A wise and resilient old gentleman who used to dine every month in his club downtown—sitting at a long table covered with a white linen tablecloth and sporting silver candlesticks, and served by tuxedoed waiters—loved to regale companions with the fruits of his many years of experience. After dessert and coffee were served, he would push back from the table and light an enormous imported cigar.
“This cigar is the only indulgence of an old man,” he would say with a chuckle as he struck the wooden match against his thumbnail, and then he’d launch into one of his stories.
They usually began with a question, such as, “Did I ever tell you about the time when I was setting up factories for the Giant XYZ Corporation in the backwoods of Georgia and was compelled to teach them a little lesson in business and good manners?”
Although the stories always started out the same, no two stories were ever alike, and there would always be a wealth of wisdom through example, a veritable mother lode of remarkable instruction. And this man who was so old, so wise and so flexible had one ironclad rule for dealing with other people. This rule involved learning and growing from every experience, so the negative ones need never happen again.
He said, “If a man fools me once, I think, That’s not nice, and I remember it. If the same man fools me a second time, I think, Shame on you. If the same fellow tricks me a third time, well, I have been warned and should have changed my ways and didn’t, so I think, Shame on me.”
If you’re not changing your responses to the situations and circumstances that make up your life, you’re not being flexible, and you’re throwing away the greatest asset as an individual human being. None of us can completely control external events, but we can always control and adapt our responses. None of us can know which cards fate is going to deal out, but we can always control how we play them.
None of us can completely control external events, but we can always control and adapt our responses.
I once did a seminar for a group of oil company executives during their convention in Honolulu. While we were sitting around the conference table, one of them asked, “Mr. Rohn, you know some important people around the world. What do you think the next 10 years are going to be like?” I said, “Gentlemen, I do know the right people. I can tell you.” So they all listened very carefully. I said, “Gentlemen, based on the people I know and from the best of my own experience, I’ve concluded that in the coming 10 years, things are going to be about like they’ve always been.”
I said that to make a point, but also because it’s accurate. Things are going to be about like they’ve always been. The tide comes in, and then what? It goes out. That’s been the case for 6,000 years of recorded history, and probably long before that, so it’s not likely to change.
It gets light and then what? It turns dark. For 6,000 years. We are not to be startled by that now. If the sun goes down and someone says, “What happened?” he must have just gotten here, I guess. It always goes down about this time of day.
In rotation, the next season after fall is winter. And pray tell, how often does winter follow fall? Every time, without fail, for 6,000 years that we know of. Of course, some winters are long and some are short, some are difficult and some are easy, but they always come right after fall. That isn’t going to change.
Sometimes you can figure it out, sometimes there’s no way to figure it out. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it gets in a knot. Sometimes it sails along, sometimes it goes in reverse. That’s not going to change. That last 6,000 years read like this: opportunity mixed with difficulty. It isn’t going to change.
Someone says, “Well, then, how will my life change?” And the answer is: When you change.
Whether I’m talking to high school kids or business executives, my message is always the same. The only way it gets better for you is when you get better. Better is not something you wish for; better is something you become.
Adapted from Leading an Inspired Life