So my friend Michael Sliwinski, editor of the Productive Magazine and founder of www.nozbe.com, tagged my handle (@laurastack) in a tweet about Zig Ziglar’s passing, which I basically deflected. But then Michael sent me an email (ack!), and directly asked me what was up: “Please accept my condolences for Zig. I know you knew him personally, and I know (you told me!) what kind of influence he was on you. I meant it on Twitter that when you’re ready, I’d love to read a blog post from you about Zig and how he influenced your life. It’d be a great story to read and share and inspire others.”
Kind of hard to ignore that. I know that thousands of people have attested that Zig changed their lives, and I’m no exception. But I admit it—I’ve been feeling a bit melancholy about Zig’s passing. I’ve been trying to push aside my wistfulness for the day I met Zig, nearly 30 years ago. In 2004, I wrote in my book, Leave the Office Earlier:
“Do you remember the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a singer. When I was five years old, I used to tape record myself singing “You Are My Sunshine,” “The Rainbow Connection,” and “Wendy.” My mother would play the tapes in the car as she drove. My first public debut was playing “Ngana” in South Pacific at the age of eight at the Air Force Academy. I sang, danced, and acted my way through school. But then my ballet teacher told me my legs weren’t long enough to ever make it into a company. My voice coach told me I had a nice voice, but nothing I’d ever make any money with. My acting coach told me I wasn’t cut out for the big screen.
Then I saw Zig Ziglar present at a motivational rally when I was 14 years old, and I was hooked. I wanted to BE Zig Ziglar. I said to myself, ‘Hey, a little song and dance, a lot of acting, and I get to be in front of an audience. Perfect!’
No matter what my ballet teacher or acting coach told me, I was blessed to have parents who told me I could do anything I dreamed of if I worked hard at it. It’s not enough to set your mind to something; you must also plan your time around those goals. So I set my sights on being a professional speaker like Zig. When I set that goal, it acted like a magnet, pulling me toward it. I interviewed professional speakers and discovered most of them owned their own businesses. Perfect! I had lawn mowing and babysitting businesses in junior high school. So I based my high school and college curriculum around fully understanding how to run a business. I took speech, drama, marketing, instructional design, communication, and organizational management classes—all skills I knew I would require as a speaker.”
To make a long story short, I skipped my last year of high school and received both undergraduate and master’s degrees in business by the time I was 21, all the while working for a Fortune 500 company. Then I left corporate America and started traveling the country teaching seminars for CareerTrack. Now here I am, celebrating 20 years in business as a professional speaker and author on personal productivity topics. Zig taught me that I could realize my dreams through goals and action—probably not unlike what he taught you. And I believed him. And he was right.
Zig was not only the first professional speaker I ever saw, but he IS the reason I became a professional speaker. After his talk, I waited a long, long time to meet him, and I remember blathering on and on about how I loved his talk and wanted to do what he did. He told me, “Well, then you certainly WILL do it,” and he hugged me. That was the first of many times I saw Zig in the past 30 years, often at National Speakers Association (NSA) events. Every time, I reminded him of meeting him and what he said to me, and he was always kind and gracious. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for his encouragement that day.
So you can imagine how pleased I was when I was asked to endorse his newest and last book, Born to Win. My quote is sandwiched between John Maxwell’s and Brian Tracy’s quotes on the back cover: “I saw Zig Ziglar speak for the first time when I was 14 years old. Zig inspired me to become a motivational speaker, and today I’m the president of the National Speakers Association. His new book, Born to Win, will change your life too.” What a privilege and a thrill it was to see my name on the back cover of Zig’s book.
The Washington Post ended Zig’s obituary with one of his classic quotes: “Yesterday ended last night. Today is a brand-new day and it’s yours.“
Thirty years ago, Zig recited that quote the day I met him—and now he’s gone—and it’s so strange. Zig had a major impact on me, the speaking profession, the National Speakers Association (NSA), and the profile of every speaker standing on the platform today. We are so grateful.
So mostly, Michael, to answer your question and to make a short story long, I’ve been thinking about Zig and the circle of life. I feel grown up somehow. A new generation of speakers is here—people like me—whom he inspired. And so it continues… I’m smiling as I look at my 17-year-old daughter, who never misses an NSA convention…you never know.
Rest in peace Zig…well done…I love you.