Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mark Twain’s powerful lesson for YOU


photo: yasmin sandrin photography

I couldn’t wait. Yes, I know. I just started reading my bulky new Autobiography of Mark Twain and although it’s a grand total of 467 pages long, with an additional 181 pages of explanatory notes, my eyes became  transfixed on this quiet, mousey little fact on the first page of the introduction, and I can’t get past it. Maybe you already knew this. But me? I never knew.

It turns out, that the illustrious literary icon and quintessential American humorist, Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens) spent thirty five years writing his autobiography. Or, I should say, struggling to write it. That’s right. According to editor, Harriet Elinor Smith, Twain ended up with thirty or forty “false starts,” manuscripts that he was simply unhappy with, and didn’t finish. Although many of these pages ended up in his final copy.


Photo: Google Images

Why did this seemingly innocuous fact grab my attention?  OK, I admit, it has something to do with my own Book-That-Wants-To-Be Finished, languishing in my laptop, but that’s not all.

The truth is, I simply love the fact that someone so famously accomplished, struggled for years and years at something that mattered dearly to him. And the best part? That he never gave up, and eventually succeeded.

Actually, after approximately forty attempts, Twain hired a skilled stenographer, found his “right way to do an Autobiography,” and with a newfound sense of momentum he completed this painstaking project. And on a poignant note, he died only four months later, knowing that his life story was “finally done.”

That’s right. Thirty five years to complete a goal. Wow.

What is Mark Twain’s lesson for us? The answer lies in this penetrating question:

                           What is your ONE thing?


Photo: Google Images

Right now. What is the ONE thing that you will absolutely regret never doing in your life? What’s the ONE thing that will nag at you when you’re at the end of your life and rocking in your chair while the proverbial sun sets?  What is your ONE thing that, if never completed, will make you shake your head, and jab you with pangs of regret; leaving you pondering that aching, dreaded word: “Why?”

“Why didn’t I just do it?” 

Only, you might think about this for awhile, because knowing this ONE thing requires knowing yourself at a deeper level; which means, you might need to go somewhere private. Sit in a dark room before you can access that old dreamy side of yours; before you can remember that ONE thing you’ve been postponing until the “right time” in your life. Because life gets complicated. It moves quickly and before you know it, those personal, exciting, hopes for your future get shoved aside by the practical worries of your day. Until eventually, the heart-pounding passion for your ONE thing subsides. It becomes a dim possibility in the back of your mind and then one day, it stops being real.

In fact, at this very moment your ONE thing might seem:

  • distant and unrealistic
  • something to tackle when you get more time or money
  • something that would surprise others if they knew

So let’s assume that all of these are true.

The next question is, what’s keeping you from taking that small incremental step toward your ONE thing? Right now?  What’s keeping you from beginning your own forty ‘false starts?’

Because you will finish.


photo: Google Images

But only if you do something today toward completing your ONE thing. It might be a web search for information. Opening a special bank account for this future endeavor. Fifteen minutes of cardio toward your eventual marathon. Making a list.

Like Mark Twain once said,

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you DIDN’T do, than by the ones that you did do.”

images twainrocker

Photo: Google Images

Remember. Today is the youngest you’ll ever be, so what are you waiting for?

Simply do one thing today toward your goal. And tomorrow, just do one thing again. And even if your practical side scoffs and your self confidence is low, your behaviors can lead the way. Just do it.

Because you really do deserve to accomplish your ONE thing.


  • Did you do something today towards your One thing?
  • How did you feel afterwards?
  • Leave a comment by clicking on the title of this post, “Mark Twains powerful…..” and commenting in the box or email me at






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