Topper Jones

Self Startability 2.0

What’s the secret to becoming a Self-Starter? Here’s my journey to find out and the resulting magazine article entitled Self-Startability—You Hold the Key to Your Own Ignition.
Old-fashioned steam locomotive
Photo credit: m_baecher (

In my mid-twenties, when things would get slow at the office making balance sheets balance, I’d daydream about becoming a motivational speaker. This was before the days of TED talks. And before I ever imagined writing a book.

My gig? Self-help. Lectures on positive thinking. See You at the Top! That kind of thing.

Back then, back in the early 1970s, I was a big fan of the motivational greats on the speaking circuit. During the long commute to downtown L.A. from outer suburbia, I’d listen to every “Tips for Success” tape I could get my hands on.

What kept me from ditching my day job and heading out on the road to inspire others to greatness?


Or the lack thereof.

Up to that point in my life (I was 26), I hadn’t “succeeded” at anything (except maybe getting out of bed each morning to go to work).  I had never won an Olympic gold medal. Never sold a million of anything. And wasn’t a decorated war hero. None of the typical backstories of keynote speakers of the day. More a profile in ordinariness.

Who was I to tell others the secrets of success? I was nothing more than a success-wannabe. So, I did the next best thing. I found a way to write about success and what it takes to get there.

The plan was simple. I’d poll the greats who had made it to the stage as motivational speakers. Get their insights. Share their tips. I had an address list. I had stamps. This was years before email.

My topic: Self-Startability

After pitching the idea for the article to a popular magazine on positive thinking, I received the green light to write on spec. The motivational speakers I contacted were more than generous with their time. They answered my questions with sage and timeless advice. Some provided catchy anecdotes. Before I knew it, I was published.

Below you’ll find the complete article from Positive Living Magazine (July 1977) including an author photo of me back in the day.

Cover of Postive Living Magazine July 1977

Brief Biographies

The celebrities with whom I corresponded were household names back in the day. For those not recognizing these superstars of yesteryear, here are short bios. I hope you enjoy this piece on how to get cranking on making your dreams come true.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale—Author of The Power of Positive Thinking which was on the New York Times bestseller list for 186 weeks, selling over 5 million copies. Dr. Peale was the long-time pastor of the landmark Marble Collegiate Church in New York, NY.

Cavett Robert—Golden Gavel Award platform speaker and author of Success with People.

Art Linkletter—American TV and radio personality, famous for the long-running TV show “People Are Funny” (airing for 19 years), and bestselling author of Kids Say the Darndest Things.

Joe Batten—An American business management thought leader and platform speaker. Bestselling author of Tough-Minded Management and Dare to Live Passionately.

Art Fetting—Veteran platform speaker and author of Selling Lucky: A Dynamic Guide to Success & Happiness.

SELF-STARTABILlTY: You Hold the Key to Your Own Ignition

By Christopher Jones

Author photo Topper Jones


Puzzling. That’s exactly what it was. Especially to the turn-of-the-century conductor on the great Santa Fe railroad. You see, every day this elderly man visited the conductor’s train station without fail. Yet the old man never bought a ticket, never boarded the train, and never picked up a passenger. He just sat for hours watching the trains pull out.

One day the conductor couldn’t stand the mystery any longer. After motioning the old man to the train, he asked him to explain the reason behind his daily ritual.

“Why, young man,” replied the sage, “visiting this train station each day inspires me.”

“Inspires you?” queried the conductor.

“Yes, my boy. Where else could I come every day and see something take off under its own steam?”

Not to belittle the wise old man, but somebody taking off under his own steam is even more inspiring than something. Especially if he’s a Norman Vincent Peale or a Cavett Robert. How many times have you asked yourself— “How does a self-starter like Dr. Peale or Cavett Robert get started in the first place? Just what is it that keeps these men-on-the-go, going? And what if the little self-starter inside these motivational giants breaks down, what then? How do they crank up again?

To find out I contacted Dr. Peale and Mr. Robert along with three other leading self-starters in America—Art Linkletter, Joe Batten, and Art Fettig. Each one of these dynamos was more than happy to share his insights and secrets on self-startability. So, without losing any more steam, here are the questions I asked these men and their very revealing yet individualistic responses.


PEALE: By getting interested and taking action. Always, Interest + Action = Startability.

