A Teacher’s Greatest Thrill

Some people work for a large, satisfying paycheck. Others work for the public and private recognition they receive from appreciative customers or clients. And some others work for the opportunities for rapid advancement to even higher levels or the deep, inner sense of accomplishment that their jobs give them.

I must admit that I’ve never been driven by a paycheck, titles and positions of prominence, the process of climbing the ladder of success, or prestigious perks that any job promised. (I guess my only ambition in that respect was to have an office with a window, which I never did achieve until I began freelancing and could look out the upstairs window of my house!) Maybe I just lacked initiative or ambition. The various points along the continuum of my working life have never offered a whole lot of recognition, either public or private. As an admitted introvert, perhaps that’s the way I preferred it.

Instead, the greatest thrills I’ve had in my career have been seeing my former students excel in their callings. Some  former students of both sexes have excelled in business, law, government, education, and pastoral ministry. Many of the girls have grown up to become godly mothers. But the thrill has been most gratifying when those callings found former students using what they had learned and working for a cause greater than themselves rather than pursuing merely materialistic endeavors.

My wife and I had to privilege of hosting one such former student for lunch this past weekend. We first got to know Lisa when she was only a second-grade student. She was enrolled in the second-grade class next door to my wife’s room. Lisa’s parents were good friends of my parents and attended the same church. I got to know Lisa when she was a student in the junior and senior English classes I taught. She was a model student: quiet, soft-spoken, but articulate when called upon; attentive; inquisitive; eager to both learn and excel at her studies; and always striving to do her best.

Perhaps the most illustrative symbol I had of Lisa’s dedication as a student was a research paper she did for me during her junior year. Whereas many students gave the assignment little forethought, waited until the last minute to choose a research topic, and then muddled their way through the process and produced mediocre papers, Lisa had a workable topic early in the selection process. She worked faithfully and consistently through the process of preparing the paper. And the result of her work was exemplary at every step of the production process. For years thereafter, I used Lisa’s paper as a model for other students. This past weekend, I mentioned that paper in our too-brief time of conversation, and Lisa admitted that she still had it among her collection of memorabilia. She had done her best, produced exemplary work, and was rightfully proud of the end product.

But Lisa did more than write an exemplary research paper. She graduated as valedictorian, attended college, and excelled, earning her degree in nursing and pursuing a successful medical career. She later taught a biology lab class for our local homeschool cooperative on the side. Partially as a result of her enthusiasm and thoroughness in that classroom environment, one of our own daughters majored in nursing, earning her BSN and having her own career in medicine.

But Lisa had even higher expectations for herself. It was during that year of teaching the lab class that Lisa sensed a higher call, the call to medical missions work in Bangladesh. Leaving a successful, well-paying career in nursing, she ventured out in response to that call and has been pursuing it faithfully ever since.

From that mission field, Lisa sent her supporting churches and individuals regular written updates of her work, the needs there, and the successes she witnessed and was a part of. She hosted numerous government officials, both of the host country and of the United States, including former U.S. senator of Tennessee Bill Frist. And her newsletters always exemplified the best practices of writing: they inspired, informed, persuaded, and occasionally even entertained. They grabbed the readers’ attention early and held it right to the very end, and they persuaded her readers to pray for and support her work on the field. In all her years of service, she has never been below 100 percent support, an unusual feat, if you know anything about foreign missionary work.

Lisa is driven by ambition, but it’s not an ambition for personal advancement or aggrandizement; it’s an ambition to pursue even greater opportunities for service to others. She is now back in the United States seeking to pursue her PhD in nursing education, which will open doorways of service as an international nursing consultant, opportunities that would otherwise not be open to her. Her career has not been about herself; it has been about others.

As my wife and I listened to how God has led in Lisa’s life and ministry, we could not help but be proud of her and her accomplishments. We know that we played only a small part in her work–in fact, her achievements have been more in spite of our involvement than because of it–but we rejoice in seeing how the Lord has blessed her work. She and her ministry have been more than repayment for our work as teachers.

