Og opened it and passed it over for me to glance at," Miller recalls. "It read: `I am your Mr. X. And just for today, I won't buy that gun. Thank you.' " Then he reminded me that outward appearances meant nothing. We never know how much someone may be hurting.

Back To Basics

It doesn't surprise me that the main character in Mandino's books is often a salesperson. What other business function tempts you so often with life-and-death options? Don't many of us make small but destructive choices, often putting an invisible gun to our heads when we choose to procrastinate or allow fear to immobilize our sales--and business--progress?

What makes The Greatest Salesman in the World so profound are the simple ways the master storyteller persuades us to choose life over death every day as we travel down life's highway. Your replenishment always comes down to getting back to the basics. Nobody understood that better than Mandino, writing about practicing the fundamentals of success with such a deep reverence. I always chuckle when I go into a company to do sales training and I'm reminded by the manager that "these are sophisticated people who understand the basics. Give them something more advanced to bite into."

There is nothing more advanced in life to learn and practice than the basics. If they were so easy, why did I have to read The Greatest Salesman in the World at least 100 times? If such basic principles of behavior were so obvious, why would 36 million people find Mandino's parable of the salesman Hafid so unique and inspiring? There is nothing commonplace about going back to the basics. It is our only means of replenishment.

Here are some of my favorite basic lessons (in my own words) from The Greatest Salesman in the World:

Confront your temptations with courage. It can be a lonely life on the road when you travel on business. When we're lonely, we have a tendency to become like little children who long for the comfort of our own homes. It's times like these when we become vulnerable and susceptible to making bad choices. Mandino warns that giving into such temptations has destroyed many a promising career, not to mention a happy home life. It takes courage to stay focused and on track. But making temporary sacrifices always brings with it long-term rewards and satisfaction.

Failure is nothing to be ashamed of. Why does it take us so long to grasp this basic principle? We mouth the words that we can only succeed by failing, but emotionally it is so hard to accept. Part of succeeding is not allowing our determination to weaken. Here's where the challenge gets tricky. We have to experience failure to succeed, but the experience of failure tends to dampen our determination. And staying determined is what keeps us trying. One thing that helps is to talk about your failures as if they're a normal part of living.

When I share mine, others always volunteer their failures, too. At those moments, some invisible healing seems to take place between us humans. Determination once again returns, and together we seem to be able to overcome any obstacles.

Patience is a virtue. It's so hard to prospect without needing to know the outcome of our work. But Mandino reminds us to follow nature's example--nature never moves quickly. We must pass through our experiences, making sure we're not quick to pass judgment. Time alone can bring us good news or the reward that is in store. Walking away too soon, out of impatience, robs us of life's choicest blessings.

Success is mind over matter. Nothing destroys your goals or your life more than giving into the emotions of the moment. We tend to allow our mood swings to determine the outcome of our dreams, but success only comes when you pay no attention to the mood of the moment.

Mandino says we must control our thoughts. That basic is accomplished by acting in opposition to those thoughts: You act "as if" you are not angry, "as if" you are not afraid. If you force yourself to whistle a happy tune, you will go far.

Criticism kills; praise grows. When you approach those you serve in the marketplace with a critical eye, it puts a frown on your face and suspicion in your heart. And there is no strategy that can help you overcome the unspoken tentativeness the prospect feels about doing business with you. Your critical self is your own worst enemy.

On the other hand, a generous spirit manifests an abundance of praise that brings joy to any negotiating table. With praise, you can break down barriers, overcome impossible obstacles, close the sale--and build a blockbuster business. But Mandino warned that the praise must be genuine; it must come from the heart of a loving human being.

I miss seeing the man with the most loving of hearts. But I will forever hear his voice as I revisit his legacy of stories. And I will continue to feel his presence as I stumble my way through learning the basics from truly the greatest salesman of this century.

Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of seven sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for her latest book, Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.