Don’t be Afraid to Chart a New Path

April 23, 2015 pwm1

In 1766 George Washington decided to stop growing tobacco at Mount Vernon (for economic reasons).  Successful people often change their business in midcareer.  In the early 19th century John Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire, switched from fur trading to New York City real estate; in midcentury, Cornelius Vanderbilt moved from shipping, which had given him the title of Commodore, to railroads.  Washington’s switch was tougher, because it risked his prestige.  By abandoning the cultivation of tobacco, he stepped outside of the tobacco culture, surrendering his status as a planter, crop master, and lord of the soil.

Washington could have kept banging his head against a wall, trying to wring new perfections out of an already perfected process.  Instead, he tried a new world.

Mount Vernon

—From George Washington on Leadership by Richard Brookhiser, 2008.


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