Of all the things that go towards shaping our destiny, it is our belief in our own abilities which has the greatest influence. Our level of self belief determines whether we succeed or fail to achieve our dreams and ambitions. As Henry Ford said “If you think you can, you’re right. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”

I was watching a program on the Biography Channel the other day which illustrated the truth of Henry Ford’s words and highlighted the importance of self-belief. The subject of this program dropped out of the educational system without a degree, in fact, he quit school before he even reached college age and left school with woefully inadequate qualifications. The reason for this academic failure was a combination of dyslexia and general lack of interest in school work.

Sadly, the lack of academic achievement was accompanied by a complete lack of prowess on the sports field. To top it all off, as well as being a dunce and a sporting failure, the poor kid was not even good looking. He did not have rich parents to give him financial support . His parents were not business owners, so there was no chance of a career via nepotism. He had no obvious skills or talent, so a career as an artist or musician was not an option.

This sounded like the stereotypical beginning for a person who will at best survive by taking low-paid employment and, at worst, will drift into a life of crime as a way of snatching what he is incapable of earning. His school headmaster is credited with saying on his premature departure from the education system, ‘I feel sure you will either end up in prison or become a millionaire’. To entertain the idea that this person had any prospect of becoming a millionaire, you would have to know his character. We can only see the external disadvantages, the headmaster was aware of the strength of character and depth of self belief existing within this person. That self-belief more than made up for any lack of education and academic qualifications.

One thing the prospective jailbird/millionaire had was the ability to spot a niche for a new business. No, this is not a story of luck bringing an instant rags to riches transformation. Unfortunately his first two business ventures failed miserably. Did this set him on a path of serial business failures? Not at all, the failures probably taught him valuable lessons. He started the first business at the age of seven, so the chances of real success were pretty remote! The fact that he had sufficient self-belief to start his first business before he even reached his teenage years gives us a clue as to his character.

The condensed version of the rest of this biography is that the “hero” of the story built a successful business before he reached his twenties, was a millionaire by the age of 25 and was the owner of a Caribbean island before he was thirty. He did not stop working then, he went on from flamboyant success to even bigger flamboyant success, setting records and achieving the apparently impossible.

The subject of the TV program was Sir Richard Branson who is, at the time of writing, a billionaire several times over. He has attributed his success to hard work, belief in his business ventures and a willingness to take risks. These risks have included the well publicised (and life threatening) hot-air balloon journeys, starting a business on borrowed capital and taking risks in business where the potential losses were huge.

It is self-belief which made it possible to take those risks. Without belief in himself, Richard Branson would not have dared to borrow the money to start his first business as a magazine publisher after leaving school. Without self-belief the balloon challenges would not have been contemplated. Without self-belief the ambition to own an airline would have remained just a dream.

“It’s lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believe in myself”. Those words were said by Muhammad Ali but they sum up the essence of what makes any person able to reach his goals in life. We must learn to sow and cultivate self-belief if we wish to achieve the harvest of our dreams.