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Lesson #3: There is a Danger in Dreaming Too Big
“Do not scatter your powers,” Barnum said. “Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until your experience shows that you should abandon it.” Barnum understood the importance of focusing on what you do best. In his early career, he had not learned that lesson yet. He bounced around from one career to the next, unsure of his footing. It wasn’t until he began to truly focus his energies on his traveling road show and museum that he was able to find success.
“A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched,” said Barnum. “When a man's undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once.’
Barnum’s circus career was not without its failures. From poor sales early on, to having his museum burn down to the ground twice, to raking up so much debt he was forced to come out of retirement, Barnum knew what it was to encounter setbacks. But, unlike when he was younger and would switch careers at the first sign of trouble, on these occasions, Barnum stuck it out.
“Many a fortune has slipped through a man's fingers because he was engaged in too many occupations at a time,” said Barnum. “There is good sense in the old caution against having too many irons in the fire at once.” He added to his list of attractions in order to boost sales; he kept relocating his museum; and he came back from retirement only to become more successful than he ever was before. He stayed focused on his circus career and refused to waver in the face of an obstacle.
After a difficult process of trial and error, Barnum had finally found his interests in the circus, and it was that passion that led him to focus and persevere even in the hardest of times. To fellow entrepreneurs, he gives these words of advice: “Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now…Ambition, energy, industry, perseverance, are indispensable requisites for success in business.”
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