One of the ‘old’ recommendations for personal/business improvement books is See You at the Top by Zig Ziglar. Originally published in 1975 after being rejected by at least 30 publishers, See You at the Top was the most successful book by Pelican Publishers up to that point[1].

Listen to a current business/motivational podcast for more than a few episodes and you’re going to hear the podcast host refer to the impact that Zig’s work had on their success.

Today we’re going to take a look at my thoughts on See You at the Top.

The stated purpose of the book is:

…this book is for those who have been missing much of the good life.

So See You at the Top was written to help you get the good life.

Zig’s 6 steps

The book is founded on the metaphor that success is a stairway, and the elevator is out. To be successful and ‘reach the top’ you need to climb each stair in order. There are no shortcuts.

According to Zig the 6 steps are:

  1. Self-Image
  2. Your relationship with others
  3. Goals
  4. Attitude
  5. Work
  6. Desire

Once the metaphor is established Zig walks the reader through each of the step and what it’s going to take to get up the step.

He spends considerably more time on steps 1 – 3 (like 70% of the book) than he does on the final 2 steps. I guess that makes some sort of sense in that if you have a good positive self image and good relationships with others and have taken the time to set out goals and cultivate a winning attitude, hard work and desire to keep going are likely to follow.

Lets get a brief summary of the 6 steps outlined in See You at the Top.

1. Self-Image

Zig contends that lots of people have a bad self image because society in general feeds ‘garbage’ in. He cites stuff like the popular music at the time (later in the book his citations reach so far as to put the blame for Charles Manson on the Beatles music).

Zig provides us with 16 steps to a positive self-image which cover stuff like ‘positive self talk’ to reading about the success of others and associating with other successful people.

I’ve read and heard all of these suggestions before, but it’s always great to hear them again in a new voice. One extra one may stick.

2. Your relationship with others

The second step in the stairway to the top/success is your relationships with others.

One of my favourite parts here is that Zig takes the time to talk about how a healthy marriage is a key to success. No you don’t have to get married, but if you’re in one already get down and invest. The biggest helper in my business is my wife, who cheers me on and is a sounding board for my ideas as well as a killer business woman in her own rights.

Now some of the relationship views are a bit old fashioned. According to Zig my wife should stop 20 minutes before I come home and shower then put on her makeup and pretty dress and be ready and waiting to rush in to my arms when I get home from work.

Oh and don’t forget that dinner should be ready to be on the table as soon as I walk in the door. He doesn’t mention kids, but I’d guess that my wife should have them lined up and waiting to greet me in similar fashion.

Yes both halves of a relationship should put in work to make sure that they look nice for the other half. Really you both need to work hard on your marriage to make sure it’s healthy.

Way to many people get married then just stop ‘courting’ each other as kids come along. Maybe even before kids come along.

If you want a healthy marriage you need to put in the work. A not healthy marriage will affect your overall motivation and that’s going to affect your business and your success.

3. Goals

The third step on the stairway to the ‘top’ is your goals. Zig lays out how important it is to actually point yourself in the proper direction so that you don’t just end up ‘somewhere’.

…can you imagine Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest, explaining how he was able to accomplish that feat? Suppose he had explained that he was just out walking around one day when he happened to find himself at the top of the tallest mountain in the world? – See You at the Top

He doesn’t just tell us that we should write them down, he also gives us some great principles for goal reaching. Inserted through his principles are a bunch of personal stories (again sometimes dated examples) and lightly cited research to help drive his points home.

Principles of Goal Reaching

  1. Keep records of where you are
  2. Commit to paper the goals you want to achieve on a yearly, monthly, daily basis
  3. Be specific with your goals
  4. Set a big, hard but reachable goal to create excitement and a challenge
  5. Make the goal long range (1 year) to help the daily frustrations blend in
  6. List obstacles between you and the goal
  7. Break the goal down in to daily increments
  8. Mentally prepare to discipline yourself to take the steps needed to get the goal
  9. Be convinced you can reach the goal
  10. Visualize yourself as reaching the goal before you start it

4. Attitude

Attitude and Self-Image from the first step at first glance seem pretty much the same thing, but they’re not.