Perhaps John the Apostle stated our feelings best: “I have no greater joy that to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). Although we have no blood relationship, Lisa has been like one of our children. And she’s done us proud. More importantly, I think the Lord Himself would say of her, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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Dealing with Rejection

Okay, let’s be perfectly clear from the start about this: I’m referring to rejection of your writing submissions, not of your personality or requests for dates or any other nonwriting-related issues. With that disclaimer out of the way, we look today at how one should react when something he or she has written, laboring long and hard over it, and submitted (after carefully studying the markets) for publication gets turned down. What can we learn about this issue from the words of success expert Napoleon Hill?

  1. “It isn’t defeat, but rather your mental attitude toward it, that whips you.”

This goes back to what an earlier post said about the attitude of the writer. It’s all a matter of perspective. Instead of looking at a rejection slip as failure or defeat, view it as simply the revelation of one publication that didn’t want what you wrote right now. You’ve eliminated one potential market, which means you are that much closer to finding the right market and the right readers for your work. And it’s only one editor’s opinion. A different editor with the same publication at a different time might have accepted it. Keep searching until you find that editor.

2. “No man is ever whipped, until he quits–in his own mind. . . . Failure seems to be nature’s plan for preparing us for great responsibilities.”

This statement, too, takes us back to the earlier statement on attitude. It’s all a matter of perspective. View a rejection as bringing you one step closer to finding the right publication and the right editor. Edison was not discouraged when an experiment with a particular filament material failed; he said that it just proved one more material that would not work, bringing him that much closer to finding the material that would.

3. “If the thing you wish to do is right, and you believe in it, go ahead and do it! Put your dream across, and never mind what ‘they’ say if you meet with temporary defeat, for ‘they,’ perhaps, do not know that every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.”

If one of your manuscripts gets rejected, don’t give up on it. If you’ve done your best writing, chosen your markets carefully, and otherwise done “due diligence” in seeking a publisher, send it back out to a second publisher. Or, if necessary, a third or fourth or. . . . Never give up on it. Even if it’s never published, you haven’t wasted time; the experience will have made you a better, wiser writer.

4. “The greatest cure known is work. . . . [Emotions] do not always respond to logic and reason. They do, however, respond to action.”

A rejection slip naturally produces disappointment, discouragement, perhaps even an intense feeling as though you might just quit. Those emotions are real and natural. If you didn’t feel those emotions and instead reacted gleefully to the rejection, something would surely be wrong! But the best way to kill those negative emotions is to work them to death. Seldom is anything as bad as it might at first seem. So immediately send the manuscript out to another editor. I try to follow a 24-hour rule: If I have an article manuscript rejected on Tuesday, I make it a point to find another potential market and submit it to that editor within 24 hours of receiving the rejection notice. Don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs or feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, get busy working on another manuscript. Before you know it, the sting of the earlier rejection will have disappeared, and you’ll be excited about the prospects of an acceptance from the resubmission of the article or the beginning of the new project.

5. “There is a vast difference between failure and temporary defeat. There is no such thing as failure, unless it is accepted as such. . . . When you view adversity as nothing more than a learning experience, your successes in life will far outnumber your failures.”

One rejection does not a failure make. Was Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) a failure? Certainly not, but his first book was rejected by 42 publishers before being accepted by the 43rd. You are a failed writer only if you quit. Don’t give up! Keep plugging away. Even “successful” writers get rejections, just as batting champs fail to get hits about 65-70 percent of the time.

6. “The average person would have quit at the first failure. That’s why there have been many average men and only one Edison. . . . [A]nything worthwhile never comes easily; if it were easy, anyone could do it.”

Writing is hard work. Good writing is even harder. Getting good writing published is harder yet. It is the writer who perseveres, who keeps writing and submitting even after having his or her work rejected time after time who is the real success. Be that person! What matters is that you don’t take the rejection personally; it’s not you but your words that have been rejected. What matters is the you keep writing and keep submitting. What matters is that you, true to your calling, enjoy your work. Put your thoughts on your next project, not on the last one.

7. “Failure is not a disgrace if you have sincerely done your best. . . . [I]f you are satisfied that you’ve done your best, don’t waste time reliving the past. . . . If you consistently do your best, your temporary failures will take care of themselves.”

