Prime the Pump … for Success!

If you’ve been reading our generational gems for any length of time at all, you’re well aware of the fact that we’ve been sharing wonderful lessons, anecdotes, allegories, parables, and narratives with future leaders. These articles have been around a very long time and most business veterans have heard them many times. They are certainly the mortar in the building blocks of many very successful foundations … of both individuals and organizations. That’s why they must be passed on to future generations.

I can’t imagine this series ever being complete without the following classic. I’ll summarize it briefly and include a link to the entire story as it’s a bit lengthy but definitely a story you’ll want to read fully.

I’d like to explain how I first happened to hear this story. I’m very proud of the fact that I have accumulated a personal library of more than 4,000 books. The very first book in that library was purchased from a table in the hallway of a large auditorium that was promoting a motivational seminar decades ago. Early in my career, I was taken to that seminar by a supervisor who thought I might enjoy it. It featured some of the best motivational speakers in the business at that time, although I wasn’t familiar with any of them.

That list included such notable professionals as Wayne Dyer, Denis Waitley, Earl Nightingale, Og Mandino, Leo Buscaglia, and Robert Schuller. Every one of these speakers was fantastic. I was mesmerized from early morning until late in the day when the program finally ended! However, each served as pretty much an opening act for the speaker of the day … Zig Zigler!

I’d never seen or heard of this man before but after watching him grace the stage and tell his stories in his very unusual manner, I knew I would never forget him. He was a very tall, lanky hillbilly who was born in Alabama and raised in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He had a southern accent that made you feel as though you’d known him all his life and could trust him forever.

His mother raised him and his ten siblings all by herself after his father died when Zig was six. He had the unique ability to make you feel as though you were a part of every story he shared. For years he was a top pot and pan salesman breaking just about every sales record that existed at that time. He went on to gain fame in other areas of sales and then to train others, which quickly lead him to a career as a motivational speaker and self-help author. On this day, I remember three distinct things that changed the direction of my life.

  1. I first heard Zig’s story of “Priming the Pump.”
  2. I remember him saying: “You can have anything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” I’ve been trying to do exactly that ever since.
  3. I bought my very first book, which was Zig’s See You at the Top. You can still find it in book stores all over the country. It not only changed the direction of my career but has served as an inspiration to me ever since.

I hope you enjoy Zig’s inspirational tale as much as I did and feel inspired to pass it on to any future leader in your life.


It all started with this tall, lanky hillbilly (and I say that with the greatest respect and note that Zig referred to himself as just that!) emerging on the stage in a burst of verbal and physical enthusiasm, lugging an old-fashioned, large, chrome-plated water pump. It caught everyone off guard. He quickly and very proficiently shared the reason for the unique prop. He said he felt the water pump conveys the story of life at its simplest. He went on to demonstrate that before you can get water, you first have to prime the pump.

He said that if you expect to get something out of life, your marriage, your job, etc., you have to first put something in. Too many people tend to say: “If you give me a raise today, I’ll perform much better starting tomorrow.” Zig gave the example of someone saying, “Stove … if you give me some heat, I’ll put some wood in you as soon as I get warm!”

Once the pump is primed, Zig points out that you have to begin pumping vigorously to get the water all the way up the long pipe. If you happen to get tired and stop pumping, the water will fall all the way down again, and you’ll have to start all over again. All the time Zig was enthusiastically making his point, he was always working the handle of that pump as though it was dredging up hundred dollar bills. He never missed a beat.

He points out that you have to persist in whatever you do in life. When you start a new job or take on a new challenge, you have to pump with enthusiasm … even though you may not see results in the short term. When the water finally flows, it then becomes an easy gentle pumping action to keep it flowing in abundance.

That’s the story in a nutshell. Our challenge is dealing with the fact that most of today’s generation has no idea how an old-fashioned water pump operates as they’ve more than likely never seen one. It’s our job to bridge that knowledge gap because there is, indeed, a very valuable lesson to be shared here. In addition, I strongly advise you to visit the following link to hear Zig’s full rendition of this age-old classic. You don’t want to miss this one.

I also encourage you to visit Zig’s website,, to learn more about him, his history, books, tapes, staff and associates. I personally guarantee you won’t regret it. I certainly appreciate Zig giving us permission to share his classic with our readers. I’d also like to thank him for decades of personal inspiration and direction.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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