The Greatest Comeback Story In The World

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Fourteen years ago I was encouraged by a dear mentor and friend to read a little book called, The Greatest Salesman in The World by Og Mandino.  My mentor said that no matter what path I wanted to pursue in my life, this book would help me.

The book, while not critically acclaimed, has been a fantastic commercial success.  Since its initial publication in 1968 the book has sold over 50 million copies, and remains in circulation despite the author’s death in 1996.

The book tells a simple story about a poor boy who later achieves a life of abundance, and the habits and mindsets that he adopted along the way.  The advice is simple, but sound.  Things like: the power of good habits; persisting until you succeed, mastering your emotions; and making each day your masterpiece.

I read the book many years ago, and since that time I’ve read many others books.  For some reason I saw the book again today when I walked into my office. It seemed to stand out to me.  So I picked it up.  Then I decided to do a little “googling” about it’s author, Og Mandino.  That is when I came across a remarkable story that shines a new light on the simple wisdom contained within the book’s pages.

Several years before the book was published, Mandino hit rock bottom.  He was a World War II bombardier, and after the war he found work in the insurance industry.  The stress of selling took it’s toll and he turned to alcohol to numb his feelings of being a failure.  A severe addiction soon took over his life.  His wife left him, taking their only child.  He found himself, on a cold rainy November morning in Cleveland, looking through the window of a pawn shop at a revolver with a yellow tag that said $29.  He reached into his pocket and found three soggy ten dollar bills, and thought this gun would be the answer to all his problems, and he’d never have to look at the failure in the mirror again.

He had managed to lose everything in a few short years, his wife, his daughter, his home, his job, his self-esteem.  He wanted to quit.  He was resolved to give up.  While deliberating on taking his own life he walked into a public library to get warm and dry off.  He had always loved books, and he once dreamed of being a writer.

So in a last ditch effort to save his own life, he turned to books to find answers.  

That day he read Emerson, Aristotle and Carlyle.  It was enough to keep him searching, and enough to deter him from buying the gun.  Over the next several months, unemployed and barely surviving, he would devour everything on self-improvement that he could from public libraries.  He read Plato, and Peale and Carnegie and Franklin.  Then he came across a book that would change his life forever, Success Through A Positive Mental Attitude by W. Clement Stone and Napoleon Hill.  He read, and re-read it.

He said that it was different than any other book that he had previously read.  The book stated that what he wanted in life was ONLY possible if he were first willing to pay a price. There was no free lunch, and he couldn’t live in the past.  But if he were willing to start today, and work his way out, slowly, but day by day, he could have a life that he was happy with. 

This realization turned into application, slowly he started to change his habits, his outlook on life and his work ethic.  He was able to use the principles in the book to kick alcohol for good.  He was able, slowly, to piece back together his life, and eventually, after a long period of sustained effort he was able to actually live his original dream – becoming a successful writer.

Now that I know this story I’m going to re-read The Greatest Salesman In The World.  I think the backstory makes the book even more compelling.

I love what his story represents:

Redemption.  It is never too late to start again.  It is never too late to create what you’ve always wanted.  No matter what happened in the past, no matter how many times you’ve failed or made mistakes, you can make a change, and the change can start today.  It has to start today.  There is no other day.  It won’t be easy.  There will be a cost.  It will take a long time.  But you can start today to make it different, and if you stick with it, it can work.

I love this because everyone has things in their life that has alluded them.  I’ve never met anyone who is living a perfect string of pre-planned successes without a setback, failure, or mis-direction.  When I hear stories like those of Og Mandino I am inspired, but I’m inspired in a way that is based in reality.  It isn’t “get rich quick” or “think it and it will come true”.  It gives hope, but it also drives personal responsibility and self reliance.

You can accomplish anything, if you are willing to pay a price, but you have to start today.  There is only today.  There is nothing else.  

That is fair to me.  The price can’t be paid in a lump sum. It is done on instalments.  Small instalments, over a long period of time.  Whatever is evading you – success in business, success in a certain “life goal” or aspiration, enduring positive relationships, good physical health – whatever it is, can come into your life if you are willing to pay the price, and perhaps change your habits, and be patient.  That is a message that is real, and that had enduring power.

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