These are evil times. The US economy is in critical condition. The consensus is that North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship and Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Confidence in Congress has hit a record low of 11 percent, and thanks to Charles Rangel and Maxine Waters it will probably sink even lower.
Many years ago, I had a revelation. It’s simple, obvious, and common sense. People have made fortunes just by repackaging it. Most important, it works.
The revelation may have been said best by Walt Kelly in his Pogo comic strip: “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”
The problem for most of us is not our lack of opportunities, it’s our inability to spot and seize them. And the most frustrating part is that the solution requires just 1% talent and 99% attitude.
Life presents most people with a constant stream of opportunities. But it takes a positive attitude to see and exploit them. Maintaining a positive attitude day in and day out requires a great deal of mental energy. To paraphrase one of the guys who made a fortune selling this bit of common sense, people create videos in their minds of blown opportunities that they keep replaying. The trick is to ignore or stop playing those video memories.
Admittedly, life presents some people with more opportunities than others. And a severe disability can put opportunities out of reach. But I’m convinced that most people get enough opportunities; it’s their attitude that is the biggest obstacle.
Michael Faraday – Whenever anyone suggests that we are cheating our children by not spending enough on education, I think of Michael Faraday. The son of a blacksmith plagued by poor health, Faraday received only the most rudimentary education. As an apprentice bookbinder, he educated himself by reading the books in his spare time. Faraday was also the victim of discrimination: rarely in that era did anyone rise above the class into which they were born.
(The education complaint also reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons. Bill Gates is standing at a podium delivering a speech. A guy in the audience whispers to a colleague "Imagine how far he could have gone had he not dropped out of Harvard.")
Faraday landed a job at the Royal Institution by sending Humphry Davy a bound copy of notes from his public lectures. Still, Davy’s wife treated Faraday like a servant. Michael Faraday didn’t let lack of formal education, lack of money, or lack of social status deter him from becoming one of the greatest experimentalists in the history of science.
Paul Galvin – Paul Galvin established Motorola as a major force in the wireless industry and he did it during the Great Depression. His original ambition was simply to become a successful small businessman. He learned along the way that a business needs to keep growing just to survive. After a string of failed businesses, Galvin succeeded by manufacturing and selling a luxury accessory (car radios) for a luxury item (automobiles). Though Motorola enjoyed its greatest growth under his son Robert, Paul Galvin proved it is possible to grow a business even in a stagnant economy.
John Gibbon – John Gibbon invented the heart-lung bypass machine, enabling surgeons to stop the human heart and operate on and even inside it. When he started his research (also during the Great Depression), almost no one believed it was possible to build a machine to temporarily carry out the functions of the heart and lungs. Plus, it took nearly 20 years of research before Gibbon performed the first successful “open heart” surgery. Gibbon is a shining example of how faith and perseverance can make the seemingly impossible possible.
Svyatoslav Fyodorov – Born in the Soviet Union, Fyodorov’s father was imprisoned during Stalin’s purges, and then the young Fyodorov lost a leg in an accident. He managed to become an eye surgeon and discovered that it is possible to correct vision by carefully cutting the cornea. More spectacular, Fyodorov cut through the USSR's bureaucracy and red tape to establish a nationwide system of clinics and even acquired personal wealth. Where there is a will, there is a way. Fyodorov’s technique, which relied on microscopes and an assembly line approach to surgery, was eventually eclipsed by laser surgery.