Jack Canfield Offers Chicken Soup for the World
by Karen Adams
Jack Canfield, who became a household name with the publication of Chicken Soup for the Soul—a book filled with uplifting, real-life stories—has written scores of books that have changed people’s lives. But the books have changed his life, too.
“When you read inspirational stories all day long, you come home inspired,” he says, speaking by phone from Santa Barbara, California, where he lives. He gave the astonishing example of a single mother who had lost both her hands, and yet who had relearned how to do everything she had always done despite her injuries: cooking, keeping house, working, washing her kids’ hair. “I asked myself, ‘What do I have to complain about?’” Canfield says.
What moves us, he says, are real stories—not stories about celebrities’ escapades. “Human beings need that,” he explains. “We need things that speak to our soul.” We are hungry to be motivated and inspired, and to know that we, like others, can overcome obstacles.
Canfield has heard stories about angels, transformations, near-death experiences that bring a new joy for life. “It really deepens the spiritual dimension,” he says. “I feel so blessed.” It furthered his own journey of appreciation, he says, and strengthened his ability to live in a state of gratitude.
But the success of the Chicken Soup books (there are dozens now, in addition to the original) didn’t come overnight. The first book was rejected by 144 publishers before one accepted it. Canfield says he simply never gave up.
That profound work, enriched by all those stories about people overcoming obstacles— combined with his own remarkable success—led him to write his newest book, The Success Principles. It’s a way of sharing what has transformed his own life, and Canfield says anyone can do it. “In writing that book, I lived those principles, so I knew they worked,” he says.
He also teaches seminars about success, based on the book. And, perhaps surprisingly, most of his participants are women.
What differences has he seen between men and women, and their definitions of success? “In general, women are more relational; it’s important to them that they cooperate,” he says. “Women want to be connected through relationship. They are cyclical.” Men can learn from women, he explains, using himself as an example. Canfield says he has learned a tremendous amount about relationships from his wife, Inga. She is featured in the film The Heart to Lead, a documentary about the worldwide spiritual and social movement borne of women’s unique gifts, a project that both Canfields support. “Inga has taught me to be more spontaneous and authentic, and to cherish family time more,” Canfield says.
He believes that she has learned from him, too. “She is better at scheduling things now, and she thinks more systematically and logically when she needs to,” he says. The systematic approach to life is typical for men, he explains, as they generally want to go from Point A to Point B, in a linear fashion.
None of this is news, Canfield says. But what’s interesting is that the desire for a purpose and the desire to make a difference is the same for everyone.
So how can we make a difference in the world and be personally successful? Success traditionally has been about security, material goods, money and fame, he says. But each of us must decide for ourselves how we define success. “Success is actually fulfilling your soul’s purpose,” Canfield says. “Figure out what’s right for you. Ask yourself: ‘Where do I feel the most joy? What’s easy and natural for me to do? What’s my talent?’ That’s where you’ll find your purpose, and your success.”
It may be a simple undertaking that enables you to make the world better. “Take Inga, for example,” he says. “She makes people’s days. I call her a ‘day-maker.’ I think that’s her purpose. She comes into a room and everyone lights up and she uplifts everyone she meets, just by making their days better. She lives her purpose every day.”
In making a global contribution, the same approach applies. “Simply ask yourself, ‘What am I drawn to?’ I may not be able to save the world, but if I’m upset about the radiation disaster in Japan, perhaps I can write a check to the Red Cross. And I can research what’s being done abut radiation risks in my own community.”
Or, he says, if you’re a teacher or a musician, you can teach kids songs abut how to get along and take care of each other. You can help them organize a bake sale and send the money to a charity.
Canfield mentions Ryan Hreljac, founder of Ryan’s Wells, a foundation that build wells to supply clean water around the world. In 1998, when Hreljac was in first grade in Ontario, he learned from his teacher that people in Africa were dying because they didn’t have access to clean drinking water. There was good water underground, but most people had no way to get to it. So six-year-old Hreljac did chores to raise $70 and sent that money to villagers in Uganda, who built a well that still provides clean water today. The foundation that Hreljac established has helped more than 700,000 people worldwide so far.
“You can’t do everything,” Canfield says. “We can’t all have an impact all over the world. But we can ‘think global and act local.’” We can choose one cause, he says, and get busy.
He tells a story shared by spiritual teacher Ram Dass, about a man who said to his own spiritual teacher: “I go out into the village and I see thousands of starving children. How do I know whom to help?” The teacher replied: “One child will capture your heart. Help that one.”
“That’s what we need to do, each one of us,” Canfield says. “Help that child. That’s success.”
Jack Canfield’s guidelines for success
Take 100-percent responsibility for your life. To be successful, one must get out of “victim mode.” If things aren’t going right in your life, don’t blame the government, your spouse, your boss, your parents or society. Simply take responsibility and move forward.
What’s your purpose? Clarify it. Is it to have fun? Or to make a difference? Some people know from childhood, but others have to discover it. Once you know, then every step you take should point to that purpose.
What do you want? Not what do your parents, boss, church, or anybody else wants. You. Seek clarity in these seven areas: work and career, finances, recreation and free time, health and fitness, relationships, personal goals and contribution to the larger community.
What is your vision? Break it down into specific gals. “I want to lose weight” is not specific. But “I want to weigh 165 pounds by June 15 at 5 p.m.” is specific. Your unconscious mind will not kick in until you give it details to work on. Visualize yourself having reached your goal. Do this twice a day: once in the morning to set the course of your day, and once at bedtime to tell your brain to work on it.
Take action. Most people don’t have an action plan. Keep track of what you do to move toward your goal. Also get an accountability partner and commit to a schedule for checking in with each other.
Reject rejection. A lot of people are afraid of rejection so they don’t ask for help. The only way out is through. You have to do the thing you’re afraid of.
Respond to feedback. Not everything you do will work; keep trying. It’s the law of probability: the more things you try, the more things will work. Ask others, “How am I doing? How can I improve?”
Persevere. Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by 144 publishers before it was accepted, Canfield says. Send your manuscript to one more publisher. Exercise one more day. Send out one more resume; many people who are unemployed have simply given up. If something is important to you, don’t give up.
Jack Canfield is a life coach, motivational speaker and the author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books, as well as The Success Principles. For more information, visit JackCanfield.com.