The Missing Link

Posted by Todd Smith

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The 1991 movie City Slickers is a cowboy comedy starring Billy Crystal as Mitch and Jack Palance as Curly. These two men have a conversation that becomes a pivotal point in the movie.

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is? This. [Holding up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing”?

Curly: [Smiling] That’s what you have to find out.

By the end of the cattle drive, Mitch gains insight into his one thing. He explains to another cowboy that the one thing is different for everybody, and we’re all searching for it whether we realize it or not.

Mitch’s one thing is a bit like the missing link each of us has when it comes to our personal and professional growth.

When you consider the kind of person you need to be to achieve your goals and live the life you want, do you know what’s holding you back? Today’s lesson is about finding the missing link to your own personal and professional growth.

Are You Like Mike?

Mike is a friend of mine from years ago, but his story is a perfect example of why it’s important for all of us to consciously look for the missing link in our pursuit of success. Mike and I were both in sales and worked together for a number of years.

When it came to sales, Mike had everything going for him. He was disciplined and understood the importance of prospecting, which he did with religious fervor. He looked good and was always on time for every appointment. He had all the necessary ingredients to succeed, except one. Mike wasn’t a likable person.

In business and social settings, Mike didn’t know how to do the little things to connect with people. As a result, he struggled and couldn’t figure out why. He just didn’t see what was holding him back. Likability was Mike’s missing link.

Spot the Missing Link

Believe it or not, Mike’s situation is a lot more common than you might realize. I have often seen people with tremendous potential fall short of achieving their goals because there is something they’re blind to that ends up sabotaging their success. Consider these common examples:

  • Joe has been a loyal employee for the past six years and is an expert at what he does. He meets every requirement for the district manager position that just opened up. Unfortunately, he sometimes ignores the company rules concerning business attire. This one little thing kept him from being the candidate selected.
  • Sue and Bob’s marriage is struggling lately because Sue is not showing respect to Bob. Bob, in turn, doesn’t give Sue what she needs. Neither sees their role in the unending cycle of ‘withholding’ from one another.
  • Diane and Susan both give great presentations to a prospective client. The client likes both pitches equally but finds that Diane’s need to control every conversation is a turnoff and, as a result, awards the business to Susan.

Can you see the missing links?

  • Joe’s failure to follow company rules = Respect for authority
  • Sue and Bob’s failure to see how meeting the other person’s needs would fulfill their own = Empathy
  • Diane’s inability to see that her overbearing tendencies are offensive = Communication skills

Imagine the possibilities if these folks only knew what piece of the puzzle they were missing. None of these are difficult skills to master, yet it’s the inability to identify them that prevents these people, and millions like them, from achieving their potential.

What the Missing Link Is Not

I will tell you that the missing link isn’t an answer to everything. Even when you figure it out, you need to add it to the rest of the disciplines and habits you practice in pursuit of your goals. Your missing link merely complements the little things you must do to achieve success in life, and it helps you get there faster—it doesn’t replace them.

Find Your Own Missing Link

If you are like most people, there are one or two little things you can do to greatly enhance each area of your life.  It may be taking your wife on a date each week, tweaking your golf grip, being friendlier around the office, or simply smiling at your customers. While there are hundreds of little things that matter, what’s the single biggest thing keeping you from building a happier marriage, holding you back in your career, or having a better relationship with your children?

I recommend two strategies for finding your missing link:

Reflect on your past—The first is to make a list of your unmet goals and disappointments. Before you say “No, thanks,” understand that this isn’t an exercise meant to have you beat yourself up. It’s an opportunity for you to look for patterns and commonalities in these situations and learn from them.  This exercise requires you to be completely honest with yourself.

Ask for help—Enlist the help of a few trusted friends or colleagues. Ask them, “What do you think is the one thing I could be doing differently to improve?” Or “If you could suggest that I change one thing in the way I approach _________, what would it be?” The blank could be anything, such as your job, your marriage, your parenting, etc.

When I was in sales, I called 100% of the people who declined my services.  I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to present my services.  I told them I was committed to achieving my personal best and asked what I could have done differently to earn their business. It was a gold mine of advice, but one lesson I learned was my missing link, and I would never have guessed it on my own.

Of all the self-improvement exercises I recommend, these may be among the most challenging. By the same token, they also stand to help you identify the one or two little things that are holding you back from achieving your most important goal.

You may be just one link away from breaking the barrier and taking your relationships, your career, or your life to the next level.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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