To Do No Harm

Dr. Daria Davidson’s message [“The Doctor Is In…The Business,” March ‘06] shows how a person who has mastered so many skills in helping people can turn those skills into mastering another line of work, when confronted with discovering that their primary career “causes them harm.”

I can relate to her message. I too came to understand my job was doing harm to me in the form of undue stress, lack of sleep, loss of time with family, etc.…and it was time for Plan B. I am a practicing anesthesiologist—and now I also have my own fast-growing network marketing business. Prior to this, changing careers to help others in another way didn’t appear to be a financial option for my family. We are all indebted to our sponsors, who provide us with an alternative career “to do no harm,” and follow through.

—Stacie Noble-Shriver, M.D.

A Million Little Dollars

The so-called “Harvard study” mentioned in your article [“A Million Little Dollars,” March ‘06] has been cited by thousands of multilevel marketers for at least twenty years. Do you know how this came about? Even if this was not a Harvard study, is there any truth to the figures quoted, and do you know how they originated?

—Ron Wyman

John David Mann replies:

There actually is a “landmark Harvard study,” which I mentioned in another recent editorial (“Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics,” May ’05). The researcher, George Valliant, had some fascinating things to say about aging—but nothing about goal-setting.

Perhaps there was an actual study about goal-setting—but if so, I have not been able to find it nor any actual reference to it. I posed the question to the National Speakers Association and heard back from several dozen of their members: nobody else had ever been able to come up with one, either. (If there really were such a study, wouldn’t someone know the actual reference?)

So, your questions: Is there any truth here? And how did this all happen?

Ironically, I think there absolutely is some truth to the idea, or else the myth of the study would not have carried such weight for so long. People who articulate goals are more likely to succeed. Careful observation of our fellow humans tells us that, frankly, most people have no clear goals—at least, no major, ambitious life goals. How many do? Three percent, one out of thirty? Could be. Are they more likely to succeed in a major way? Absolutely.

While I can find no evidence that this has ever been measured, I don’t doubt that it’s generally true.

I’ve heard that when Brian Tracy was told that nobody had ever done an actual study like this, he said, “Well, they damn well should.” He’s probably right—but until someone does, continuing to cite a “study” that never existed only hurts the credibility of the truth being described.