Og Mandino: I Will Act Now

UPDATED: October 27, 2020
PUBLISHED: August 3, 2009
Og Mandino: I Will Act Now

A peek at Og
Mandino’s list
of accomplishments
suggests he was a person gifted
with initiative, talent, luck
and pluck. But before he was
a famous inspirational speaker
and author with book sales
in excess of 50 million copies
worldwide, Mandino spent a
fair bit of time as a frustrated,
hopelessly alcoholic failure.

As a young World War II
veteran baffled by the seemingly
simple tasks of earning a living
and having a life, Mandino spiraled
into despair and poverty. But one
day, his life took a dramatic turn for
the better because of a chance encounter
with the work of legendary success experts
W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill, coupled
with Mandino’s own willingness to take action.

Born in 1923, Og (short for Augustine) was the child
of an Irish mother and an Italian immigrant father who
settled in Natick, Mass., when he and his two younger
siblings were still small. A voracious reader from early
childhood, Og wrote short stories for his mother, who
often said her son would grow up to be a great writer.
He was editor of his high-school newspaper his
senior year and planned to go to the University
of Missouri to study journalism. Then, in
1940, just six weeks after he graduated
from high school, Og’s
mother died suddenly while
making him lunch.

Overcome with grief and confusion, Og abandoned his
plans to attend the University of Missouri. He joined the
Army Air Corps and flew 30 missions over Germany as a
bombardier aboard a B-24 Liberator. When he returned
home, he spent six months in a Times Square flat, trying to
get a start as a writer. When his first efforts to sell his work
didn’t pan out, he gave up writing.

If only Og Mandino could have seen this experience
made worthwhile in this passage from his greatest work,
The Greatest Salesman in the World, published more than 20
years later: “Today I will multiply my value a hundredfold.
The height of my goals will not hold me in awe, though I may
stumble often before they are reached. If I stumble, I will rise
and my falls will not concern me, for all men must stumble
often to reach the hearth.”

Downward Spiral
After giving up his dream of becoming a great writer,
Mandino got married, bought a house through the
GI Bill and took his first sales job in the insurance
business. At a time when most hopeful young veterans
were returning from the war to start families and careers,
Mandino had already had a taste of bitter failure, and he was
in for more.

will not wait. If
I delay, she will become
betrothed to another and
lost to me forever. This is
the time. This is the place.
I am the man.”

In his autobiography, A Better Way to Live, he describes
trying to sell insurance during this period: “The treadmill
I soon found myself on was torture. Never was I more than
a few paces ahead of several bill collectors, and making the
monthly mortgage payments was a major challenge despite
my long hours of work. I would go anywhere, at any time, to
try to sell a policy, and still there were always more bills than
money to pay them.”

Bewildered and exhausted, Mandino began stopping
at bars in the evening, reasoning that after each day of
disappointment, he deserved a drink. Before long, he
was a full-blown alcoholic, and his wife left him, taking
their daughter.

For two years, Mandino wandered the highways of the
United States, working odd jobs and never staying in one
place for very long. He was hopeless, aimless, alcoholic and
miserable. His faith in himself slowly drained away, and he
found himself contemplating suicide. He pondered a $29 gun
in the window of a Cleveland pawnshop, thinking it would
be the easy way out of a life that had become unbearable.

But something kept Mandino from taking the next step.
Deep down, he still possessed a willingness to live—the
“seed of success,” he later wrote in The Greatest Salesman
in the World
, which would take root and begin a chain of
events that would change his life and ultimately the lives
of millions.

After continuing past that pawnshop, he kept walking and
found himself in a public library. It was snowy outside, and he later
recalled how warm it was in the library. He selected several books
on self-help, motivation and success. If he wasn’t going to end his
life, Mandino knew he had to find a better way to live. So far, he had
failed miserably in every attempt at success and happiness.

A Slave to Good Habits

The public library soon became Mandino’s haven. He
continued his wanderings, but wherever he went, he visited
libraries and pored over hundreds of sales, personal-development,
motivation and
success books.

time, he
experienced an
awakening, a
dramatic shift in
his beliefs and

The new habit of
reading and studying
gradually replaced
Mandino’s devastating
drinking habit. Over
time, he experienced an
awakening, a dramatic
shift in his beliefs and
behaviors. Years later,
he counted this principle
of constructive
habits that had saved
his own life and sanity
as the first and most
important axiom in The
Greatest Salesman in
the World
: “I will form
good habits and become their slave. And how will I
accomplish this difficult feat? Through these scrolls it
will be done, for each scroll contains a principle which
will drive a bad habit from my life and replace it with
one which will bring me closer to success. For it is
another of nature’s laws that only a habit can subdue
another habit.”

When he first encountered Success Through a Positive
Mental Attitude
in a New Hampshire library, the book by W.
Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill affected Mandino more deeply
than anything he had ever read. “I was so impressed with Stone’s
philosophy of success, that one must be prepared to pay a price in
order to achieve any worthwhile goals, that I wanted to work for the
man,” Mandino later wrote.

Reading on the book jacket that Stone was president of Combined
Insurance Company of America, Mandino, then 32, pulled himself
together, searched for a subsidiary and applied for a job. Meantime,
he had met a woman he described as “having a lot more faith in me
than I had in myself,” and when Combined Insurance hired him, he
married her.

The Greatest Salesman in
the World

Having failed terribly in his
first job in insurance sales, he
was determined to succeed
as he re-entered the field, armed with
the principles and techniques he had
absorbed from hundreds of books. Within a year, he was promoted
to sales manager, was recruiting and training other agents, and
breaking sales records.

A pamphlet he wrote about selling in rural areas gained him
a new job doing promotional writing, and ultimately, Mandino
became editor of Stone’s Success Unlimited, an internal publication.
Within 10 years, Mandino turned this small booklet into a national
magazine, and his magazine writing attracted the interest of a
book publisher. The man who had once been a desperate drunk
rummaging through the shelves of a public library went on to
become the author of 22 top-selling books.

In Mandino’s most famous book, The Greatest Salesman in the
, a young man named Erasmus, the chief bookkeeper for
a wealthy, successful merchant named Hafid, receives from his
employer the priceless gift of a wooden chest containing 10 ancient
scrolls. Many years before, when he was a poor camel keeper
longing for riches and glory, Hafid had received the chest from his
own master. Within the scrolls are “all the
secrets and principles necessary to become
a great success in the art of selling.” This
small, simple book reads like a fable or a
fairy tale, but its guidelines for successful
selling—and living—are infinitely practical
and timeless.

The first scroll contains the instructions
for “unlocking” the powerful wisdom of
the remaining nine: reading each scroll,
including the first, three times a day for
30 days each. If undertaken as prescribed, the
reader makes it through the scrolls in 10 months’
time. Just as it happened for the author of the scrolls,
this practice of steady, disciplined study is designed to impress the
wisdom of the scrolls—and the willingness to act upon it—deeply
within the student’s heart and mind.

Og Mandino was a man who practiced what he later preached.
His own willingness, action and perseverance made him into the
greatest salesman in the world, with millions of books sold and
lives improved. At the heart of his writings and his life was evident
his heartfelt concern for the individual human beings holding his
books, his deep empathy for those struggling as he once had. He
had found a way up and out of self-pity and failure, and had shared
those timeless principles with anyone with the willingness to pull
his book from the shelf and put its words into action.

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