Lesson #3: Be Ambitious
“The road to happiness lies in two simple principles,” said Rockefeller. “Find what interests you and that you can do well, and put your whole soul into it – every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have.”
It was no accident that Rockefeller became one of the richest individuals in the history of the world. While his initial stated goal was simply to live to be 100 years old and earn $100,000, Rockefeller had the ambition to achieve much, much more. “I had no ambition to make a fortune,” he said. “Mere moneymaking has never been my goal. “I had an ambition to build.”
Rockefeller began as a humble bookkeeper in Cleveland, Ohio. In less than seven years, he had risen to control one tenth of the entire U.S. oil business. He was all business and rarely let personal feelings get in the way of his business ambitions. In fact, Rockefeller’s favourite personal maxim was, “Don't let good fellowship get the least hold of you.”
For Rockefeller, no detail was too small to neglect. In a similar vein, no task was too big to undertake. In the late 19th century, Rockefeller faced one of his biggest challenges when Thomas Edison discovered the light bulb. The invention of electricity severely threatened Rockefeller’s growing empire – almost overnight the need for kerosene lamps was eliminated. Safer and more cost effective than kerosene, electricity was threatening to destroy Rockefeller’s dynasty.
Amidst the potential ruin of his company, Rockefeller could have easily given in to the latest technological revolution. Personally, he could have walked away and still have been able to survive and live a more than comfortable life. But, it was not in Rockefeller’s nature to give up and walk away. “The person who starts out simply with the idea of getting rich won’t succeed,” said Rockefeller. “You must have a larger ambition.”
Instead of giving up on his business plans, Rockefeller decided to take advantage of another burgeoning technology – the automobile. With the invention of the internal combustion engine for individual transportation, Rockefeller could now not only distill oil into kerosene but also refine it into gasoline. Rockefeller hedged his bets on the promise of the automobile and it paid off. Demand for the automobile, and thus gasoline, exploded. Rockefeller had been saved in large part due to luck but also in part to his ambition and his refusal to give up even in the face of disaster.
Rockefeller’s ambition stemmed from his upbringing. His mother, Eliza, made sure to give her children a sense of encouragement in whatever they wanted to pursue. Even as a young boy, Rockefeller would purchase candy by the pound, divide it up, and sell it to his siblings for a profit. He once also found a turkey nest, stole the baby turkeys and raised them for later sale. Any money that Rockefeller made was then put into a small blue china bowl on the family’s mantel to help assist them.
Whether he had a family who depended on him or he was simply supporting himself, Rockefeller pursued his work with ambition, determined never to give up on his goals.
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