In 1903, a man named George Horace Lorimer wrote a book titled Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son. The book is a collection of letters from a wealthy 19th-century businessman to his 20-something-year-old son.
It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I realized the letters were not real. Lorimer had fictionalized the characters and the letters.
I wanted the letters to be real. Why? Because they were written so dang well.
So dang well, I decided to share with you the five best quotes from the book and explain why each quote is relevant to our lives.
“It isn’t what a man knows, but what he thinks he knows that he brags about.”
When you’ve known something all along, your less enticed to announce your knowledge to others. Tell everyone the sky is blue and see what happens.
But let’s say you learn from a lesser-known source of groundbreaking information. With this “new information,” you feel the urge to tell everyone. You want to show off — or brag about — the rare knowledge you possess.
The keyword in Lorimer’s quote is“think.” If you think you know something, that may imply the information isn’t 100% confirmed. If something was common knowledge, why would you only “think” of it?
There’s a wide gap between thinking and knowing. Thinking is entertaining an idea. Knowing is the belief in a strongly held idea.
“When you’ve soaked up all the information you can hold, you will have to forget half of it before you will be of any real use to the house. If there’s anything worse than knowing too little, it’s knowing too much.”
We are inundated with information. If you add up what you were taught in school, what your parents preached, and the news you consume, that’s a whole lot of information.
You have to sort the good information from the bad. It’s not about acquiring knowledge but rather ascertaining what information is worth keeping and what’s worth forgetting about. If you keep around useless information, it may distract you from getting to the good stuff.
It’s like going to a steakhouse and filling up on bread before the steak arrives (unless bread is your thing). Filling up on less desirable content leaves you less room to focus on good content.
“It’s easy to stand hard times, because that’s the only thing you can do, but in good times the fool-killer has to do night work.”
In difficult times, it can be obvious what needs to be done. The mantras are endless. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Keep calm and carry on. If you get knocked down, get back up.
Get tougher, keep calm, and get back up. Simple enough.
This is what Lorimer is getting at. In difficult times, it’s obvious what must be done because “that’s the only thing you can do.”
It’s when things are going great when it’s harder to motivate yourself. Success breeds complacency. Why continue striving when you’ve already reached the mountain top?
Lorimer says, “in good times the fool-killer has to do night work.” Once you have reached the mountain top, will you continue the night work? That’s the real question.
“Petty details take up just as much room in a manager’s head as big ideas.”
Our minds are endlessly churning throughout the day. In fact, the average person has over 6,000 thoughts per day.
That is insane.
What’s even more insane is of those +6,000 thoughts; a substantial portion of those thoughts are likely to be “petty details.”
What will strangers think if I wear blue pants today? Why did Brittany Spears cut off all her hair? When was the last time I heard a song by Ray Charles?
Petty implies something is of little importance. The energy spent on petty details takes us away from getting to thinking about what actually matters. We only have a finite amount of mental capacity. It’s called “capacity” for a reason.
Former United States President Barack Obama knows something about avoiding petty details. Obama was known for limiting his wardrobe during his presidency.
He was quoted saying, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
That’s right Barack. You can’t worry about what color suit you’re going to wear when you should be deciding how to prevent the economy from disintegrating.
Trivial matters take time and energy away from critical matters. We have a limited amount of brainpower each day. Therefore, don’t sweat the petty stuff.
“When you’re through sizing up the other fellow, it’s a good thing to step back from yourself and see how you look. Then add fifty per cent to your estimate of your neighbor for virtues that you can’t see, and deduct fifty per cent from yourself for faults that you’ve missed in your inventory, and you’ll have a pretty accurate result.”
If you were confused the first time you read this, read it again. Though the quote is wordy, the lesson is powerful.
Humans tend to overvalue their own abilities and qualities in relation to others. In social psychology, this is called illusionary superiority.
I have a better understanding of politics than the rest of my family. I’m more self-aware in social situations compared to my friends. I work harder and sacrifice more compared to the rest of my colleagues.
Hate to be that guy, by you’re not as special as you think (and neither am I).
Lorimer says you should “add fifty per cent to your estimate of your neighbor for virtues that you can’t see.” Perhaps your colleague does more work than you give him credit for.
Conversely, Lorimer says you should “deduct fifty per cent from yourself for faults that you’ve missed in your inventory.” This compensates for your inflated perception of your qualities and abilities. Perhaps you slack off more at work than you care to acknowledge.
Recognize your flaws and while also recognizing how we undervalue the ability of others. Humble yourself and give others the benefit of the doubt.
Take these five quotes with you and internalize them. Though Lorimer’s words were written over 100 years ago, some life lessons are timeless.
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