One of my favorite movies, Cameron Crowe's Say Anything, was filmed in Seattle. John Cusack stars as a blue-collar, regular-guy kick-boxer who falls in love with the valedictorian of his high school graduating class. One day, while standing in her house and waiting for her to finish getting ready, he sees a very large dictionary on a wooden stand in the hallway. He inquires of its purpose. She explains that every time she didn't understand what a word meant, she would look it up and check it off. As John turns the pages, he is overwhelmed by the sight of every word having been checked off this thousand-page dictionary.
I am, and have always been, just a technician. In 1976, I left college and joined the United States Air Force to learn a trade. Learn it I did. Almost 40 years later, fully half my business is related to this marvelous and noble industry in one way or another. In 1989, I made the transition from working with tools to selling HVAC project and maintenance services. I was a sponge, ever searching for ideas to improve. I needed new tools.
According to the late, great Earl Nightingale, a survey that centered on vocabulary was conducted by a major corporation in the late 1970s. The conclusion was based strictly on the knowledge and use of a large number of words, and a participant's place in the corporation was predicted with shocking accuracy. In other words, the CEO scored the highest in the vocabulary test, while the janitor scored the lowest. There appeared to be a direct correlation between income and vocabulary.
Earl Nightingale was co-founder of Nightingale-Conant, an early pioneer of audio learning. In 1990, on the advice given in one of Mr. Nightingale's audio programs, I invested in an audio cassette program entitled Vocab by Bergen Evans. Mr. Evans created a simple concept: 500 new words defined, used in sentence, and repeated. There was a workbook with a test. After listening to the entire program several times, I took the test and scored eighty percent; I had learned 400 new words. My income increased that year by twenty percent. You see, your vocabulary is the one thing you can't hide, except by silence!
When I shared this insight a couple of years later with my friend, Mark Sangerman, he suggested I read the Sunday edition of the New York Times. Every time I saw Mark, he had a copy of the Times tucked under his arm. I have read that paper at least three times a week and almost every Sunday for 23 years. One day, ten years into this commitment, my mother, a committed autodidactic learner, said to me, "I have noticed a dramatic improvement in your vocabulary." The funny thing is, I hadn't really noticed. Simultaneously, um, uh, and you know began to disappear from my conversations. A limited vocabulary is like a gear with a missing tooth; there is a pause. A person with a limited vocabulary feels the need to fill the silence with other sounds like um.
The most important thing is to read as much as you can, like I did. It will give you an understanding of what makes good writing and it will enlarge your vocabulary. -J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book and movie series
One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die. -Evelyn Waugh, author
An ever-expanding vocabulary enables us to interpret and express. If you have a limited vocabulary, you will also have a limited vision and a limited future. -Jim Rohn, business philosopher, speaker, author
I took my commitment one step further. While standing in line at the grocery store, I would grab a copy of Reader's Digest, turn to the "Word Power" section, and test myself. In dentist offices or at my auto mechanic's shop, I would ask to take old copies home with me. Eventually I purchased a 500-page tome entitled Word Power, devoured it, and kept a small journal of new words I had learned. What is amazing about the process is this: when you learn one new word, you actually learn up to five more. It turns out vocabulary building is geometric and compounds over time.
The result of my 25-year commitment to expanding my vocabulary? I earn 10 times what I did when I first began this journey, one word at a time.
Okay, so you are thinking, "How do I fit this into my busy schedule?" Here are Seven Simple Strategies to expand your vocabulary without breaking the (time) bank:
- Dictionary.com "Word of the Day" sent to your phone or computer.
- Read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal every day for 90 days, one article per section. (That's 15 minutes max!)
- Invest in an audio program designed specifically to increase your vocabulary and listen to it while driving, working out, or walking the dog.
- Invest in an old-school Webster's dictionary and quiz your children or grandchildren at the dinner table; commit to teaching them one or two new words a day and have them try to use them in a sentence.
- Join Toastmasters for one year and attend at least once a week. They teach you to incorporate "The Word of the Day" into your impromptu five-minute speech.
- When you come across a word you do not know, look it up, write it down, and review it once a week.
- Consider doing what the character in Denzel Washington's film, The Equalizer, did: commit to reading the 100 best books ever written as a lifetime goal. Read for 15 to 20 minutes a day.
I need to watch Say Anything again. Hey, they have it on this flight. Cameron Crowe understands how to tell a great story.
This technician is grateful to all the people who read this newsletter, purchase my books and CDs, and hire me to speak to their company or organization members. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I haven't changed a compressor in years...
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