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It's all about attitude


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001

[Times art: Teresanne Cossetta]
Have you ever volunteered to babysit your brother so your mom could have some time off, hoping she would agree to later let you go to the movies with your friends?

That's the kind of thing economist Adam Smith was talking about in 1776 in his important book, The Wealth of Nations. The book in part describes a free enterprise economy as guided by an "invisible hand" -- a force that leads us to do things others value, as a way to achieve our own goals.

Another way to describe it is self-interest. If you grumbled when you suggested helping your mom out (if you think your brother is a creep and you really do dread it), your mom probably said no. But if you suggested cheerfully, she probably said yes. That is the power of attitude.

Self-interest is a fact of life and is indeed paramount in humans. Yet to be truly successful, we must temper that drive with a focus on others. For example, if in business you insist on producing a product or service just because you like it, you may not be successful. If others don't like that product or service, you won't be able to sell it and make a profit. Pretty soon you won't be able to afford to continue producing. By ignoring the desires of others, you will deprive yourself of doing something you enjoy. No one gets what she wants.

So it is with attitude. A positive attitude directed to help others will boomerang back to enrich you.

What determines your level of success in your chosen career? Certainly your levels of education and competence (and these are not always the same!) will have a lot to do with it. But also consider the attitude you bring to work each day. It often has a great deal to do with whether or not we get the jobs we desire, and how far we progress in those jobs.

There are three simple things you can do to be successful in your life and in your business:

  • Smile.
  • Show interest in other people.
  • Be a candle.

* * *

You've probably noticed that you just like to be around certain people. Chances are those coveted friends are upbeat, even-tempered, giving people with you. Because they're interested in you, you find them interesting.

Positive people are seekers. Because they look deeply into the wants and desires of others, they are likely to have a wide circle of friends. In fact, these friends may appear to have little in common, except for enjoying this person they're all happy to be around. Sometimes these friends discover that they have developed independent friendships with each other, though it may have seemed unlikely at first, and so that positive attitude spreads.

At work, the same sort of thing can happen. Because people like the same qualities in their co-workers that they like in their friends, those with positive attitudes are likely to be more highly valued by their employers. Some people are poisonous around their jobs. Their unpleasantness diminishes the ability of everyone around them. Time and energy spent with anger and moodiness detracts from the job at hand. Workers may end up spending more time just trying not to work with this person than they spend doing their jobs! Everyone loses.

A friend who has been very successful in business told me about deciding to keep on an employee whose competence was minimal while more competent people were being let go when the company was going through bad financial times and had to cut costs. Though this employee's abilities left something to be desired, he had such an upbeat personality, that he made his entire team perform better. He was a sort of glue that held them together. The team helped the company serve very valuable clients well in bad times, and helped the company survive.

Education and competence can take years to develop, but attitude can be improved much more quickly.

Smile. Show interest in others. Be a "low-maintenance" friend and employee. Take care of yourself and your own lows, then focus on others. Remember all you have to be grateful for, starting with the very fact that you are alive.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "When a happy person comes into the room, it is as if another candle has been lit."

Be that candle.

Don't confuse positive attitude with self-esteem. If we do well, both by our own estimation and as judged by others, self-esteem will come naturally. Attitude is how we decide to approach the world. Positive self-esteem is what comes when we do it well.


* * *

-- Alan Musante was named the Florida Economic Educator of the Year by the Florida Council on Economic Education in 1999. He also has won many national and state awards in economic education. Musante, a former lawyer, has taught at Oviedo High School for nearly 20 years.

About the Florida Council on Economic Education

Money Stuff: Get it! Spend it! Keep It!

Introduction and previous chapters

Money Stuff was developed by the Florida Council on Economic Education and project director Fonda Anderson. The council is a statewide non-profit organization founded in 1975 to educate K-12 teachers and students about the free enterprise system and to instill in them an appreciation for a market economy. For more information on the council's programs for teachers and students, please call (813) 289-8489.

About Newspaper in Education

The St. Petersburg Times devotes news space to NIE features throughout the year, including this classroom series. The Times' NIE department works with local businesses and individuals to enrich the classroom experience by providing newspapers, supplemental guides and educational services to schools in the Tampa Bay area. To find out how you can become involved in NIE, please call (727) 893-8969 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 8969. For past chapters, check out and click on Money Stuff.

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