It’s just so funny how things come into your life,
and if you take a chance on them, it might give you a brand new life.
Comedian Louie Anderson[featured-image single_newwindow=”false”]
In 1908, an aspiring young lawyer had a life-changing conversation. His idea was to pay his way through law school by interviewing successful people, finding out how they came to their success, then writing articles for magazines.
While interviewing the great Andrew Carnegie, the world’s richest man issued a challenge:
“Your idea of writing stories about men and women who are successful is commendable, as far as it goes, and I have no intention of trying to discourage you from carrying out your purpose, but I must tell you that if you wish to be of enduring service, not only to those now living, but to posterity as well, you can do so if you will take the time to organize all of the causes of failure as well as all of the causes of success.”
Carnegie challenged that young man to forsake his plans for law school and dedicate his life to studying and cataloging the causes of failure and success. It was a challenge not without risk,
“The job will require at least twenty years of continuous effort, during which the one who undertakes it will have to earn his living from some other source, because this sort of research is never profitable at the outset, and generally those who have contributed to civilization through work of this nature have had to wait a hundred years or so after their own funerals to receive recognition for their labor.”
Twenty years, no pay, no profit, no recognition. It’s no surprise Andrew Carnegie had several young man reject his challenge. Napoleon Hill did not. In the years to follow Hill interviewed more than 25,000 people who were rated as failures, and over 500 who were considered a success. It was from that research the principles of success that would become the bestselling book “Think and Grow Rich” began to emerge.
How many young men sat across from the world’s richest man, Andrew Carnegie, heard his challenge and said no? Who knows what happened to them? Perhaps many of them went on to have a successful life and career. Perhaps some became failures. The thing is, we don’t know, because when the chance for greatness stood before them, they turned away.
Napoleon Hill, however, said yes to Carnegie, and it would be a decision that would change his destiny. More than 100 years later, generations of business leaders are still inspired by the profound principles uncovered by Hill’s labor of love and passion.
I wonder what I would do, seated across from the richest man in the world, him offering me this challenge. My mind would be racing with thoughts of what I had planned for my life. The excitement of realizing someone like Andrew Carnegie believed in me might be tempered by the fear of throwing everything away to take a chance that may not pay off.
We all have or will face that moment. Decision time. The fork in the road. The moment of truth. Whatever you want to call it, it’s that flash in time where destinies are forged. You never know when those moments will happen. Often we don’t know until later in life. Ultimately it can be the luck of the draw.
So how do you know what to do in those moments? How do you know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em? I submit that it’s impossible to know. We can talk about “gut feelings” but they are unreliable. For every inspiring “follow your gut” success story there are probably one hundred failures.
It might be impossible to know what to do in that moment, or even when you are in that moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare. It is possible to do the hard work in advance, making it much more likely you’ll be ready when that moment of truth reveals itself.
How do you prepare?
Without a foundation of deeply knowing who you are, you are likely to make the wrong decision more than the right.
What will truly make you happy? What do you want to do? Are you following a path that has been laid out by others, or are you living your own dream? These are just some of the questions you need to answer in advance.
Most of us plow forward into life never answering these most basic of questions. Especially when we’re young, it’s hard to see where other’s values end and ours begin. What are your right and wrong? What would success look and feel like to you?
What are you afraid of? What would failure look and feel like? What do you not like? All equally important.
Without the stable foundation of self-knowledge, our lives will be a shifting sand of trial and error. Without the integrity of our character, we will constantly follow the path of least resistance. Those young men who sat across from Andrew Carnegie faced that moment of truth. Did they know what they really wanted? Or did they allow fear to keep them from greatness? We’ll never know, but it’s a question worth asking.
Know Your Purpose
It is impossible to know what path our lives will take. There are many twists and turns, many unknown variables. But we can know what we were born to do.
I’m talking about our life’s purpose. What were you placed on this earth to accomplish? This question follows closely behind “know yourself,” but is more about purpose than values. What is your purpose?
Napoleon Hill obviously had a strong desire to study the habits and practices of successful people and failures. That was why he sat across the desk from Andrew Carnegie in the first place. Though Hill had planned on law school, the moment Carnegie made his challenge, it resonated in Hill’s heart because he recognized it as his life’s purpose.
Make no mistake, Napoleon Hill did not sit in an ivory tower studying all day. He worked in advertising, in retail and other professions. But through it all he stayed true to his life’s calling. He remained steadfast because he knew what he had been placed on this earth to accomplish.
Were you born to be a teacher? No matter what form that takes, you must always decide to teach. Were you born to be creative? No matter what your medium, always create. Were you born to be an entrepreneur? Then never sell out your dreams.
Knowing yourself and what you want, and knowing what you were born to do will give you that unshakable courage to make the decision when the time comes. You can call on those reserves of confidence to offer guidance as you stand at that fork in the road.
This suggestion might sound contrary to the last recommendation, but hear me out.
It is vitally important to know yourself and know your purpose. Those values of character and determination will guide your ship through the thickest of fog. But it is always a temptation to think our purpose will follow a predetermined path.
Napoleon Hill wanted to be a lawyer. He wanted to invest his life in studying the law and using it to help others find their way through life. There is a truth here: a career in law was not Hill’s destiny. His calling was to study and help others with the results of his study. His predetermined path was to enter law school. Fate had a different path.
What if Hill had been inflexible in his decisions? What if he had summarily dismissed this chance given him by the world’s richest man? How might his life – and the lives of millions – have been different?
If you were born to teach, then you can do nothing else. But teaching can take many forms. It can be a traditional role as a school teacher. Or perhaps you might teach through public speaking. You could develop teaching programs on the internet. There might be any number of other ways for you to express your innate desire to teach.
Perhaps you have a plan in place. That’s not a bad thing. But perhaps another opportunity to use your passion and calling will appear. Will you be flexible enough to recognize it when it comes?
That Moment Is Coming
Just as surely as the sun rose this morning, you will eventually face that moment of truth. Perhaps a few times in your life you will stare at a fork in the road. Robert Frost took the road less traveled, and for him it made all the difference. But I’m not sure the “road less traveled” is a sound strategy by itself.
Commit to truly knowing yourself and your calling, and then add to that the flexibility to recognize chances to live out that calling in ways you hadn’t anticipated. It is through this process you will prepare yourself for that inevitable moment when you must make a potentially destiny-changing decision. Often it will be the hard way. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
I can’t guarantee you’ll make the right decision. But at least you’ll have the tools in place to guide you down the path.