This is the first chapter of my book "Life Pioneers: The Edge of Possibility!"
1 A History Lesson
A young boy once sat with an old man. His earliest memory of this man, who had been a constant presence in his life, was when he was three or four years old and the man came to visit; for some reason, the man seemed to be larger than everyone else. To the boy, he was a giant, yet he was very gentle and loved the boy. The boy was amazed at the knowledge and strength the giant had. He seemed to know a lot about pretty much everything. The giant seemed to truly enjoy having the boy around, and the boy loved being with him.
Over the years, the boy learned that the giant’s name was “Grandpa,” and Grandpa was well respected by the people who knew him. It amazed the boy that everyone who greeted his Grandpa seemed to genuinely like him. He had heard many stories about Grandpa and the impact he had made in business, in the community, and for his family, yet Grandpa never really talked about it. As the years passed, his love for the giant grew and, while everything else in the world seemed to change, the Grandpa never did; he remained larger than life. Even in his mid-seventies, he was full of life and energy.
One day, while they were on one of their favorite hikes, the boy, now in his early-teens, seemed deep in thought so Grandpa asked him, “What’s got you so puzzled?”
The boy looked up and said, “You’ve done so many amazing things and lived such a great life. I’ve heard so many stories about the things you’ve done, and I don’t know anyone else like you, but what I want to know is how have you come to this point in your life?”
Grandpa smiled and let out a small chuckle. “Well, I don’t know about all of that,” he said. “I’ve just always tried to do what I thought was best.”
The boy wasn’t going to let it go that easily. “There has to be more to it than that!?! I look at my friends’ parents and grandparents, and they lead nice lives and seem somewhat happy, but every one of them seems to have something missing in their life. Then I look at you, and you seem to live a different life. You seem to enjoy everything you do and, for some reason, even though you are the busiest person I know, you always seem to have time for me and everyone else. You just seem happy, no matter what you’re doing. I just want to know your secret! Someday, I’ll go out into the world and create a life of my own. How do I find my way to the place you’ve found?”
“Secret?” said Grandpa. “I wish there was one, but I’m afraid I don’t know any secret. All I have is the story of my life: the decisions I’ve made and the things I’ve experienced. I’m afraid that’s too boring for a young man like you.”
“Boring!?! Grandpa please, I need to understand this. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear it. Maybe together we can find the secret.”
“So you think I have the secret to an extraordinary life?” answered Grandpa.
“I think you’re closer to it than anyone else I’ve met and, if nothing else, I would be happy to at least learn more about you,” replied the boy.
“OK,” answered Grandpa. “I hope you won’t be too disappointed. Where do you want to start?”
The boy smiled. “Let’s start with why you came to live here.”
As they walked, Grandpa seemed to become lost in reflection. After several minutes without any conversation, he said, “If it’s alright with you, let’s start with a history lesson.”
The boy looked up in confusion. “History? You mean your personal history?”
“No” interrupted Grandpa, “World history.”
Now the boy was even more confused. “What does world history have to do with life?”
“Everything,” answered Grandpa, smiling. “And maybe nothing. It depends on what you learn from it.”
The boy just looked at the old man, trying to figure out how this had anything to do with the ‘secret’ he wanted to learn.
“Let’s take Christopher Columbus,” Grandpa began. “I’m guessing you know who that is, right?”
“Of course, Grandpa, everyone knows the story of Christopher Columbus. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. But what does that have to do with what we’re talking about?”
“Patience, my son, everyone knows how the story ended, but do you know how it began?” questioned Grandpa.
“I think he was trying to find a different route to India or something,” answered the boy. “Exactly,” replied Grandpa. Now the boy was even more confused. “And?” interjected the boy.
“Well, did he find India?” Grandpa shot back.
“No, not even close. He found America. That’s why we still have Columbus Day, although he didn’t really find America on the first trip,” added the boy to impress Grandpa with his knowledge.
“Very true, he completely failed to find a new route. The question is, why was he the first one who attempted that route to India?”
“I don’t remember Grandpa. I guess they didn’t think they could make it that way,” answered the boy.
“It’s something like that. It was actually because, back then, it was a well-known fact that the world was flat and if you sailed …” started Grandpa.
“Too far,” interrupted the boy, smiling, “you’d fall off the edge!”
Grandpa smiled at his young student’s enthusiasm and continued, “Besides, some of the other top ‘thinkers’ of the time had a theory that there were monsters waiting for those who would dare to attempt navigating close to the edge of the known world. But why did they think this? Had anyone gone out and seen the end of the earth? Or had anyone actually seen these monsters?”
“There’s no way they could have,” replied the boy. “Neither of them existed.”
“True,” said Grandpa. “And yet artists created paintings and drawings of them. No one in Europe wanted to head out into the ocean the opposite way, until one person crazy enough to try it actually sailed out and came back alive to tell the story. And did he come back with tales of the edge of the earth and gigantic monsters?”
“No,” answered the boy. “He told them he had found a new land that they previously didn’t know about and that he had claimed it for the queen.”
“Right. And then was there a sudden mass exodus from Europe to the new land?”
“Sudden mass exodus? What do you mean?” asked the boy.
“When did the pilgrims come to America?” replied Grandpa.
