Motivational speaker Stephen Covey recently passed away after complications from a mountain biking accident. It was very sad news but I love the idea that Covey died at 79 years of age after caning it downhill on a mountain bike in the foothills of Provo, Utah. Way to go.

My students must tire of me saying that I would rather burn out than fade away. I find myself almost daily saying things in class like “the bean bag is the enemy” or “if you are bored, turn off the television”. Sometimes I wonder where ideas like that come from. And then I remember Professor Covey.

Covey rose to prominence in 1989 with the publishing of his inspirational book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In it he laid out a prescription for self motivation and personal organisation which influenced millions of people including many of the planet’s political leaders, movers and shakers. The 7 Habits sold over 20 million copies. Near the end of his life it cost almost $1000 a ticket to go and hear Covey speak.

One of his great ideas was the concept of the Private Victory - you see someone doing something you admire and quietly realise “Sheesh…man, I could do better than that”.  And right at that “aha’” moment a great project or career is born.

Private victories are particularly relevant to emerging musicians. A student can be overwhelmed at the prospect of putting in the 10,000 hours it requires to become a master musician. Then one day they will attend a concert, watch a great musician at work and realise they just may have enough knowledge and skills to pull off a serious career in the business.

In a secular and cynical world our emerging artists need more than talent to succeed - they need to be armed with some spiritual and ethical tools to survive the charge into the valley of death.

Covey is a good place to start. Decades on from The 7 Habits there are echoes of Covey in The Secret, in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink and in rugby sevens coach Gordon Tietjens driving his world champion teams up with mantras like “Courage. Discipline. 200%”.

My experience teaching is that most kids are addicted to celebrity and they want to go straight to the top of Maslow’s pyramid without putting in any work getting their basic lifestyle shit together. Covey has left behind more than a prescription for success – it is a useful system for creating goals and achieving them. A ladder that joins desire to achievement.

No doubt about it: private victories can lead to public acclaim.

RIP Stephen.