Persistence is the Master Virtue

I would kill to learn lessons from a man who grew up moving from farm to farm throughout the country and went on to become the richest person in the world. That man is John D. Rockefeller and the first lesson we can learn from the GOAT of capitalism is not to put the almighty dollar ahead of everything else. A very ironic lesson from such a wealthy individual. Perhaps his greatest lesson though, is one of persistence.

Before all of it started, before he rose to prominence, before John D. Rockefeller was seen as the titan of industry he was just a boy. A boy like many of us once were. He played out in the woods on his farms, liked to talk to girls, and put God and Church first. His father, a man who did not put a high priority on honesty or virtue, taught John a lot about what to do in life and a lot more about what not to do. I’d argue his father gave him two gifts. One, he showed him how awful rural farm life could be. Two, he made it clear to John that he would have to find his own way.

Rockefeller would go on to find his own way in the world and this is where we learn the lesson of persistence. Rockefeller wanted for his whole life to attend a fancy college and become a Baptist Minister. His father, who had a second family had other plans though and we can surmise that he did not want to pay for an expensive college for his son. So Rockefeller decided, in the face of a let down toward a major goal, that he would find a way to win.

Rockefeller dropped out of high school and at the age of sixteen enrolled in a local community college. There he took three courses on book keeping and finance. After completing those courses he determined that he would go out in the city of Cleveland and find a job as a book keeper. How he did it is truly interesting

Rockefeller mapped out the biggest businesses in Cleveland and began to visit each one. Railroads, Banks, Wholesale distributors, were all on his list and he arrived at each one asking to speak to the top man. When he met resistance from secretaries he responded, “I understand bookkeeping and I’d like to get to work.” Unfortunately, no one wanted to take a chance on Rockefeller. That did not stop the man who later stated “I was working every day at my business- the business of looking for work.”

For six days a week (keep holy the sabbath of course) for six weeks, Rockefeller doggedly pursued a job as a book keeper. Up until the end Rockefeller struck out repeatedly. No one wanted a sixteen year old boy for a book keeper. Fortunately, Rockefeller was “the sort of stubborn person who grew more determined with rejection.” On September 26th, 1855 Rockefeller was finally given a job at the offices of Hewitt and Tuttle making 50 cents an hour. Rockefeller would celebrate the 26th as Job day for the rest of his life.

What can we take from this awesome anecdote from one of the most wildly successful men in the world? A lot, but I boil it down to this.

  • Know your why
  • Set your goal and don’t stop until you achieve it
  • Allow failure to be a tool that drives you closer to your goal
  • Never forget where you came from
  • Celebrate your wins, even the little ones

Rockefeller wanted a job as a book keeper in the big city because he knew it was a way out of Rural farm life. He set that as a goal and made it clear to every secretary at every large company in the city of Cleveland. Failure did not knock Rockefeller down, it made him pursue his goal more doggedly. The last two paired together are an awesome thing.

Why would the richest man in the world continue to celebrate his first job where he made fifty cents an hour? Because it’s where he started. The most successful people on earth never believe that they have made it. They remember what it was like to be start out and how hard they had to work to scrape themselves out of the bottom of the barrel.

Persistence is the master virtue, without it there is none else.


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About the Author

John McCarthy is a Father, Son, Husband and former Marine Infantry Officer. He serves his local community and just wants to push people to be better humans. Check out the Tough Talk Podcast and other writings on this website to learn more.

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