Outside of my mentors and defining moments, books have accelerated my learning both professionally and personally, and I truly believe that reading is the single most important thing you can do to better yourself. In light of this, on Monday’s I will be reviewing a book that has impacted me.
Today’s book is Letters from a Self Made Merchant to his Son by George Horace Lorimer.
George Horace Lorimer shares with us a fictional story about letters written between a father John Graham, the head of the house of Graham and Company, Pork Packers in Chicago to his Pierrepont who around the age of 18 is going off to Harvard. The letters span out over years from Pierrponts college days to getting his first job. The book consists of only the responses by John, so we get to see his advice back to his son about the different situations his son is facing. I share with you the lessons I took away from the book below.
Lessons learned from the book
Improving your character is more important than improving your IQ
John writes to his son, “The first thing that any education ought to give a man is character, and the second thing is education. There are two parts of a college education – the part that you get in the schoolroom from the professors, and the part that you get outside it from the boys. That’s the really important part. For the first can only make you a scholar, while the second can make you a man.”
When you think back to college or high school where did you learn the most? Was it outside or inside the classroom? As John tells Pierrepont knowledge comes from all different sort of places and most of what we learn and who we become has nothing to do with what we learned in the classroom. School is not about where you went or what you learned it is about what you did while you were there. It made me think about how we might need to rethink the saying “knowledge is power”. I better way to say it would be knowledge + action = power.
Always be sweeping
John writes to his son that he is worried that his head is getting too big at Harvard, and he is being a foolish college kid wasting away his money. As Pierrepont is about to graduate John wants to make sure he understands what is going to take to be successful.
“The only sure way a man can get rich quick is to have it given to him or to inherit it. You are not going to get rich that way – at least, not until after you have proved your ability to hold a pretty important position within the firm. It doesn’t make any difference whether he is the son of the old man or the cellar boss – that place is the bottom. And the bottom in this office is a seat at the mailing desk.”
Always be learning is one of the greatest pieces of advice I have ever received. The best part about having a mindset where you are always learning is that it is a skill that everyone has the ability to do. No matter where you went to school, your title, or how “successful” you are. The one thing that separates the good from the great’s is their ability to continue to learn. While reading this book it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
“Training is like sweeping the floor. Just because we‘ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.”
If you are really smart, don’t make the same mistake twice
Johns advice to his son about learning from mistakes is a classic reminder of how powerful mistakes can be. He writes “when you make a mistake, don’t make the second one – keeping it to yourself. Own up.”
You don’t learn from what you are good at. When you are good at something you just keep being good at it. The simplicity of that is scary because it causes people to do two things: To be afraid of failure and feel ashamed to discuss them. When we shy away from mistakes or failures we stop growing and learning. No matter how good you are at something, you are not perfect. It is an important piece of advice to remember because if you truly want to reach your potential you must be ready to learn from your mistakes.
Life is about the little things
John writes to his son about how important it is to not judge a book by its cover, “Just here I want to say that while it’s all right for another fellow to be influenced by appearances, it’s all wrong for you to go on them. Backup good looks by good character yourself, and make sure the other fellow does the same. ” John teaches his son that the little things in life are the most important things and that 2/3 of success is making people think you are all right.
To me, who cares what car you drive, clothes you wear, and how big your house is. None of those things tell anyone what type of person you are. What matters it the little things. Smile and laugh with others, give to others, contribute to society, help people, and just be a good person. That is what makes people think you are all right.
How has the book impacted me
When I went to college my dad told me the exact same type of advice that John told his son Pierrepont – it doesn’t matter where you went to school, it only matters what you do when you get there. Though this is a fictional story, I will be sharing the same piece of advice to my son one day when I send him off to college.
Now, Wake Up! It’s Day One. Please feel free to buy the book here!