Imagine two young men, born on the same day in 1906 but in completely different circumstances and on the opposite sides of the world. One named William Kane, born into the life of privilege- son of a millionaire banker, other named Abel Rosnovski, an orphan born in the forest, adopted by a poor Polish family who found him and his dead mother in the forest.
Both going through highs and lows of their life, one experiencing enormous amounts of hardship and pain in his early years which is much, much greater than any of us will ever experience in our whole life. Their lives intersect and get intertwined as they build they become relentless and all-powerful in their pursuit of changing their destinies and building their fortunes. Eventually leading to all-consuming hatred, born out of misunderstanding, they both nurture for each other affecting the lives of their loved ones.
Honestly, this book was a page-turner for me, tempting me to pick it up rather than my college textbooks, eventually occupying my 9 days and no preparation for my college term exams to finally completing it.
Without more ado, we are diving right into the 3 lessons I found were the most important lesson you can learn. Each serves a different purpose:
1 lesson to Apply before going through challenges
1 lesson to Remember when going through hardships
1. Build Systems Not To-Do’s to achieve your goals
William Kane, since the age of eight, was keeping a ledger for accounting, tracking prices of stocks, recording his expenditures and investments.
He devised a system of “ghost-investment program” when he turned 12 years, which was essentially imaginary investing of the stocks he calculated were going up and tracking of his stock market portfolio, and he was consistent with his system.
“The price of oil, William asserted, could only rise now that Mr. Ford had sold over a million Model Ts. He kept the ledger meticulously up to date until his twenty-first birthday.”
“He was particularly proud to point out to the grandmothers an entry marked ‘B6’, showing that he had taken his money out of J. P. Morgan’s bank immediately on hearing of the death of the great financier because he had noted that stock in his father’s bank had fallen in value after the death had been announced. William had reinvested the same amount three months later, making a healthy profit.”
Later on, he became a banker, following his father’s footsteps. He meticulously carried out his duties, and was ambitious enough to become chairman of his rival bank. He had a system for picking up companies for his clients and stood up for his opinions and reasons for the upcoming financial crisis.
On the other hand, Abel after migrating to America began to read editorials of The New York Times between his shifts as a junior waiter at Plaza. He developed his system, studying the list of reserved tables which were to be occupied by affluent men, who came to dine at the Plaza and he served those tables with open ears, to gain insider information on the companies he later would invest in to make quick profits.
After the restaurant had closed for the afternoon, Abel would check the stock prices of the diners’ companies, and if the tone of the conversation had been optimistic, he would invest a small amount of money in the company. If the host had ordered cigars at the end of the meal,Abel would make a larger investment.
Seven times out of ten, the value of the stock he had selected doubled within six months, the period he would allow himself to hold on to any stock. Using this system, he lost money on only three occasions during the four years he worked at the Plaza.
After inheriting a chain of bankrupt hotels from his boss and close friend, who committed suicide during the financial crisis which gripped America, he turned the hotels around to profit-making machines, establishing one hotel in every state and Poland was his goal. Abel adopted a system to keep check of the internal theft which his hotel’s staff were used to before he became the owner. He used to arrive in any of his hotels, without any prior knowledge to the staff, and search for any theft scheme among the staff.
The point is these men knew, from a young age, that having a burning desire and unorganized action with no change in identity was not enough to achieve their goals.
Action with no change in identity was not enough
Now, you might be asking yourself what is a system ?.
In simple words, it is a set of routines or habits you make, for an identity you need to develop to achieve a goal you desire.
The first step is asking yourself — “What kind of person I need to become to achieve the goals I want ?”. In the case of our protagonists, William had his father as his role model, and Abel had his close friends and hard experiences which unintentionally set the groundwork for his strong identity.
While, for others who don’t have a role model, we need to search for one. Today’s connectedness and social media platforms are the tools we can use to search for people who have already achieved what we are pursuing.
The second step is to ask yourself, “What are the steps I need to take and habits I need to develop to achieve the identity I desire?”. This too can be achieved if we look at the life of our role models. Abel studied in the night school for two years, to develop his English. William studied for months and months with a singular aim to get a Harvard scholarship, just like his father had achieved.
The hard part is to being consistent and open-minded simultaneously, to other experiences that make us uncomfortable or endangers our fickle identity. Remember as you change your identity, you might find yourself changing your steps, but not your ultimate goal.
For my part, I already have my father as my role model, he advised me to create a schedule and stick to it, to take risks while I’m still young among other things he regularly advises.
2. Suffering is Constant and how we deal with it should be our focus
Abel Rosnovski was the illegitimate son of a Polish baron, loses his everything to the war. Watching his countrymen killed, his half-brother sacrificing himself while protecting him, his biological father, a baron, turn blind and aged and die in front of him, his sister raped by soldiers, who succumbs to her wounds, died in his arms. He was held hostage in his castle, watching everybody die around him.
He was not more than 13 years when he experienced all this pain.
But the suffering did not stop here, he was sent to a prisoner camp which was prevalent in the world wars, escaping from there only landed him in a country where he was brought near the experience of losing his hands for attempting to steal food. Finally, he makes his way to America, the land where every man, no matter of what race or country he or she is from, can make his fortune. The suffering did not stop. But eventually, he was able to choose his challenges.
We can adopt a set of beliefs and perception about life:
There is no value in worrying or quarreling with things as they are.
Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.” ― Roy T. Bennett
A perception to turn obstacles to opportunity and flexibility in our nature to adopt unique paths when faced with stress, anxiety, or depression.
To summarize, the ‘magic’ formula is to have a new set of beliefs about yourself and about life which will point our daily actions towards the goal we want to achieve. Further, to remember that everyone faces challenges, and how we actually deal with it only matters.