Ultimately, the judge of the quality of your writing is not an editor somewhere. It’s your own estimation of your work because you know, deep inside your heart, if you’ve done your best. It’s the Judge of the Universe, the God who has given you your writing gift, who makes the ultimate rating of your work. I suspect that there will be writers in heaven whose work on this earth was rejected innumerable times by multiple editors who will hear the most important words of acceptance, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” If you do your writing for Him, rather than for a fallible human, your work is accepted.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

 

Thirteen Days Later. . . .

In our finite sense of time and events, we often lose our sense of perspective. We often mentally compress time and events without realizing that much more happened in the intervening time span than we think. Such it is with the invasion of Normandy during World War II.

We recently commemorated the June 6, 1944, Allied landings on Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold, and Juno beaches that began the push that brought down the Third Reich. We then somehow jump mentally from the carnage along the beaches and cliffs of Normandy to the joining of U.S. and Russian forces at the Elbe, forgetting the long struggle that occurred among the hedgerows of the bocage, around the Falaise Gap, and in the fields of Belgium. We pause to recall the German surprise at the Bulge, but otherwise we tend to forget what took place between the initial clash on D-day and the celebrations of V-E Day.

On this date in history, June 19, 1944, my Uncle Dillon Summers had his own landing on Omaha Beach. He, a lowly, unassuming corporal, and the rest of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion of the 3rd Armored Division assembled in a predesignated marshaling area, fired registration rounds from their 105 and 155 mm mobile gun platforms, and almost immediately engaged enemy targets. As they did so, the beaches were still under fire from German artillery. Thirteen days after the much-celebrated D-day landings.

Thirteen days later. That should tell us something about how hard the fighting was after the initial landings.

To identify the enemy artillery pieces that were raining death and destruction on U.S. troops on Omaha Beach, the 391st AFA had forward observers (FOs) who crept to the front-most edges of the battlefield, noted the location of the enemy guns, and radioed the coordinates back to the U.S. artillerists, who then unleashed their own death blows to the offending German artillery.

Uncle Dillon was one of the few soldiers assigned to get the FOs to that forward edge. Many such tank drivers, and even more FOs, never made it back. Dillon was wounded and won two Bronze Stars for valor while doing his job, and he made it back. He and others like him enabled the Allies, one enemy artillery piece and one enemy troop concentration at a time, to defeat a powerful, diabolical enemy.

That’s usually how it is. Whereas we often hear of the exploits of the generals and commemorate the single-day actions of divisions, we sadly forget that it is the grueling, day-to-day work of thousands of anonymous, unsung individual heroes who just faithfully do their jobs that make those big victories possible.

Who are the unsung heroes in your life? A teacher? A preacher? A parent?

Are you an unsung hero to someone because you are faithfully and consistently doing your job? Are your daily actions making it possible for someone else to gain victory in his or her life?

Someone may be watching and learning from your life. They might look upon you as their hero.

Think about it!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

“A Man of Arms Surrounded by Tenets of Faith”

The title of today’s blog describes one of the most studied and most misunderstood but also most revered–by many–soldier in American history. That title comes from a work by the historian perhaps most knowledgeable of that soldier today, James I Robertson, author of the 950-page biographical tome Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend. Following are a few of the things Robertson says about Jackson.

  • “Jackson’s faith permeated every action of his adult life. He began each task by offering a blessing, and he completed every duty by returning thanks to God.”
  • “Jackson fervently absorbed the biblical assurance that ‘all things work together for good to them that love God.'”
  • “Modesty was among his greatest attractions.”
  • “Jackson, in short, was an unaffected commander who cultivated humility as he sought success in the name of God. To many acquaintances, the motto of his life was, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do.'”
  • “He prayed often, in the solitude of his tent and in the chaos of battle. In preparation for combat, one of his brigadiers noted, Jackson ‘did not reach his conclusions hastily, but after mature deliberation and prayerful consideration; and when once definitely reached, he was like a meteor in executing.'”
  • “Jackson read the Bible; he prayed; he meditated; he examined the nooks and crannies of scriptures and his own soul. In doing so, he began to undergo a change that would eventually create the very foundation of his being.”

