Seven Most Important Lessons my Heroes Taught Me - Lesson #7

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Seven Most Important Lessons my Heroes Taught Me

Lesson #7: Never give up on your dreams.


            Thomas Edison is reported to have said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

            In 1877, the year he invented the phonograph, Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

            My favorite Edison quotation is, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” With a little imagination and a lot of hard work, anyone can be a genius.


            Clara Barton was one of most loved and respected people in America after the Civil War. You would think establishing a great charitable organization like the American Red Cross would have been quick and simple – a no brainer - when the famous Miss Barton first lobbied for it in 1873. The Red Cross had been a success in Europe. Actually, it took Barton eight years of dedicated lobbying and three United States presidents before the federal government finally created the American Red Cross in 1881.


            In the 1950s, polio was crippling and killing 50,000 children every year in America. Jonas Salk, “the man who saved the children,” worked in his laboratory 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, until he discovered a polio vaccine.

            Salk could have become rich beyond his wildest dreams, but he refused to patent his vaccine so that it could be distributed freely around the world.


            If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s an expression I associate with Milton Hershey who failed miserably no less than three times as a young would-be entrepreneur. But he was an honest hard working visionary who found the courage to make his greatest dreams come true, because he never stopped working and trying different tactics and learning from his failures.

            What I most love about Milton Hershey is the combination of his never-give-up attitude and his amazing generosity.

            In 1918, after he’d finally succeeded in business, he gave his entire fortune away. The Milton Hershey School for underprivileged children is now one of the five wealthiest schools in America, with an endowment of $12 Billion! 

            It’s all there because Mr. Hershey never gave up. And then he gave it (his money) up.


            Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman doctor in America, had been rejected by 28 medical schools. After all those failures, she was accepted by Geneva Medical School in upstate New York. As a med student, she was made fun of, blocked from classes, and evidently, not taken very seriously. She was accused of being “insane” because she was a woman who wanted to be a doctor.

            How did she respond? Did she “go low?” Of course not! Elizabeth Blackwell focused with quiet determination on her studies. She managed not only to graduate, but to graduate #1 in her class, because she never gave up.


            Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) is the most popular and influential name in children’s literature. His 60 books have been translated into more than 15 languages and sold more than 222 million copies. We know him because he never gave up, although he came pretty darn close to giving up on finding a publisher for his first children’s book.

            One depressing day in Manhattan, after shopping a book for children he’d written, Geisel was so disheartened to receive publisher rejection #27, he decided to walk home and burn the manuscript. On the way home, down Madison Avenue, he happened to run into an old buddy and college classmate, Mike McClintock. The conversation went something like this:

            “Mike! How are you?”

            “Oh, Ted, I don’t know what to do. My boss at Vanguard Press just made me editor of children’s books, and I don’t know a thing about kid’s literature!”

            “Really!” said Geisel, “Maybe I can help.”

            The two headed up to Mike’s office.

            Vanguard went on to publish To think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street to rave reviews.

            Years later, Geisel would joke about how, if he’d been walking down the other side of Madison Avenue that day, he’d have gone into the dry cleaning business.


The seven most important lessons my heroes have taught me:

  1. Go High.
  2. Live your Truth guided by your moral compass.
  3. Optimism works.
  4. To create social justice, agitate with love.
  5. Whatever it is you do, do it the best you can.
  6. Education increases the likelihood of freedom, justice, and peace.
  7. Never give up on your dreams.
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