By John Wood

When Zig Ziglar first submitted his book Over the Top to his publisher, his publisher sent it back to him.

He asked Ziglar how he could tell people how to live “over the top” when he hadn’t identified what living over the top means.

So Ziglar sat down to remedy the problem.

He’d write something … rip it up … write something else … rip it up … go for a walk … write something … rip it up … and so on.

It went on for a full two months.

Then one day, he and his wife went to visit his wife’s sister in a Shreveport, Louisiana, nursing home. His wife’s sister has multiple sclerosis.

Now Ziglar, being a solutions-oriented person, likes to tackle a problem by breaking it down into steps. But because many people in the nursing home were beyond human help, it was out of his realm in terms of providing a solution. He found it rather difficult to deal with.

However, he says his wife was not burdened with the belief that everyone she meets she has to cure.

She quickly started hugging people, telling them how pretty they were, telling them that she loved them and how glad she was to see them.

Ziglar says people were gathered around her like bees around the hive.

He couldn’t handle it, though – so he excused himself and walked outside.

There, he said the following prayer to himself …

“Lord, please give me that kind of heart. Make me have that kind of compassion for my fellow human being. Touch me, so that I will have that kind of spirit.”

He went back inside and sat down, and suddenly inspiration came to him.

On the back of a motel bill that he’d just paid, he wrote down the “over the top” words that had been eluding him for so long. It only took him a few minutes. 90% of what follows consists of what Ziglar wrote out that day:

  • You’re at the top when you clearly understand that failure is an event, not a person.
  • You’re at the top when you realize that yesterday ended last night and today is your brand new day.
  • You’re at the top when you’ve made friends with your past, focus on the present, and are optimistic about the future.
  • You’re at the top when you know that success, a win, doesn’t make you. And that failure, a loss, doesn’t break you.
  • You’re at the top when you’re filled with faith, hope, and love and live without anger, greed, guilt, envy, or thoughts of revenge.
  • You’re at the top when you’re mature enough to delay gratification and shift your focus from your rights to your responsibilities.
  • You’re at the top when you know that failure to stand for what is morally right is the prelude to being the victim of what is criminally wrong.
  • You’re at the top when you’re secure in who you are so you’re at peace with God and at fellowship with man.
  • You’re at the top when you’ve made friends with your adversaries and have gained the love and respect of those who know you best.
  • You’re at the top when you understand that others can give you pleasure, but genuine happiness comes when you do things for others.
  • You’re at the top when you’re pleasant to the grouchy, courteous to the rude, and generous to the needy.
  • You’re at the top when you love the unlovable, give hope to the hopeless, friendship to the friendless, and encouragement to the discouraged.
  • You’re at the top when you look back in forgiveness, forward in hope, down in compassion, and up with gratitude.
  • You’re at the top when you know that he who would be the greatest of them all must become the servant of all.
  • You’re at the top when you recognize, confess, develop, and use your God-given physical, mental, and spiritual abilities to the glory of God and for the benefit of mankind.
  • You’re at the top when you stand in front of the creator of the universe and she says to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Once finished, Ziglar realized he hadn’t identified what it means to be at or over the top at all.

He’d identified the bottom.

Because anyone who adheres to the things on his list has a firm foundation to build a life doing anything they want to do – whether it’s being a writer or studying to be an astronaut.

Powerful stuff, wouldn’t you say?

And a worthy set of criteria to aspire to as one moves forward in life.

This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) The Writer’s Life, a free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on how to live the life you’ve always dreamed of. For a complimentary subscription, visit