Billionaire John Graham teaches timeless strategies in Letters From A Self Made Merchant for upleveling your business, leadership & life.
Author: George Horace Lorimer
First Published: 1901
Genre(s): literature, classics
The Whole Book, As An Imaginary Tweet
This imaginary tweet sums up Letters From A Self Made Merchant To His Son in 280 characters or less:
The 21 Best Quotes & Strategies From A Billionaire Merchant
In these quotes, you’ll find truly life-changing ideas, suggestions, and strategies. Read through and meditate on these 21 excerpts from John Graham’s letters to his son.
Letter No. 1, On Education
#1. “College doesn’t make fools; it develops them. It doesn’t make bright men. It develops them.”
Letter No. 2, On Your Early Working Years
#2. “…there’s going to be a time when you begin at the factory when you won’t be able to lick stamps so fast as the other boys at the desk. Yet the man who hasn’t licked stamps isn’t fit to write letters.”
Letter No. 4, On Allowances, Vacations
#3. “I hear a good deal about men who won’t take vacations, and who kill themselves by overwork, but it’s usually worry or whiskey. It’s not what a man does during working hours, but after them, that breaks down his health.”
Letter No. 5 On Conducting Business
#4. “You’ll read a good deal about “love at first sight” in novels, and there may be something in it for all I know; but I’m dead certain there’s no such thing as love at first sight in business. A man’s got to keep company a long time, and come early and stay late and sit close, before he can get a girl or a job worth having.”
Letter No. 7, On Bosses, Management
#5. “Remember that when you’re in the right you can afford to keep your temper, and that when you’re in the wrong you can’t afford to lose it.”
#6. “When a packer has learned all that there is to learn about quadrupeds, he knows only 1/8th of his business; the other 7/8, and the important ⅞, has to do with the study of bipeds.”
Letter No. 8, On “Making It”
#7. “Get the scent in your nostrils and keep your nose to the ground, and don’t worry too much about the end of the chase. The fun of the thing’s in the run and not in the finish.”
Letter No. 9, On Being Young
#8. “But some people, especially very young people, don’t think anything’s worth believing unless it’s hard to believe.”
Letter No. 10, On Selling
#9. “A real salesman is one part talk and nine parts judgment; and he uses the nine parts of judgment to tell when to use the one part of talk.”
Letter No. 11, On Failure, Investing
#10. “Nothing earns better interest than judicious questions, and the man who invests in more knowledge of the business than he has to have in order to hold his job has capital with which to buy a mortgage on a better one.”
Letter No. 12, On Bragging, Making Mistakes
#11. “It isn’t what a man knows, but what he thinks he knows that he brags about.”
Letter No. 13, On Appearances
#12. “Of course, clothes don’t make the man, but they make all of him except his hands and face during business hours, and that’s a pretty considerable area of the human animal.”
Letter No. 15, On Leadership
#13. “A good young man envies their boss because they think he makes he rules and can do as he pleases. As a matter of fact, he’s the only man in the shop who can’t.”
#14. “A hundred men will forgive a blow in the face where one will a blow to his self-esteem.”
#15. “Never learn anything about your men except from themselves. A good manager needs no detectives, and the fellow who can’t read human nature can’t manage it.”
Letter No. 16, On Minor Details, Business
#16. On being an assistant manager- “Petty details take up just as much room in a manager’s head as big ideas; and the more of the first you store for him, the more warehouse room you leave for the second.”
Letter No. 17, Talking about Achievements
#17. “Hot air can take up a balloon long ways, but it can’t keep it there.”
The fake-it-’til-you-make-it approach is faulty, even if only because at some point, you’ll be forced to abandon it, or you’ll be found out.
#18. “You can always bet that when a fellow’s pride makes him touchy, it’s because there are some mighty raw spots on it.”
Think of the most short-tempered person you know. Someone
Letter No. 18, On Worrying
#19. “Worrying is the one game in which, if you guess right, you don’t get any satisfaction out of your smartness.”
Letter No. 19, On Marriage
#20.“An unmarried man is a good deal like a piece of unimproved real estate- he may be worth a whole lot of money, but he isn’t of any particular use except to build on.”
