One of the recurring themes in debates over the entitlement state is that most people are on the dole through no fault of their own, and that the only way they can succeed is if the rest of us are taxed to give them free education, free job training, free child care, subsidized transportation, and anything else the entitlement state’s supporters come up with.


Is that true? Do people need handouts — or, left free, can they rise from nothing by their own effort? To help answer those questions I decided to talk to a self-made man and one of today’s leading experts on success, Brian Tracy. Brian is an internationally sought after speaker and the author of — I’m not making this up — forty-five books, including my personal favorite, Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time.


Note: This interview took place in June 2012, but it hasn’t been easily accessible.


Don: Can you tell us about your life before you started on the path that eventually made you a success?


Brian Tracy: I grew up in a working class family with parents who were not regularly employed. I did not graduate from high school and started my life doing laboring jobs like washing dishes, working in mills and factories, on farms and ranches, and in construction.


When I could no longer find a laboring job, I got a job in straight commission sales, going from door to door selling small products and living off of the immediate commission.


Don: Many people find the first steps on the road to success the most difficult to make because they have the fewest resources and options. What did you do?


Brian Tracy: Survival is a great motivator. I had no money, no contacts, no friends and no opportunities. I therefore jumped at the first sales job I could get and threw my whole heart into earning enough money to stay alive.


After six months of struggling, an experienced salesman sat me down and showed me a professional sales process. I still remember being amazed that there was a methodology and a system to professional selling. It changed my life.


From then on, I adopted a philosophy: “You can learn anything you need to learn to achieve any goal you can set for yourself.” I have never deviated from that basic belief, either for myself or for others.


Don: What was the breakthrough event in your life?


Brian Tracy: There are turning points and critical moments in each person’s life. When you look back, you realize that your life took a turn as the result of an event, an experience, or even something that someone said at a critical moment in your life. I do not believe that there are any “breakthrough events.” Life is a long, continuing process of “two steps forward and one step back.” Over time, if you work hard and upgrade your skills continually, you will start to move ahead of the pack financially, and in many other ways.


Most people I know who are successful are still busy and working; continually striving to achieve more and do even better. This is not because they are worried about money, but rather because they love the idea of applying their intelligence and personal resources to accomplishing something worthwhile and which often has financial results.


Just as experts never call themselves “experts,” successful people never really feel that they have “arrived.” Whatever they have accomplished, there is something more to accomplish in the future. They are never satisfied. Most successful people I know are totally committed to being and doing more and more in the fulfillment of their personal potentials.


Don: What would you say to those who suggest that you just got “lucky?”


Brian Tracy: I have spoken and written on this subject extensively. There is no such thing as luck; there are only probabilities. The good news is that you can influence the probabilities on your behalf.


The harder you work, the luckier you get. The more you learn about your craft, the better you become, and the better results you get. The better you manage your time, the more productive you are and the better your results will be. Every one of these constructive actions increases the probabilities that you will be the right person, doing the right work, in the right place. As a result, doors will open for you and you will move ahead far faster than the average person who is passive, and who simply waits and hopes for things to get better.


Don: A lot of people say they can’t succeed because they face impossible barriers.


Brian Tracy: Virtually everyone in America and throughout the world starts off with nothing. They begin their lives with limited education and an almost nonexistent earning ability.


From then on, we’re on your own. Successful people accept complete responsibility for their situation, good or bad. They don’t make excuses or blame others. They don’t criticize or complain. If they are not happy with their situation they get busy and change their situation so that they are happy with it.


Over the years, I have met countless people who have had more shortcomings and limitations than most people could imagine, and they have gone on to be successful nonetheless.


I’ve worked with new immigrants who came to this country with no money, speaking not a word of English, and having no education, no contacts and no place to start. I have worked with people who were blind or working out of a wheelchair. I have worked with people who have come from humble beginnings with poor educations and no opportunities, who have gone on to become great successes in life. For every reason that a person can give for not moving ahead, they can look around and find someone who had it far worse than they could ever dream of, but who are successful nonetheless.