By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
I'm teaching a U.S. History class this year and recently we've been studying great American inventors and entrepreneurs. It's been a fascinating and enlightening study.
First I learned the definition of an entrepreneur: A person who organizes and manages a business undertaking. He or she is willing to risk failure for a chance at success.
Isn't that a cool definition? How willing are we to risk failure for the chance at success?
Andrew Carnegie was one such entrepreneur. Most of us probably only know him as the multi-millionaire philanthropist who became the largest producer of iron and steel in the United States. At the very least, most of us have heard of Carnegie Hall in NYC, a prestigious concert stage built by Andrew Carnegie in 1891.
But did you know that Carnegie was the son of poor Scottish immigrants? That he started working at the age of 13 as a bobbin boy in a cotton mill for $1.20 a week? He worked one menial job after another until by his mid-20's he worked his way up to a railroad executive. At age 30 he finally saved up enough capital to be able to go into business for himself. With savvy and many years of hard work, his business finally grew.
John D. Rockefeller was another entrepreneur. We know him today for developing Standard Oil and becoming a billionaire in the process. The famous Rockefeller Center in Manhattan consisting of 19 buildings (and the Rockefeller Plaza) was built by the Rockefeller family in the early 1900's.
Yet Rockefeller, like Carnegie, was of very humble origins. At age 16 he worked as an assistant bookkeeper for a merchant in Cleveland earning 50 cents a day. He kept working hard and getting promoted to better jobs. He saved money so that he could go into business for himself. He insisted on frugality and efficiency throughout his business, continually working hard while still maintaining quality products until his company eventually dominated the oil industry.
Another person that I totally admire is Thomas Edison, one of the most prolific inventors in history. Among 1,093 inventions, his greatest contribution was the incandescent electric light bulb. While involved in his projects, he often worked tirelessly for days at a time in his laboratory.
There are a few Edison quotes that I especially love:
"Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration."
"I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident; they came by work."
"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."
"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."
All three of these men were amazingly successful in their own ways. And as I studied them, I realized that if we want to become amazingly successful writers, we can take a few lessons from them.
1. Don't be afraid to start small and be a nobody for a while. These men weren't from prestigious families. They weren't loaded with connections in high places. Rather they started with the little they had and the sweat of their labor.
Too many writers want to skip over the years of being a nobody and jump right into being famous. But we have to remember that success often takes years and years. And during that time we have to work our way up the scale by the sweat of our labor.
2. Be willing to work long hours and persevere through failure. Carnegie and Rockefeller each had multiple jobs before landing "the one" that finally was successful. Edison's most famous quote is: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
We writers can't expect easy street. The road will more likely be littered with rejections, harsh reviews, and criticism, and we'll have stories stuffed in closets that "won't work." We need all of the failure before finally landing "the one" that will work.
3. Take risks, but always strive to put forward our best product. All three of the men had to step out of ordinary, comfortable, and accepted way of doing things. They led the way in change. They weren't afraid to try new methods even if there were risks involved. But at the same time, they pushed themselves to put forth their best work.
As writers, we too have to be willing to try new ways of writing, perhaps a new genre, new style, or new method of publication. Haven't you noticed that those who are at the forefront of a genre or movement are usually the ones who end up being the most successful?
That should give us motivation to be innovative. But at the same time, we should never let anything stand in the way of always putting forth the very best books that we can possibly write.
How about YOU? Are you expecting success to be easy or are you willing to work long and hard for it?
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