Letter No. 20, On Marriage
#21. “A married man is worth more salary than a single one, because his wife makes him worth more. He’s apt to go to bed a little sooner and to get up a little earlier; to go a little steadier and to work a little harder than the fellow who’s got to amuse a different girl every night, and can’t stay at home to do it.
That’s why I’m going to raise your salary to 75 dollars a week when you marry Helen, and that’s why I’m going to quit writing these letters- I’m simply going to turn you over to her and let her keep you in order. I bet she’ll do a better job than I have.”
Apply This Book In 2018
Here’s one specific strategy from Letter From A Self Made Merchant that you can apply to work, sport, and life.
Strategy: Do your current job, but be thinking ahead to the next promotion.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who look at their current circumstances as fixed, and those who see opportunities for growth.
If you aspire to get promoted or advance your career, you must have the foresight and belief that. You must intrinsically motivate yourself to do more than you’re asked, even if it’s only 1% more.
“Nothing earns better interest than judicious questions, and the man who invests in more knowledge of the business than he has to have in order to hold his job has capital with which to buy a mortgage on a better one.”
Ask questions. Be thorough with your work. It might take 6 months or 5 years, but your over-the-top efforts will be noticed and will be remembered.
Strategy: Overestimate the opponent. Underestimate yourself.
“….when you’re through sizing up the other fellow, it’s a good thing to step back from yourself and see how you look. Then add 50% to your estimate of your neighbor for virtues that you can’t see, and deduct 50% from yourself for faults that you’ve missed in your inventory, and you’ll have a pretty accurate result.”
In competition, it is wise to assume the opponent has skills and attributes available to them that you cannot see. Just like you, they are preparing. It’s a poor idea to show your entire hand.
It is even wiser to assume that you are overestimating what you can do. The stories we tell ourselves often put us in situations where we’re overmatched or must fake-it-’til-we-make-it.
In Ego Is The Enemy, Ryan Holiday teaches us how detrimental it is to our goals when our ego creates false narratives about ourselves. Personally, this is why I started publishing data with my monthly goals reports to keep me aware of my accomplishments.
Underestimating yourself actually gives you an advantage: you’re forced to execute relying solely on your biggest strengths.
With this strategy, you are less likely to be surprised when someone turns out to be better than you thought. You are less likely to be humbled by the fact that you aren’t as good as you believed you were.
Strategy: Don’t waste time on people that don’t want help.
“Very few men are worth wasting time on beyond a certain point, and that point is soon reached with a fellow who doesn’t show any signs of wanting to help.”
The only people you should help are the ones who demonstrably show you’ve they’ve changed or taken action after receiving advice from you. Don’t waste your time helping anyone else.
Don’t cater to toxic people’s need to be heard. It will sap your energy and cost time you can never get back.
Strategy: Stop worrying.
“I’ve put a good deal more than work into my business, and I’ve drawn a good deal more than money out of it; but the only thing I’ve ever put into it which didn’t draw dividends in fun or dollars was worry. That is a branch of trade which you want to leave to our competitors.”
In Letters From A Self-Made Merchant To His Son, Mr. Graham tells a story about a boy that went missing for several days. As time passes, the townspeople and his mother believe him to be dead.
Ultimately, he turns up days later, having been hidden just outside the house.
Relieved as the widowed mother was to find her son, Mr. Graham describes her reaction to his finding: “In fact, the Widow must have touched him at least 100 times, and every time he was affected to tears, for she was using a bed slat, which is a powerfully strong moral agent for making a boy see the error of his ways.”
Up to that point in the story, she had worried for days about her son. She had the local police comb the lake for his body, posted signs all over town, and even consulted a woman who claimed to speak with ghosts.
Mr. Graham finishes the story, “I simply mention the Widow in passing as an example of the fact that the time to do your worrying is when a thing is all over, and that the way to do it is to leave it to the neighbors.”
Worrying does nothing to help you. Your time is precious, and it’s wasted every time you spend it worrying. Make the quick decision to move on.