John D. Rockefeller 

Letter 4

December 24, 1897

Dear John: I always clearly remember the words of intelligent people. A wise man said it well, “Education covers many aspects, but it does not teach you anything.” This wise man showed us a truth: if you do not take action, even the world’s most practical, beautiful, and viable philosophy will not work.

I have always believed that an opportunity comes from another opportunity as even the best ideas have flaws. Even if it is a very ordinary plan, if it is actually implemented and developed, it will be much better than a good plan that is abandoned halfway, because the former will be carried out consistently, but the latter has already been given up. So, I said that there is no secret to success.

To achieve positive results in life, it is of course good to have extraordinary wisdom and special talents. There is nothing wrong with it. As long as you are willing to take active actions, you will be closer to success.

Unfortunately, many people have not remembered this biggest lesson, and as a result they have resulted in mediocrity. If you look at the ordinary people, you will find that they are all living passively, they always say much more than they do, or even do nothing.

But almost all of them are good at finding excuses, they will find various excuses to procrastinate until they finally prove that this matter should not be, unable to or it is too late to be done. Compared to this kind of person, I seem to be much smarter and cunning.

Mr. Gates touted me as an active and spontaneous individual. I am happy to hear this because I have lived up to it. Positive action is another positive attribute of mine. I never like to talk in vain. Because I know that there is no result without action, and there is nothing in the world that is obtained just from thinking.

As long as people are alive, they must consider taking action. Many people admit that knowledge without experience is useless, but what is even more frustrating is that even if there is knowledge and wisdom but no action, everything is still empty talk.

Action and adequate preparation can actually be seen as two sides of an object. We need to live modestly. Too much preparation but no action at all will only waste time eventually.

In other words, everything must be done with limits. We cannot fall into the trap of continuous deliberation and planning but we must recognize the reality: no matter how detailed the plan is, we still cannot accurately predict the final outcome. Of course, I do not deny that planning is very important. It is the first step to achieving favourable results, but planning is not, and cannot replace action. Just like playing golf, if you have not completed the first hole, you cannot progress to the second hole.

Action solves everything. Without action, nothing will happen. We cannot buy fool proof insurance, but what we can do is make up our minds to fulfil our plan. People who lack action have a bad habit: they like to maintain the status quo and refuse to change.

I think this is a bad habit that is deceptive and self-destructive because everything is changing, just as people will live and die, there is nothing constant. But because of one’s inner fear – the fear of the unknown, many people resist change. Even if the status quo does not satisfy him, he dares not take a step forward.

If you look at the people who should have succeeded in their careers but did not, you know that it’s not hard to sympathize with them. Yes, everyone will be worried and scared when deciding on a huge event and will be faced with a dilemma. But the “action group” will use the determination to ignite the sparks in their soul, come up with various ways to fulfil their wishes, and gain the courage to overcome all kinds of difficulties.

Many people who lack action are naïve and like to sit and wait for things to happen naturally. They naively think that others will care about their affairs. In actual fact, other than yourself, others will not be very interested in them. People are only interested in their own things.

For example, in a business, the higher our profits, the more we must take the initiative to act, because the success or failure has little to do with others; they will not care. At this time, we’d better push it. If we are lazy, retreating, and waiting for others to take the initiative to kickstart things, the result will be disappointing. Only by relying on oneself can a person then not let himself down and increase his chance to control his destiny.

Smart people will only make things happen. The most frustrating thing in life is that there are too many things to do, but there is not enough time. As a result, just by thinking about the plans that are unable to be carried out will only intimidate ourselves, and we end up not accomplishing anything.

We must admit that with limited time, no one can complete everything. Smart people know that not all actions will produce good results, and only wise actions can bring meaningful results, so smart people will only learn from the work that has a positive effect in the future, and only concentrate on the work related that gives the greatest results.

Hence, smart people always make the most valuable contribution and reap a lot of benefits. To eat an elephant, you need to eat one bite at a time. Same goes to when you are doing something. If you want to accomplish everything at one go, you will only let the opportunity slip away.

My motto is: only takes unfair treatment for emergencies. Many people make themselves into a passive person. They want to wait until all conditions are perfect, that is, when the time is right, before taking action. Life is an opportunity at any time, but there is almost nothing perfect.

Those passive people have a mediocre life, precisely because they must wait for everything to be 100% profitable and perfectly safe before doing something. This is a fool’s approach. We must compromise in life and believe that what is in hand is the opportunity we need now, so that we can keep ourselves out of the quagmire of waiting forever before falling into action.

We pursue perfection, but there is no absolute perfection in life, only near perfection. If you wait until all conditions are perfect, you can only wait forever, and the opportunity will be given to others. Those who must wait until everything has been prepared will never leave home.

To become the kind of person who “will do it now”, you must stop daydreaming, and to always think of the present and start doing it now. Sentences such as “tomorrow”, “next week”, and “future” have the same meaning as “can never be done”.

Everyone has a time when they lose confidence and doubts their abilities, especially in adversity. But people who really understand the art of action can overcome it with strong perseverance. They will tell themselves that everyone has failures, and when they fail miserably, they will tell themselves no matter how much preparation they have made and how long they think before they do it, will inevitably make mistakes.

However, passive people do not regard failure as an opportunity for learning and growth, as they are always admonishing themselves: perhaps I really can’t do it, so that is why I have lost my eagerness to participate in future activities. Many people want their wishes to come true, but I regard it as a lie. It’s a good idea to buy a dozen for a dime.

The initial idea is just the beginning of a series of moves, and then comes the second stage of preparation, planning and the third stage of action. There is never a shortage of people with ideas in our world, but there are very few people who know how to successfully implement a good idea, which is more valuable than thinking about a thousand of good ideas at home.

The real basis people use to judge your ability is not how much you have in your head, but your actions. People trust down-to-earth people, and they will think: This person dares to say and do, he must know what the best course of action is. I haven’t heard anyone being praised for not disturbing others, not acting, or having to wait for someone else to order things.

Those leaders in the business sector, government, and military are very capable and willing people, who are 100% active. Those who stand on the side-lines and do nothing will never be leaders. Whether it is an automatic spontaneous or a passive person, it is a habit.

Habits are like ropes. We spin a rope every day, and finally it is too thick to break. The ropes of habit either lead us to the peak or lead us to the trough, which depends on whether our habits are good or bad. Bad habits can dictate us and determine success or failure. It is easy to develop, but it is difficult to serve.

Good habits are difficult to develop, but they are easy to maintain. To have the habit of doing now, the most important thing is to have a proactive spirit, get rid of the habit of being distracted, be determined to be a person of initiatives, be courageous in doing things, don’t wait until everything is ready, there will never be absolute perfection.

Cultivating the habit of action does not require special wisdom or special skills. You only need to work hard to let good habits bloom in life. Son, life is a great battle. To win, you need to act, act again, and act forever! In this way, your safety can be guaranteed. Merry Christmas! I think there is no better Christmas present than this letter to you at this time.

Your Father