“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge
Our world is filled with distractions. They offer a ceaseless barrage of incessant notifications and attention-grabbing headlines that distract us from our long-term goals. It’s easy to see why most people don’t succeed in life or are unable to accomplish their dreams when we live in a world filled with so much noise.
In an effort to garner our attention, that noise is often parlayed in the form of negativity and fear, two things that humans tend to gravitate towards. It’s one of the detracting features of our society, but also an unavoidable status quo. How can we possibly succeed when we’re so inundated with garbage throughout the day and night?
Clearly, for those that are serious about getting ahead in life or exiting this thing we call a rat race or achieving anything worthwhile, rising above this conundrum is paramount. So I recently asked myself this question. What’s the key to success in life? How is it that one person can achieve their wildest dreams while the next person is suffocated by “circumstances”?
If you’ve been reading this blog for any measure of time, you already know that I’m obsessed with understanding human nature and uncovering the motivations behind why we do the things that we do. Now, I’m not perfect. In fact, I often royally screw things up. I’ve failed so many times. I’ve also given up. Through it all, I’ve learned some powerful lessons about failure and success.
Because of my curiosity, and because failure is so taboo in our society, I’ve often scoured for examples of failure stories amidst some of the most famous and successful people to have walked this earth. In fact, I’ve written quite extensively about it. But this post isn’t about failure. This post is about success and just what it takes to achieve our outlandish goals. But those two worlds collide.
The truth? Failure is definitely one of the proverbial keys to success but it’s not the most important one. Failure is actually a stepping stone to achieving big goals, and the more you fail, and keep going, the more likely you’ll be to win. However, failure isn’t the biggest driving force in success. There’s something else.
What Does It Take To Truly Succeed?
In order to better explain this concept behind what unlocks the doorway to success, I wanted to relay a very powerful story that was recently shared with me. In fact, when I first heard the story, I was surprised that I had no idea who this individual was. Yet, his contributions to the field of electrical engineering and mathematics made him a celebrity for decades during his lifetime.
If you don’t know who the Wizard of Schenectady is, that’s quite alright. I had no clue myself. In fact, if you think about some of the greatest human minds of our existence, Charles Proteus Steinmetz is right up there with the likes of Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein. Yes, he’s that important.
Although he stood just 4 feet tall, he was a giant amongst men and a pillar in the scientific community. However, due to a genetic birth defect that created an overarching hump in his back, he was socially shunned. Introverted and conscious about his appearance, he immersed himself in his work.
After immigrating to the United States from Germany in 1888, he went to work for a company in Yonkers, New York called Eickemeyer and Osterheld where he discovered a mathematical solution for the phenomena behind power losses, which led to revolutionary new breakthroughs in our understanding of alternating and direct-current electrical systems. This later became known as Steinmetz’s Equation (or the Law of Hysterisis).
Thomas Edison’s General Electric group discovered what Steinmetz was doing at Eickemeyer and Osterheld and decided to acquire the company along with Steinmetz’s patents, rendering his service obligations to GE now. In 1894, as a result, Steinmetz picked up and moved to Schenectady, where he would spend the next three decades of his life working for GE.
In fact, it was right there in Schenectady, New York, that Steinmetz became a legend amongst men. It was there that he continued to hone his craft, refining his understanding of complex mathematical equations and a knack to discover hidden algorithms to uncover the precise methods and analyses that would allow him to carefully explain the behavior of alternative current circuits.
As his fame rose amongst the scientific community, Henry Ford, hearing about Steinmetz’s prophetic ways, summoned the electrical engineer to his River Rouge plant in Detroit Michigan. It turned out that none of the talented engineers at Ford’s plant could solve a problem with a gigantic electrical generator.
The problem was costing Ford a great deal of money. Having heard about Steinmetz’s brilliance, and upon his arrival at the plant, Ford and his team were surprised when Steinmetz shunned them all, turning away their help. Instead, all he asked for was a notepad, a pencil and a bed so that he could carefully observe the machine both day and night.
For those two days and nights, the only breaks that Steinmetz took from observing and listening to machine, were in the evenings to get a few hours of sleep. The balance of the time, he was busy scribbling computations, formulas and algorithms based on his observations with the machine.
It wasn’t until the second night that Steinmetz asked Ford’s team for a ladder so that he could climb the giant machine and place a chalk mark near a metal plate on the side of the massive generator, indicating that it needed to be opened up at that point. Steinmetz instructed Ford’s engineers to remove a metal plate and replace 16 of the windings from the field coil.
To Ford and his team’s surprise, immediately upon replacing those 16 windings from the field coil, the machine began operating to perfection without a single hitch. The team was delighted and Steinmetz went on his way back to Schenectady. Some days later, Steinmetz issued an invoice to Ford for $10,000 (or $275,000 in today’s dollars when accounting for currency).
While Ford was excited that the problem had been resolved, after receiving the invoice he scoffed at the figure, asking for an explanation. Steinmetz personally responded himself, stating the following: