Kevin Hall is a man of many passions and boundless aspiration. A past partner in and trainer for Franklin Quest, makers of the famous Franklin Day Planner, he helped fuel Franklin’s phe- nomenal worldwide growth. His lifelong fascination with the deeper meaning of words has led him to a career bedecked with unusual and intriguing endeavors and accomplishments. He is cofounder of the “Statue of Responsibility” project envisioned by Dr. Viktor Frankl (when we spoke with Kevin, he had just returned from Vienna, where he had met with Frankl’s grandson about the project), and has been credited with wordsmithing and trademarking the original slogan for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, “Ignite the Fire Within.” Kevin’s new book Aspire was the inspiration and cornerstone for this issue of Networking Times. — J.D.M.
Where did your interest and love or fascination with words come from?
I’ve been fascinated with purpose, and with how we can discover our path and purpose. Words have a lot to do with that.
I have always loved words. I believe you cannot think higher than your vocabulary, and if you understand what a word truly means, in its purest sense, it can really open up new horizons.
This love of words heightened for me about five years ago, when I met Arthur Watkins. Arthur is the undisputed master of words. He’ll be 94 this June, and when you spend any time with him, you realize you’re with one of the greats.
I now have probably a few thousand dollars worth of etymological dictionaries, from word origins to the Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, dictionaries of Latin and other languages. I’ll go through these to research a word. But when I sit down with Arthur, he gets right to the purest form of the word. He has helped me take it to a new level.
A few years ago, I was looking into the words fulfillment, well-being, and abundance. I knew there was some kind of link, but I didn’t quite know what it was. So I went to visit Arthur at Summerfield Manor, the senior home where he lives.
Going to see Arthur is the antithesis of the typical visit to a senior home. His mind is as sharp as a 20-year-old’s. He never goes to a dictionary; it’s all in his mind.
I told him what I was looking at, and he said, “Okay, fulfillment: think of a well overflowing with water. It’s filled. It’s fulfilled. That’s how you are when you magnify the gifts that you have and you share them with others. That comes from water.
“In fact,” he continued, “so do well-being and wealth. When a well is full, that’s fulfillment and wealth, well-being, very similar words. And then there’s abundance, which comes from the undulation of the sea. After the first wave, there’s another wave, and another wave, and another, and it never ends.
“So all of these, from wealth to well-being to fulfillment to abundance, they all originate with water.”
I’m intrigued with something you said: that you can’t think higher than your vocabulary.
That’s right. You cannot lead farther than your leadership vocabulary.
It occurs to me that you’re not necessarily referring to having a big vocabulary in terms of knowing a lot of words, as much as a depth of vocabulary. Is that right?
Maybe a little of both. It’s fascinating to continue looking at words and expanding your vocabulary. But really getting to the core and depth of words, that’s more what I mean. We throw words around pretty casually, but a light turns on when you really get to the core of that word.
Passion, for example, is a word we use a lot in network marketing. It also happens to be one of the eleven key words in my book.
Passion is not lustful, romantic love. It is love, but it’s being willing to suffer for what we love, being willing to pay the price for what we say is most important. It’s about what we do when things get a little tough.
What do I do in the middle part of my journey, when no one’s around to see what I’m doing? If I have passion, I’m willing to suffer and push through to achieve that goal.
It strikes me that with your deep love of finding the meaning in things, you crossed paths with the man who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning. How did you get connected to the Viktor Frankl family?
I had a mentor, James Newman, who was one of the pioneers in human development. Jim came to Franklin when I was there, and influenced me a lot. I was running the training and corporate seminars side of the business. I was young and inexperienced, so I reached out to people like Jim.
As it happened, Jim had known Viktor. At one point, he came to me and said he wanted to get my help with the Statue of Responsibility project.
This was Viktor Frankl’s idea?
Yes, well over a half century ago. He had the idea that to balance the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast, we should have a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.
It was a big idea—still is. But I believe it will be finished within the next decade: a 300-foot statue symbolizing that freedom comes with responsibility.
And you’ve visited with Frankl’s family about this, yes?
I was in Vienna just last week, at the very flat at 6 Czerningasse where the Nazis came in the dark silence of the night to take Viktor and his family away.
Can you imagine: here is one of the great psychotherapists. Directly across the street was [Alfred] Adler, in #7 Czerningasse. Right across the street from each other. Great minds seem to collect in certain places.
So the Nazis came and took Viktor and his first wife, Tilly, and their unborn child, as well as his brother, mother and father. They lost everything. They destroyed everything he had.
They even took away his name; they told him, “You can’t be called Viktor anymore. You are now Prisoner #119,104.”
I’ve always loved his name. He was so aptly named: no matter what the Nazis said, he was always a victor, and never a victim.
I write about this in the first chapter of my book. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor was never bitter. He used this life experience to help him find his purpose, which was to heal other people and help them find their purpose.
He was in four different concentration camps in a little over three and a half years, and during that time he saved countless lives of people who said, “It’s not worth living. I give up.”
His father died in his arms, in Theresienstadt, the first concentration camp. He lost his mother, his bride with his unborn child and his brother. The Nazis tore his manuscript up, they burned it in front of him, they laughed in his face. He lost his whole life’s work, his family, everything that mattered. But they could not take away his ability to choose what he would take from this situation.
People who are resilient, like Viktor, can harness that kind of adversity. Instead of being in a pit, they’re standing on higher ground. And they reach out and help others.
I want my readers to know they have their own heroic journey. People think I’ve lived a wonderful life and met all sorts of remarkable people. But you meet just as many people in your life who are trying to help you with your purpose as I do. My life’s no more remarkable or unremarkable than your life. You just have to pay attention and look for the clues.
As Joseph Campbell said, “When we discover our purpose, we will find people waiting on our path who have been there all along. They were just waiting for us to find it.”
I believe this. It’s not hype. It’s happened too many times in my life, and I’ve seen it over and over again with people I’ve coached and worked with.
Why or how did you choose that wonderful word aspire to title your book?
My original title was way too long: “Discovering Your Path and Purpose Through the Secret Power of Words.” It was just too much.
One day a friend of mine, Rick Evans [Richard Paul Evans, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Christmas Box—Ed.] said, “You know, Kevin, I love the book, I love the premise, and I love the brand promise—but you don’t have a brand. You’re writing about words. Why don’t you come up with a word that really describes what it means to discover your purpose?”
Rick was actually the one who came up with that word. I thought it was perfect. It means to stretch, grow, expand. It just felt right.
I love this topic, because I love the power of words. I hear people say, “Words fail me.” No, they don’t! Words never fail you. Words can express anything. That’s why they’re words.
In the book, I try to create a vivid picture about each of the eleven key words that form the chapters, a creative visual that the reader will never, ever forget. What does ollin mean? What does passion mean? What does genshai mean? What is a pathfinder? What does namasté mean? What is integrity, at its core? What picture does each word paint, and what are the stories and the lessons within that word?
What are the biggest traps we fall into with our words, and what are the biggest strengths we can levy with our words?
I’d like to take that a step further, if I may. When you say “our words,” I’m going to say “our lives”—What are the biggest traps that we fall into with our lives? Because our words make up our lives as well.
I have a number of coaching clients I work with, and they include some of the top network marketing earners in the world. The other day I was working with someone who was thinking of moving to another company. They wanted my advice.
I said, “Just be who you are. Don’t be who you’re not, be who you are.”
Character, in ancient days, was something that was engraved. Think of a Japanese character engraved onto a piece of wood, stone or metal. It was everything good that’s ever happened to you, and everything bad that has ever happened to you. That’s really what makes up our character.
Then, in Shakespeare’s time, that word evolved, and a character became, what?
A sort of persona you put on.
Exactly. A part that someone played in a play. Instead of it being who you were, it became who you were not. They even wore masks.
Network marketers often find a leader they admire and then try emulate that person.
Stephen Covey says, “Go to the top of the learning curve so you learn from the very best of the best—but be who you are.” As the wise Sufi Hafiz teaches, “In a forest of 100,000 trees, there are no two leaves alike.” None of us has the same fingerprints, the same laugh, the same footprints, and our path is as unique as the print we make on that path.
When I’m coaching someone, I ask them to select a word that represents them.
When you tap into your namasté, which is your divine gifts, when you tap into what’s unique about you, then you can stop doing what you’re good at and start doing what you’re great at.
Sometimes we will look at someone we admire and say, “I think I’ll put that mask on. I think I’ll play that part.” But you cannot find meaning or purpose in your life when you’re living someone else’s life.
If you can just tap into what it is that you uniquely do best, then you’ll never work a day in your life.
What word best describes you? Just one. You can change it anytime. That’s you and your strength.
When you share your gifts, you honor the Giver of those gifts. I met Gene Siskel, the movie critic, and he said something wonderful: “A talent wasted is a sin. It’s a sin when you have a gift and you don’t share it with others.”
That’s where I start every coaching session. Namasté: the divine in me salutes the divine in you. I salute what you’re great at. I salute your uniqueness, your talents.
Do people find this hard to do?
It’s interesting: we see this readily in other people. I don’t know why it’s so hard to see it in ourselves. It’s as if we’ve been taught you’re not humble if you act like you have all of these gifts. But that’s not where true humility comes from.
That’s a whole other word: humility comes from the rich, organic soil called humus. We won’t grow or develop without sufficient humility.
Humility is one of the most misunderstood, misapplied words in all of language. It’s often seen as being passive or being submissive. “I guess I need to slump my shoulders, bow my head and be subservient for the rest of my life.” That’s just weakness! Meekness isn’t weakness.
Humility is being teachable and coachable; it implies a continual commitment to learning, growing and expanding. It means, put your shoulders up and back, your head up, and stretch and aspire to become your very best—and then extend yourself to help others do the same.
Ben Franklin also counted it as the most important—and most difficult—of his thirteen virtues.
Stephen Covey says humility is the “mother of all virtues.”
You want to be yourself, but be your better self, your very best self that you can. Take those talents, combine them with humility, be teachable, coachable, learn from others, tap into who you are, and then be willing to pay the price—which brings us back to passion.
Passion comes from the ancient Greek word pathos, which means suffering, what you must undergo to achieve something.
Sometimes we think life is supposed to go in a straight line. But that isn’t the nature of life. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, yes—but that is not the most important step. Anybody can start something. Very few can finish.
I’ve met some of the great ones in network marketing, and here’s what I see about them: they are finishers. They decide what it is they’re going to do, they know what their plan is, they feel strong about the product, but their path is not short-lived or just based on feelings. They get out there and keep following that path. They get it done.
In our culture, we think suffering is a bad thing. Suffering can be a good thing. It can be a sacred thing. It can be life-defining.
When you tap into your unique gifts and combine that with the ability to sacrifice and suffer for it, there’s nothing you can’t do or accomplish or become.
I’m not saying to become a victim. It’s an entirely different thing to be willing to suffer for a cause, for that which you love. At its essence, passion is sacred suffering.
And it’s not the denial of fulfillment, but rather the path into fulfillment, yes?
It is totally the path. I like how you said that. You should be a writer. (laughs)
It was Viktor Frankl who said, “Our core drive as humans is our search for meaning. The way in which a man accepts his faith and all of the suffering that it entails”—and this is someone who knew what he was speaking of—“the way in which he takes up his cross gets him ample opportunity, even under the most difficult circumstances, to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
Network marketers talk about opportunity. In the middle of the word opportunity there is another word, port, which means door. In ancient days, if you were trying to sail into a city, whether to trade, go to war, or for whatever reason, you could enter the city’s port only when the seas and trade winds were just right. It was literally a window of opportunity.
In other words, there is a doorway in the middle of opportunity, and it doesn’t stay open forever.
How many people in network marketing have said, “Oh man, I looked at that one ten years ago, if I’d just stayed there, I would have realized my wildest dreams.”
How does aspire relate to inspire?
They are very closely related. The -spire part is of course spirit, the breath of life.
When you inspire, you breathe life into someone or their dreams, their aspirations.
You don’t want to go out and start recruiting people you need to motivate. You go out and recruit people who aspire, and then you help them become the very best that they can become.
That’s what the great ones do.
If there is one object of the book, it is to help people find their purpose. You find your purpose by being aware and opening your eyes. You never know when someone’s going to cross your path and change the direction of your life.