ROBERT: The most divine gift people can possess is the desire to reach a certain goal—not a casual wish but a compulsive desire. If they have such a desire, this one quality will generate and create all the other qualities necessary for them to reach their goal. And so, I feel the answer to the first question is that they let this burning desire permeate all they do. It must encompass their entire existence. Then they do not just have the desire—the desire has them.

LINKLETTER: A self-starter like myself got started in the first place because I was an adopted son of a poor minister who had to work for everything he got and I learned early in life to say yes to every kind of job offer that came along. I have continued to risk failure by exposing myself to difficult and new situations and one thing leads to another.

BATTEN: Years ago I started the daily habit of saying to myself, as I awaken, these words from the Bible. “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24) As you probably know, we become what we think and what we say. It truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because I can’t recall a day in the last twenty years when I didn’t find something to be grateful for. Remember—depression and gratitude cannot co-exist!

FETTIG: Starting is easy. People do it a number of times every day. Finishing is what is tough. What has helped me the most is learning that unless I finish something, all of the effort that went into a project is wasted and so I finish.


PEALE: By forming specific, sharply defined goals and by “imagining” the desired result.

ROBERT: Von Nash, a former candidate for Miss America, is a living example of a formula for developing self-starting characteristics.

Von was a cosmetic salesperson who wanted to make and save enough money to buy a home of her own. She was more interested in accomplishing her ultimate purpose than in gratifying her immediate impulses. So, she took a picture of the house she wanted to acquire. She posted one copy on her mirror which she saw first thing each morning. She carried one copy in her purse which she saw during the day. Finally, there was another copy framed and kept on the table by her bed, which she saw the last thing each night before closing her eyes.

Need I tell you that this formula created and kept alive that compulsive desire within Von which made her the self-starter who purchased, in record time, that beautiful home?

Remember, “You GOTTA WANTA.”

LINKLETTER: I believe that people who are self-starters don’t develop a formula so much as respond to their own DNA. If you accept life as a challenge and are determined to face up to it, every waking moment is the right place to “get going”.

BATTEN: I concentrate on staying very fit—physically, mentally, and spiritually. Here’s how:

Physically—exercise and nutrition. The exercise includes competitive sports, twenty minutes of Yoga stretching and breathing each day, and a maintenance program of “iron pumping” or weightlifting.

Mentally—Books like The Dragon of Eden by Carl Sagan and the collected works of C.S. Lewis. I usually read an average of five books each week.

Spiritually—I carry a copy of J.B. Phillips’ translation of The Sermon On The Mount in my briefcase and study and restudy the 110 insights contained there. My formula is WLPW (Work, Love, Play, Worship).

FETTIG: A formula for developing the characteristic of self-startability? Force yourself to finish things. Set goals and force yourself to begin new challenging projects. Also, I try to read something every day, such as “Positive Living Magazine” or “Success Unlimited.” I keep going back to Og Mandino’s books, too.


PEALE: By repeating the two processes I mentioned before. (i.e., getting interested, taking action, forming sharply defined goals, and “imagining” the desired result.) Startability is not necessarily a constantly, sustained condition but must be reactivated by new interests and reaffirmed goals.

ROBERT: Self-starters know that we grow strong in the crucible of adversity—that obstacles are only those things we see when we take our eyes off our goals. Though they are optimists, they know they must be prepared to meet unexpected difficulties. They’re ready for the valleys as well as the mountaintops. They know there can’t be one without the other.

Remember, it’s all right to get down, but don’t get down on yourself.

LINKLETTER: When I get stuck or “down” on a project I turn to others and come back later to pick up the stalled venture. There’s nothing like a change of pace and scenery and challenge to get you started all over again. I also remind myself that no matter how badly a thing might be going, I haven’t failed as long as I haven’t quit, so as we say in Australia, “Give it a go, mate, and try a little harder.” The bottom line: Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.

BATTEN: I believe it is crucial to have fallow moments, times of rest, renewal, and refill. During these times it is important to be able to feel vulnerable so that new power can flow in. It is at times like this that I particularly believe in the “prayer of vulnerability” which is, “Not my will, Oh Lord, but thine be done.” It WORKS!

FETTING: When my “dobber” is down, I get it up by listening to cassette tapes. Also, I find when I am feeling low that if I can have even a little victory it gets me off and running again. And the way I ensure a parade of victories is to keep a number of balls in the air at one time.


Cranked up and ready to go? We hope so. Remember, nobody holds the key to your own ignition but you.

Why not give that key a turn today?

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