DARE TO DREAM BIG!: From Painfully Shy Boy to “Champion of Positive Thinking”

Imagine This: You’re tired of being so shy, so filled with self-doubt, and living like a scared rabbit, but what do you do about the inferiority complex that’s making your life so miserable?

You’re born in a rural Ohio town in 1898, the son of a Methodist pastor who’s also a physician. As a young boy, you’re painfully shy and you run and hide in the attic whenever you see visitors coming to the house. You’re also thin for your age and lack your younger brother’s more rugged and athletic build. This makes you even more self-conscious about your physical appearance.

You admire your father a great deal, but being the son of a pastor isn’t always easy. Sometimes the other kids tease you because you’re a “p.k.” (preacher’s kid), and because you’re a preacher’s kid, your teachers always expect exemplary behavior from you.

But it’s during your adolescence that you really begin to develop a terrible inferiority complex, and you tell yourself that you’ll never amount to anything. When you realize that everybody is beginning to agree with your negative self-appraisal, this just makes you feel even worse! You’re tired of living like a scared rabbit, but you don’t know what to do about the inferiority complex that’s making your life so miserable.

During high school, you try to earn some extra money by selling pots and pans and you drive to another part of town where nobody knows you. But you become so flustered during your first attempt to sell something that you get right back into your car and drive back home.

Your inferiority complex continues to plague you even in college. You’re so self-consciousness when called upon to recite in class that you often become confused, tongue-tied, and red-faced from embarrassment. You describe yourself as “having the biggest inferiority complex in the state of Ohio!”

Then one day an event occurs that changes your life! After class, your economics professor has a no-nonsense talk with you. He tells you that your self-consciousness is really mostly self-centeredness and that it’s time for you to get over your shyness and inferiority complex and become a man. He also tells you that being a minister’s son you should know where to go for help. You take your professor’s advice and have a long talk with God about your problem. Although your shyness doesn’t go away completely, it does improve a great deal.

After college, you work for a newspaper for a year and then return to school. You have no intention of becoming a minister, but you find you like theology and in 1924, you graduate from the School of Theology at Boston University.

You begin to gain a reputation not only as an excellent orator but also as a minister who can simplify the Word of God so that everyone can understand it. You even try writing a book but become so discouraged that you throw your manuscript into the wastebasket. Fortunately, your wife rescues the manuscript from the wastebasket and sends it to a publisher. Your book is later called A Guide to Confident Living and makes the best-seller list.

In 1952 your book The Power of Positive Thinking is published and is unequaled in sales by any book except the Bible. It remains on the best-seller list for many years and is translated into twenty-three languages.

By the time you retire from the ministry in 1984, you have come a long way: from a young man with a terrible inferiority complex to being one of America’s most influential, most popular, and most beloved preachers!

“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”

Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993)

 Excerpted from Dare to Dream!: 25 Extraordinary Lives by Sandra McLeod Humphrey

For More about Norman Vincent Peale:


 Giving Back: Norman Vincent Peale’s ministry which emphasizes “the power of positive thinking” has influenced millions of people all over the world.

Did You Know  Norman Vincent Peale was one of the most influential clergymen in the United States during the 20th century?

 Something to Think about: What do you think about the professor’s statement that Norman’s self-consciousness was really mostly self-centeredness?


Willoughby and I hope you enjoyed this week’s true story and will be back next week for another story to inspire you to DARE TO DREAM BIG!




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10 Responses to “DARE TO DREAM BIG!: From Painfully Shy Boy to “Champion of Positive Thinking””

  1. Deeone Higgs says:

    I just LOVE this, Sandra! I never knew many of these wonderful facts about Norman Vincent Peale. I can relate to how he felt about the feelings of self-consciousness, but I can also affirm his economic professor’s advice to him, as well. I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing at the moment, but there was always a desire within me to become a writer. I believe I am one today, because someone believed in me; and I believed their belief in me until I was able to have enough to believe on my own. I think that’s exactly what Normal did – at least that’s what I’ve gotten out of it. :)

    This was very inspiring and just what I needed to read at this very moment in my life. Thank you for sharing, my friend. :)

    • Sandra says:

      Deeone, you have such a beautiful way with words! I always enjoy reading your comments and thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. Peggy Strack says:

    Another amazing and inspirational story. Keep them coming!

  3. Darcia Helle says:

    Sandra, thank you for another fascinating piece of inspiration!

  4. Sandy, what an amazing story! I can relate to that feeling of others having high expectations of you from early on, but what a way to turn a life around. I think there are always influential people who open up turning points in our lives. And I’m thinking of both the professor and the wife here.

    Thanks so much for sharing his story! =)

  5. Hi Sandra,
    I think The Dare To Think Big is what we all do and what an inspiration.
    I love the Teddy Bear as it makes you feel warm and fuzzy before you even get started with your inspirational writing.
    Thank you so much for sharing. I could have used these words of couragement when I was small. But I will take them now!

    • Sandra says:

      Thanks so much, Rosemary, and actually Willoughby is a Koala. I think we all need a bit of inspiration now and then and we have some great role models–both past and present. Thanks for your comment and please drop by again!