But that’s what a 21st-century historian says about Thomas J. Jackson. Here’s Jackson in his own words:

  • “It is painful enough to discover with what unconcern they speak of war and threaten it. I have seen enough of it to make me look upon it as the sum of all evils.”
  • “People who are anxious to bring on war don’t know what they are bargaining for; they don’t see all the horrors that must accompany such an event.”
  • “My religious belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time for my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to always be ready, no matter when it may overtake me.”
  • “Never take counsel of your fears.”
  • “I have so fixed the habit in my own mind that I never raise a glass of water to my lips without a moment’s asking of God’s blessing. I never seal a letter without putting a word of prayer under the seal. I never take a letter from the post without a brief sending of my thoughts heavenward. I never change classes in the section room without a minute’s petition on the cadets who go out and those who come in.”
  • (His last coherent words, spoken on his deathbed): “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.”

Here is a man whose life is well worth studying! And Robertson’s biography of Jackson is a book well worth reading.

 

Nobodies

Reclusive poet Emily Dickinson wrote a short bit of verse titled “Nobody.” It proclaimed the virtue of being a “nobody,” someone who had no special significance or influence and received no public recognition. That’s how she wanted to be perceived because that’s what she thought she was.

I have often felt like that. I’m not famous for anything. I’m not widely known. Even when I go “back home” to the community where I grew up, no one knows me. When I left there to go to college in another state, no one, not even my closest friends or track teammates, kept up with me or what I was doing. Forty years later, when the hometown newspaper published an article about the release of my first book (along with my phone number and e-mail address, courtesy of the editor, who was a family friend), only two former classmates contacted me. Like Dickinson, I’m “nobody.” Are you nobody, too?

But then I’m reminded that God often uses nobodies, sometimes without their even knowing that they are being used.

Robert Fulghum wrote in All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, “You may never have proof of your importance, but you are more important than you think. There are always those who couldn’t do without you. The rub is that you don’t always know who.”

First, you are important to your spouse, even if he or she sometimes doesn’t seem to acknowledge your value. Then you are important to your children–or, if you don’t have children, your sibling’s children, or those of a friend or a neighbor. Even little kids whom you don’t know–or maybe haven’t even seen before. But they see you. They watch you.

To quote Fulghum again, “Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.”

But that also goes for the adults around us. They’re watching what we say and do. They notice how we deal with frustrations, disappointments, tragedies, and joys. They see how we treat others, not only our closest relations but also those who work for us or with us or for whom we work.

One day, in response to a statement by someone on Facebook, I replied, “It’s nice to hear from former students.” I wasn’t fishing (or is that phishing?) for posts from my former students but merely stating a fact. But I got several responses from people who had once survived one or more of the junior high history classes that I taught. Many of them responded. Soon, their posts turned from private messages to me to reminiscences among themselves about things that they recalled from my classes.

Many of the things that they mentioned I had long forgotten–but they had not. It was fun to be reminded of the incidents. (And a bit shocking as I read about how those junior high students now had children of their own who were older than the parents had been when they were in my classes!) It was especially humbling to know that a few of them had become teachers–even one a history teacher!–because of my influence.

I had never known, perhaps might never have known but for that Facebook exchange.

If you don’t think that you’ve had or are having an influence on someone else, think again. You might not be aware of the influence you’re having or have had in the past, but it’s there nonetheless. You might be a nobody in the world’s eyes, but even nobodies exert an influence on someone. Silent, unsung, unheralded. But important and influential to someone.

Teacher and author Jesse Stuart was right when he said, “I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

I hate to disagree with you, Emily Dickinson, but no one is really a nobody–not even you.

Summarizing the Exemplars

For the past eight posts, I have focused attention on six men whom I have called exemplars. I offered summary biographies of J.C. Penney, John Wanamaker, Webb C. Ball, George Washington Carver, James J. Hill, and W. Clement Stone. In each brief biographical sketch, I emphasized certain personal characteristics that enabled them to achieve great things. Each of those people excelled in a different field or calling, from retail sales to railroad building and improvement to scientific experimentation to insurance sales and motivational speaking and writing. Yet, they all shared certain qualities that made their respective achievements possible.