“1620, but, oh, I see what you’re saying. If Columbus discovered the new land in 1492, why did it take 128 years for them to get there!” answered the boy.
“Well, technically, there were attempts but, yes, Jamestown in 1607 and then the pilgrims in 1620 were the first permanent settlements. Why do you think that is?” asked Grandpa.
“I guess because it was too hard to get there?” answered the boy, throwing out his best guess.
“I’m sure that was part of it. It wasn’t an easy trip. But I think the bigger issue was the mindset of people in Europe,” said Grandpa. “Remember, back then there was no Internet, and a majority of people didn’t go to school or read. They relied on storytelling, and the story that they had learned for as long as they had been alive was …?”
“The world was flat,” answered the boy. “And so, even once they found out it wasn’t flat, it took a long time for word to spread to people.”
“That is part of it,” continued Grandpa. “But, why did the pilgrims really decide to go?”
“Something about practicing their religion” answered the boy.
“Yes, but what does that really mean?” Grandpa asked. “It means that they didn’t feel like they had an option of staying. Things had gotten so bad that they finally decided it was better to leave and face the dangers of the new world than it would be to stay.”
“Oh, wow, I never thought about it like that! It wasn’t that they wanted to go, it was that they felt they had to go!” shouted the boy.
“Exactly,” said Grandpa. “And so it is with life.”
“WHAT?!?!” shouted the boy. “Now we’re back to life?”
Grandpa laughed. “I told you, it’s what you learn from it that’s important, not just the dates. You asked me about my life and my ‘secret,’ but the answer is wrapped up in the story of Columbus and the Pilgrims.”
“Grandpa,” stammered the boy, “I don’t see what this story has to do with how we live our lives. So Columbus was the first one who went a different way, and then, after a long time, people finally decided to start a new life in the new land because they couldn’t take it anymore where they were. How is that the answer to my question?”
“We’ll get there,” said Grandpa, smiling. “It’s not an easy thing to understand, but here are the basics: The people who lived in Europe had settled into life. Good or bad, it was the life they had always known. They never thought about leaving because they ‘knew’ or were told that the world was flat and that if you ventured very far you would never come back. History is full of ‘settlers’ or people who get to a certain spot and settle into their life, good or bad, and never leave because they are secure in what they have and know and don’t want to risk the monsters and danger that lay in wait for them outside of their world. Then, there are the ‘pioneers’ or the Columbus’ of the world, who, for whatever reasons, are willing to leave what they know in search of something better. They step out and take the risk, challenging conventional wisdom and embarking on an adventure with an uncertain outcome. Then there are the ‘migrators’ who, when forced, will move from their established home to seek a new place to settle. They are not pioneers but, once the pioneers have found something new, they will slowly move that way.”
“The pilgrims!” added the boy.
“Yes, the pilgrims.” said Grandpa. “History is full of this cycle of events. A pioneer goes out in search of something better, the migrators eventually follow and establish settlements, then a majority of the migrators become settlers in the new place, and they stay there until the next pioneer finds the next best thing. It’s the same thing as the innovator/adopter curve.”
“The who’s he, what’s it curve?” questioned the boy.
“The innovator/adopter curve,” laughed Grandpa. “It’s an inverted bell shape curve, like this.” Grandpa bent down and drew an inverted bell curve in the dirt at their feet. “On this end,” Grandpa pointed to the left side of the curve, “are the innovators. They are the very, very few people who come up with a creative idea or invention. They’re the pioneers in the area. Then see how the line starts to ramp up?” The boy nodded his head, taking it all in. “These are the early adopters. Once something has been found, they are the first ones to try it out. So this would be the early settlers in Jamestown and the Pilgrims. Then comes the early majority. Once the pioneers have found it and the early adopters have tried it out and said it’s OK, then you see the early mass of people deciding it is now ‘safe enough’ for them to try. After them come the late mass of people that needed to see the early mass’ success before they were comfortable enough to try it. And then come the laggards, or those who, even after 80% of people say it’s good and safe, still are reluctant to try. And so it is with life!”
“There you go again with the life thing,” said the boy, smiling. “This is all cool stuff, and I like the story, but I don’t see what this has to do with why you’re different and how I can become like you.”
“It has everything to do with it, son,” said Grandpa, returning the smile. “You see, it’s all about whether we are pioneers, migrators, or settlers and in which areas of life.”
“Oh, now I see. You’re a pioneer, and what I’ll have to do is be a pioneer and that’s the secret!” blurted out the boy. “So, am I a pioneer? Were you always a pioneer? Can you become a pioneer? Wait, what’s this about which areas?”
“Slow down, son,” said Grandpa in his calming voice. “I said there’s a lot to learn. It’s taken me many years to understand all of this, and I’ll be happy to tell you about it, but it will take time. I’m willing to pass along what I’ve learned, but that means you’ll have to put up with hanging around me. Can you handle that?”
“I’ll try,” answered the boy but, in his heart, he thought, “There’s nothing I would want more.”The boy spent the week thinking about his conversation with Grandpa and everything he had learned about Christopher Columbus and the pilgrims and why anyone ever thought the world was flat. But what really stuck with him was the idea that people create their own “flat earth” and very few are brave enough to venture out.