The bull market

Peter Lowe explains how to succeed in business without really trying: First, find 20,000 suckers Photographs by Mark Graham

It's 10:30, and Brian Tracy is on next. He's a laid-back version of Ziglar--more cosmopolitan, less preachy. His motivational approach seems more intellectually appealing--at least that's what I glean from the titles of the books and tapes he shamelessly hawks: The Psychology of Selling, Accelerated Learning Techniques, The Science of Self-Confidence. He tells us that his best-selling audio cassette How to Master Your Time was purchased by one man who listened to it every month for two years and increased his income in sales 700 percent. "He went from average to being one of the top salespeople in the world."

Tracy pitches himself like a walking infomercial: steel-blue suit, slick demeanor, clever sense of humor, mellifluous voice. "I can promise that if you do this simple exercise, the next year of your life will be the best year of your life." He folds his hands gently in front of him. "Write down a list of 10 goals. Will you do this? Say yes."

"Yes," the audience mimics.
"Decide which one goal, if you achieve it, will have the greatest positive impact on your life. And whenever you become tired or depressed, you think about those goals, because you become what you think about. Are you enjoying this? Say yes."

And they do--despite this sort of New Age visualization seeming a bit touchy-feely for the crowd.

Calmly, Tracy explains that he, too, was born into poverty, never graduated from high school, worked a series of meaningless jobs. He was only able to change his life by changing his self-concept and building his self-esteem (as explained further in his best-selling Psychology of Achievement, which contains "12 of the most powerful thinking principles ever developed"). "And you build self-esteem by simply saying the words, 'I like myself.'" He encourages the audience. "Will you say it? Come on, 'I like myself.'"

"I like myself."
"Again."
"I like myself."

In a crescendo of motivational tidbits, Tracy urges us to be decisive, resolve what we want and write it down, set a deadline, take action, think every day about that goal, and commit ourselves to excellence. "And remember, failure is not an option! Failure is not an option, right?"

"Right!" The crowd yells back, rising to its feet in a brazen display of approval. I grow confused. Ann Richards has just told me I need to fail in order to learn. Now Brian Tracy is telling me failure is not an option. Does that mean learning is not an option either?

I grow even more confused when the next speaker, former drug czar and chief presidential critic William Bennett, speaks. Whereas Zig tells us to pursue happiness and follow our dreams, Bennett, a veritable cheerleader for virtue, urges us in another direction. "Do not pursue happiness. You can't. If you want to be happy, pursue work." And whereas Brian Tracy has only minutes earlier told us that the way to build self-esteem is to look in the mirror every day and chant I-like-myselfs, Bennett claims the only way to build self-esteem is to earn it.

I want to agree--but with what?
In a rousing ode to the "moral fixation" of the American people, Bennett somehow concludes that our ethical structure was responsible for the liberation of Europe in two World Wars, the death of communism, the victory of capitalism, and the fleeting success of Nancy Reagan's War on Drugs.

It isn't hard to figure where he's going with this: Our philandering prez is about to get his.

"The greatest authority of the [oval] office comes from the moral authority of the person that holds it," says Bennett. "I'm sorry, but what's on my mind is what's on my mind. I am who I am."

No need to apologize--not to this crowd.
"A great shame has occurred in the office of the President of the United States," Bennett says in conclusion. "I call on the citizens to do the right thing."

The crowd bursts into applause, standing, cheering, smelling presidential blood. But what did any of this have to do with motivating people toward achieving more success? Prove that even an amoral person, if given the right motivation, can someday grow up to be president? What a country. It's time for lunch.

Although VIP participants could share an intimate dining experience with either William Bennett (422 people), Brian Tracy (256 people), or Emmitt Smith (596 people), I choose to lunch with those in the cheap seats, who graze on such nutritious Reunion delicacies as hot dogs, fries, and pizza. Ann Richards would not approve.

I do find a few people who are troubled that a motivational seminar would turn so blatantly political. But most are basking in the morning's optimism, convinced that their lives had either been irreversibly changed or "positively impacted" by the speakers. Only two guys employed by Scottish Rite Hospital express any doubts about the staying power of the information. "They say I shouldn't procrastinate," one of them explains. "Well, I know that. But that don't mean I won't."

"It's just a show," says the other. "Nothin' in my life that's gonna change." He also doubts whether the next speaker has anything to offer except entertainment.

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