 

 

 

Each of these men overcame seemingly insurmountable difficulties and adversities, things that would have prevented lesser men. Sometimes it was the loss or absence of parents at a young age. In other instances, it was poverty or lack of a formal education. Many of these men faced nay-sayers, skeptics, people who believed they could not succeed, people who sought government favors that would give them an advantage over their competitors.

Each of these men, however, also had a dream, or a vision, and a determination to do what was required to make their dreams reality. But they each determined that in the pursuit of his dream he would not violate his fellowman. Rather, he would serve his fellows, achieving his goals by helping others achieve what they needed or wanted. He would treat others as he wanted others to treat him.

Each of these men exhibited a strong work ethic. He was not afraid to sweat, to get his hands dirty, to work hard and put in long hours to further his plan to achieve his dream. He did not expect easy or quick success but was patient and persistent in pursuing his goals.

Each of these men also recognized that he needed the help of others–employees and partners–to bring his dream to fruition; therefore, he treated his associates well and sought to help them improve themselves. Whether those associates were retail sales clerks, line crewmen, newsboys, insurance agents, or students, each of these men sought to make others’ success and growth one of his major objectives, knowing that if that happened he, too, would succeed.

But perhaps most importantly, each of these men was a man of faith in God, some to a greater degree than others, but men of faith nonetheless. Each man realized that true wealth and success are not to be found in this life but in that which is to come. Although many of these men did achieve great wealth, they knew that there was more to life than material things. And they became philanthropists, giving to great causes that helped others. One–Carver–never gained wealth. Yet, he was truly a wealthy man and gave what he had–himself, his time, his knowledge.

Just as Jesus Christ taught His disciples when they argued about which of them would be considered the greatest in His kingdom, each of these exemplars knew that his ultimate success depended on his being a servant to others, not a lord over them, even though he was the boss. Christ said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). As Matthew recorded the incident, Christ said, “But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:11-12).

These characteristics are what made these men great exemplars. They are the qualities that made America great as a nation. They are the qualities that must be predominant in American society if America is to remain great. And they are the qualities that will always produce greatness of personal character.

An exemplar is someone whose life is worthy of being followed and imitated. Each of the men we surveyed over the past several weeks exhibited qualities worth developing and practicing: honesty, integrity, hard work, vision, faith, perseverance, determination, etc. May each of our lives reflect those same qualities. And may we become exemplars in our own right–whatever be our calling or field of endeavor–for someone else.

But wait! There’s more!

Jesus Christ was more than a mere exemplar or great teacher whom we should strive to emulate. He is God, the Savior who gave Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. And He offers Himself as such to every individual. And each individual must make a decision to accept or reject Him as Savior and Lord. No matter how many fine qualities of character one possesses, no matter how hard he works or how lofty his ideals and goals, if he has not faith in Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, he is not worthy of being followed. To follow such an one is to be deceived and disappointed in the most important part of life–the soul. Christ stated it so clearly and succinctly: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26)

The great question that everyone throughout history has had to answer–and the question that each of us today must answer–is the ages-old question, “What shall I do with Jesus?”

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

THINK!

I first saw W. Clement Stone when I was a junior or senior in college and attended a meeting of the Association of Christian Teachers (ACT) meeting where he was the featured speaker. He was there at the request of Dr. Walter Fremont, the Dean of the School of Education and one of the teachers who most influenced my teaching career.

Stone lived and taught what he and Napoleon Hill called success through a positive mental attitude (PMA), which closely resembled Dr. Fremont’s trademark positive faith attitude (PFA). So strongly did Fremont believe in PMA, or PFA, that several weeks before Stone’s guest appearance before the ACT, he had distributed to all his upper-level education majors a copy of Stone and Hill’s book Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude. I devoured the book in a matter of days, my nose stuck in its pages when I should have been studying for my classes.

There’s a derogatory statement that “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” But that was neither Stone nor Fremont. In teaching a positive attitude, both men lived what they taught.  They were living exemplars of their philosophy. (I summarized how Fremont did it in an earlier post on this blog. See the post of June 29, 2017.)