Self-Image is focused on your own view of yourself.

Attitude is focused on how you approach the rest of the world.

Are you generally a positive person or negative person?

Are set backs temporary or is ‘the man always getting you down’?

See You at the Top gives you a number of ways to approach life/work that will help you have a positive attitude towards things that happen in your life.

When I think of your attitude I think of this long time Chuck Swindoll quote:

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. – Chuck Swindoll

So change how you react to life and you’re going to find that so many of the problems you have are entirely your own fault.

5. Work

Here’s where the chapters start getting short.

Referencing work Ziglar can be summarized by telling you that there is no free lunch so stop expecting success to just fall in to your lap.

Ziglar gets in to good communist handout tirade and even talks about welfare. Overlooking that tirade, it’s a good point.

Way to many freelancers talk about how they have a hard time finding clients then when you ask what are the step they take to find clients it amounts to sitting and waiting for clients to find them.

If you want to succeed get out there and generate some motion in your business. It’s highly unlikely that enough work will just walk in your door and for ever story you hear about work just ‘happening’ to someone you’ve got the other 99.9% of people who had a business fail or barely scrape by and they had to close it.

6. Desire

The final section on desire is the shortest (removing the whole chapter about communism) and focuses on walking us through how desire, really wanting something so bad and doing anything for it can trump natural talent.

If you just have talent, it’s way to easy to sit back on that talent and not really work hard for things. Maybe you have the natural genetics for running and you’re fast in grade school and high school but you don’t really train because you can beat everyone.

Then you step up to national level and college competitions and find out that there are lots of people faster than you.

They may not have the favourable genetics you do, but they get up at 5am daily and do the training needed to be fast.

That getting up at 5am daily to train is what makes them fast. That desire to excel.

Here is where many freelancer’s fail. They want to talk about working for themselves but they don’t want to do the hard work to actually become a solid business owner. They may even be one of the best designers/programmers out there but they don’t continually practice their craft and they get surpassed by that person that just has a burning passion and spends as much time as possible learning more.

Instead of reading about running a good business or taking seminars about it, you just dream of running a good business. You don’t put the work in.

Just because you have desire doesn’t mean that you’re going to hit it big, but being their day after day and continually learning/improving certainly greatly increases your chances.

Other Thoughts

It was interesting to read this book after having finished To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink. They both talk about science, but where Pink actually cites the sources and walks you through the studies Ziglar just glosses over them with the final point which is supposed to drive his objective home.

Being a Psychology grad I certainly prefer to see proper citations and deeper talk about the studies than a 2 sentence summary to prove a point.

Ziglar also proves his points with statements like “I’m entirely convinced…” or “It has been my observation that….”. That’s called Confirmation Bias[2] and makes your points much weaker than looking at some real science that backs up your opinion.

I found To Sell is Human a much stronger read, and it actually provides the studies to show you that positive self talk is not as effective as asking yourself questions like:

Will I make this sale? What are their objections going to be?

Asking yourself the questions forces you to go through the reasons that you may not make the sale and thus deal with the objections. Then you’re more prepared and are more likely to make the sale and be more confident that you will make the sale.


If you’re totally against reading about someone talking about their Christianity as a motivator for success, then you should probably skip this book. Zig talks about his faith more than a few times.

If you can’t get past the dated references and tirades about capitalism vs communist system don’t read this book.

Putting aside the dated references and tirades[3] then there is lots of great advice to be had from See You at the Top.

  1. Zig Ziglar. (2014, January 9). Retrieved September 1, 2014, from  Confirmation Bias is the tendency to interpret given information in a way that reinforces your current beliefs.  There are times you’re going to need to skip a few pages in a row near the end to put those things aside.  photo credit: cimddwc cc