by michael on March 13, 2012

I have been fortunate—indeed, more than fortunate—to have met John A. Warnick. We met years ago when each of us attended each other’s Continuing Education Programs in Colorado. We visited after the second program, saw that we had affinities in matters we valued, and, as Humphrey Bogart said to Claude Raines in the classic movie, Casablanca, it was the start of a beautiful relationship.

John has sprinkled Seedlings in my path. I have met extraordinary people of achievement, compassion, generosity and energy through introductions from John.

Moments ago I received John’s latest Seedlings Newsletter from John’s blog. The Newsletter statement is about achievement; but to limit the message to achievement would be a superficial understanding of the statement. It is about merit hard work, vision, grit and a fearless contempt for failure.

Here is the article in its entirety. I hope you find value in its lessons.

The Path to Achievement: Lessons from the Life of James A. Michener

 “Achievement without knowledge and hard work seems to me impossible” – James A. Michener 


James A. Michener is perhaps the second or third most popular author ever in the genre of historical fiction.  He was known for sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations, and set in diverse geographic locales.  Among the more than 40 best-selling books he authored are Centennial and Tales of the South Pacific (which would inspire the Broadway musical South Pacific).

Michener recognized the value of work and education.  His prolific writing allowed him to acquire substantial wealth.  During his lifetime he gave approximately $8 million dollars to establish an art museum in the small town he had grown up in.  At his death, he left his entire estate (reported to be $10 million dollars) to his alma mater, Swarthmore University.

Perhaps the most profound piece Michener would ever write, in terms of life wisdom, was entitled “The Path to Achievement” and appeared in a condensed version in the January, 1977 edition of the Reader’s Digest.  I would like to share some excerpts from the experiential reflections James Michener shared about how he acquired the powerful work ethic and thirst for education which led to his ultimate success as an author.

Michener was adopted into a large family.  His widowed mother did “sweatshop sewing of the cruelest kind, yet saved enough to send six children through high school and two through college.”  At the age of 11, James worked six days a week during every summer and delivered newspapers seven days a week during the winter months, rising at four every morning.  At age 14 he was apprenticed to a plumber and worked ten hours a day during the summer months and four in the winter.  Reflecting back on the rough circumstances he grew up under, he noted: “Instead of turning me against work, this ingrained in me the attitude that sensible people work hard to attain sensible goals.”

James Michener then described what he considered the pivotal experience in developing an authentic work ethic.  His family fell temporarily apart and he was placed in the local poorhouse.  Here he bunked with a group of “memorable old men” on the top floor of the poorhouse dormitory.  As he listened to these derelicts describe the specific disasters which had overtaken them, Michener concluded most of them had failed because of their inability to work intelligently.  This experience generated a “positive reverence for work” and helped him see that work was the “principal means whereby people achieve what they want and avoid what they do not want.”

In 1977 Michener had detected a trend in which “many of our best young people are questioning the assumptions of the Puritan work ethic.”  He respected “the young person who has the courage to keep casting about until he or she finds work that is meaningful.  But in looking, one should also be learning.  The only way to attain the goals of which the youth speak is to acquire the necessary training.”

Michener’s story probably triggers lots of memories of what chores, tasks and jobs we tackled in our youth and what lessons we gained from these experiences.  Today’s economy and labor laws may make it more challenging to “give” our children job experience at an early age.

What types of opportunities are you creating for your children to help them discover “The Path to Achievement”? 

Let us realize that the privilege to work is a gift, the power to work a blessing, and the love of work is success.” – David O. McKay


More later


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