Stone was born on May 4, 1902. His father died when Stone was only 3 years old, leaving his family in debt. His mother, a dressmaker, could hardly make ends meet, so Stone got a job hawking Examiner newspapers on the streets of Chicago when he was 6. But he quickly realized that if he was to make a profit in competition with the numerous older and bigger newsboys, he’d have to find some other way than on the street corners. He decided to try selling papers to the patrons of fine restaurants. After all, they had the money, they were not busy with anything else and might enjoy reading the paper while they dined, and no other newsboys were selling there.

The first time he tried to sell in a restaurant, he sold only one paper before the manager angrily tossed him out. He waited until the manager was busy with an influx of customers and reentered the restaurant. That time, he sold three papers before being kicked out. Undeterred, he persisted in entering that and other restaurants, selling more papers each time. Although the managers were all perturbed with him and perplexed as to how to end his intrusions, the patrons loved him. They admired his “politeness, charm, and persistence,” and they finally convinced the managers to allow him to sell there regularly. So successful was he that he hired several smaller boys to sell for him, always doing so politely. By the time Stone was 13, he owned his own newsstand.

When Stone was 16, he dropped out of school and moved with his mother to Detroit, where he helped his mother run an insurance agency. With only $100, he started his own agency, the Combined Insurance Company, at the age of 20, and by 1930, he had 1,000 agents working for him. He had a strong desire to succeed, and his thinking was heavily influenced by his reading habit. He read the rags-to-riches books by Horatio Alger (pictured below a sampling of his books) and was always reading books aimed at self-improvement. And he practiced what he learned from those books. He was strongly convinced that one’s success or failure depended on his attitude. By 1979, his company’s assets topped $1 billion.

But Stone was also convinced that one’s success depended on living by the Golden Rule (not unlike J.C. Penney, whose life was covered in an earlier blog post, too) and carried an obligation to help others succeed. He began helping others through his motivational speaking and writing and his philanthropic endeavors, giving millions of dollars to educational and religious causes.

When Stone spoke to the ACT members the night I heard him, I was at the hall before the doors opened. I got an aisle seat about two rows back on the left side facing the stage. A few minutes before the program was to begin, a distinguished-looking gentleman in a dark suit and a large black bow-tie and sporting a pencil-thin black moustache sat down in the front row seat diagonally across the aisle from me. I immediately recognized W. Clement Stone from the photo on the dust jacket of his book. I could have stretched forward and across the aisle and touched him, but I dared not. My heart raced with anticipation of his speech.

Dr. Fremont opened the meeting and introduced Stone, and, amid polite applause (I don’t think most of the attendees in the standing-room-only crowd realized who their guest speaker was), Stone made his way with firm, determined steps to the podium.

After offering a brief thank-you to Dr. Fremont for his invitation to speak and his introduction of him, Stone launched calmly and without notes into his speech about how we could be successful teachers upon graduation. It probably lasted no more than 20 minutes, but I remember only two things that he said.

First, he explained what he called his “R2A2 Principle”: Recognize, Relate, Assimilate, and Apply. Then, near the conclusion, he said, “The real key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to. . . .”

Here he paused, as though waiting for our ears and minds to catch up with his deep statement. Finally, he finished: “think.”

He paused again before repeating his statement: “The key to success in teaching–or in any endeavor of life–is to think!”

He stood starkly immovable and stared out at the faces before him. One could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

“Think!” he repeated. Then he turned slowly from the podium and strode with measured tread across the platform, and with every step he said, “Think!” He stepped slowly and deliberately down the two steps off the platform and across the front of the hall to his seat near me, still repeating with each step, “Think! Think! Think!” As he plopped elegantly into the seat, he called out a final time, “THINK!”

After what seemed like a long time, during which the audience sat in stunned silence and Stone stared straight ahead, the place erupted in thunderous applause.

AT the time, I left disappointed, let down, unfulfilled. I had taken valuable time from my busy schedule to hear this great, successful man, and that’s all he had to say? But the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve realized the truth of what Stone said that night.

Stone was basing his philosophy on what he often called “the world’s greatest self-help book,” the Bible. He believed, as Proverbs 23:7 states, “As he [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Fill your heart and mind with good, positive, faith-filled thoughts, and you will produce good, positive, faith-building words and deeds that will produce a truly successful life, no matter what your calling.

As I’ve read and studied Stone’s philosophy over the years, I haven’t always agreed with him on everything, and I’ve seen many people use his principles to pursue  pure materialism and teach a heretical “health-and-wealth gospel” that is not the true gospel of the Bible. But as a teacher, I used–and continue to use–his R2A2 Principle and continually try to encourage and motivate my mind and spirit with his PMA and Dr. Fremont’s PFA ideas.

Stone died on September 4, 2002, at the age of 100. He had overcome early hardships, developed a vision and set goals for achieving it, practiced habits of hard work, survived the Depression, built a business empire, motivated others to succeed, and gave millions of dollars to worthy causes. He left a wife, a son (one of three children), 12 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren. And he left the rest of us an example. But when I hear his name, my first thought is that single word that in my mind defined W. Clement Stone: “THINK!”

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Wanamaker’s Enduring Legacy

Over the past several weeks, I have shared with you the stories of a number of exemplars who earned their living, gained great wealth, and served both their fellowmen and their God through their work. In the two most recent posts, I shared a little about a young man named John who revolutionized the way retail business was conducted, treated customers fairly and courteously, and retained good employees by helping to meet their current and future needs. That young man was John Wanamaker.

One thing about Wanamaker was that he was “never content to stop with what he had achieved. His eye and thought was always ahead.” His success and philanthropy resulted in his being voted the most popular man in Philadelphia. His character was impeccable, leading to his being suggested for several political offices, but he declined them all–until President Benjamin Harrison nominated him Postmaster General in 1899. As Postmaster, he worked to improve mail delivery across the nation and around the world. Two of his most successful innovations were Rural Free Delivery and parcel post service.

Wanamaker later participated in Pennsylvania state politics. He was so appalled at corruption in state government that he dedicated himself to reform, helping elect seventy-five reformers to the legislature and breaking the hold of the political machines.

John Wanamaker’s life has been summarized as “tireless twenties, thrilling thirties, fiery forties, fearless fifties, serious sixties, sober seventies.” He valued time and made the most of it.

Wanamaker died of heart failure on December 12, 1922. Fifteen thousand people attended his funeral. His pallbearers included the governor of Pennsylvania, the majors of Philadelphia and New York, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Thomas Edison. He was buried in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. A memorial tablet at Bethany Collegiate Church, where he started a Sunday school class for boys, states his secret: “Thinking, trying, toiling, and trusting in God is all of my biography.”

Wanamaker’s life is proof that honesty, dedication, and hard work can produce business success. More importantly, it shows that one can practice godliness and live out one’s higher calling in even a “secular” occupation. As he himself said, “The chief difference between man and man is not in birth, good looks, or opportunities. It is in what they do and the way they do it. A man with a purpose, who never stops following his star, makes his goal; and the other man, whose wishbone is where his backbone belongs, seldom fails to get anywhere but into the bed of indolence.”

(All direct quotes in this and the previous posts on Wanamaker are from The Romantic Rise of a Great American by Russell H. Conwell, Harper & Row Publishers, 1924.)

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

Customers and Employees First

Imagine a store that not only provides a variety of quality products and efficient service but also offers employees a bank, a school, a library, a gymnasium, medical care–and a weekly prayer meeting.

Is this a modern business experimenting with new ideas to retain employees? No, it was a late nineteenth- to early twentieth-century business that was far ahead of its time. (In fact, at least the prayer meeting part would be considered politically incorrect today and possibly even lead to law suits!) These innovations were the brainchildren of John, the young businessman whom I introduced in the previous blog post (“A Revolutionary Retailer”).

People conducted business differently in John’s early days than they do today. Retail stores usually specialized in only one or two types of products and had no set business hours. Clerks received no formal training. Clerks and customers haggled over the price of everything. Identical items might have several different prices. People expected merchants to try to cheat them. Merchants always made customers feel inferior; shopping was seldom pleasurable. A dissatisfied customer could not return a product for refund or exchange. The business motto of the day was caveat emptor, “Let the buyer beware.”

But John changed all that–and more. He instituted set hours and stayed until the last customer was served. He hired only the best staff and then trained them extensively in customer service. He marked prices clearly, and identical items had one price, eliminating haggling. He made customers feel important, and shopping became enjoyable. “Courtesy is the one coin you can never have too much of or be stingy with,” he instructed his employees. If a customer was dissatisfied for any reason and could show his receipt, John guaranteed a cash refund.

Moreover, John’s store was the first to have electricity, telephones, elevators, and telegraph service. He pioneered home delivery and telephone ordering. He introduced the use of pneumatic tubes whereby clerks in the various departments could send cash and receive change quickly. He offered the best products; when he couldn’t do so, he hired craftsmen or built factories to make them himself. He conducted special sales. He even built a restaurant inside his store.

John informed his customers through continuous and aggressive advertising. He once admitted, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” He read the papers daily, looking for good writers and artists whose work he liked, then he hired them to produce effective ads for him.

He introduced numerous benefits for his employees and their families, including vacations, pensions, bonuses, health care, life insurance, paid training, and extra pay for additional education. He scheduled public concerts, authors’ lectures, art and historical exhibits, and other forms of entertainment and education–all conducted inside his tore during store hours. He had the world’s largest organ built and installed in his store.

In short, John made work rewarding for his employees and shopping pleasurable for his customers. “When a customer enters my store,” John said, “forget me. He is king.” In return, they made him a success. But that success was a mere by-product of an even greater purpose that drove his revolutionary business.

In the next post, I will share more of this great exemplar’s legacy, which extended far beyond his retail operations, and let you in on what he considered the secrets of his success.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]

A Revolutionary Retailer

John, the first of six children in his family, was a sickly child. Although he enjoyed reading and learning and going to school, he dropped out of school at fourteen to work for $1.25 a week as an errand boy for a Philadelphia publisher. He soon quit that job to become a stock boy in a clothing store–for $2.50 a week. During that time, he not only learned a lot about selling clothing but also wrote, edited, published, and distributed a little newspaper called Everybody’s Journal. It was designed for “young men who wish to rise in the world,” which was exactly what he intended to do.

When John was eighteen, he became a salesman for Joseph Bennett, a pioneer in ready-to-wear clothing. John impressed Bennett and advanced quickly. The two of them often talked about business and John’s future. Bennett recalled John’s saying that he planned to become a great merchant. But one day John asked his boss for a substantial raise, and Bennett refused. John calmly told him that he would quit and open his own store nearby.

Like all other businessmen, John wanted to make money, but that wasn’t the most important thing to him. A deeply religious man, John saw “every day [as] an opportunity to obey his religious convictions” and thereby please his Maker. He also wanted to “be of value to others besides himself.” He once said that his mission in life was “to do a full day’s work every day int he year, and to use its product for the uplifting and bettering of my fellow-men.”

John got this philosophy from his parents, who gave him his religious instruction. His father, who worked in a brickyard, set an example of hard work and frugality. His mother was a godly woman who taught her children to love God and read His Word. John especially recalled her teaching him “diligence, without which no man need ever hope to succeed in business or any other legitimate profession.”

Shortly after quitting his employment with Bennett, John was walking down the street when he heard music coming from a church as he passed it. He went in, listened to the choir, and gave his heart to Christ. From that day, he served a higher purpose.

In 1861, when John was twenty-three, he and his brother-in-law, Nathan Brown, opened a store on the corner of Sixth and Market Streets in Philadelphia. Through vision, determination, and hard work, they brought about a revolution in retail sales. John had an uncanny ability to foresee trends. Many people thought he was crazy to do some of the things he did with his business, but they worked, and soon other business were following his example. He realized that to be in the forefront of the industry, he needed to see the “fundamental needs of the people before the people themselves were consciously aware of these needs.” Based on this uncanny ability and his willingness to take on risks, he introduced new products, and customers rewarded his intuition by buying them. He also introduced new ways to care for and reward his employees, and they, in turn, worked hard for him and helped him earn great profits. By 1872, his store was the largest in the nation.

John’s story is so impressive that it can’t be told or even summarized in one short blog post. Stay tuned for subsequent posts in which I will share more about this amazing entrepreneur’s successes and example.

[Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson]