I recently read Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son, a compilation of twenty letters from John Graham, a merchant in Chicago, to his son Pierrepont in the 1890s. It was filled with timeless wisdom. A few excerpts that stood out to me:
I didn't have your advantage when I was a boy, and you can't have mine. Some men learn the value of money by not having any and starting out to pry a few dollars loose from the odd millions that are lying around; and some learn it by having fifty thousand or so left to them and starting out to spend it as if it were fifty thousand a year. Some men learn the value of truth by having to do business with liars; and some by going to Sunday School. Some men learn the cussedness of whiskey by having a education from other men and newspapers and public libraries; and some get it from professors and parchments -- it doesn't make any special difference how you get a half-nelson on the right thing, just so you get it and freeze on to it. The package doesn't count after the eye's been attracted by it, and in the end it finds its way to the ash heap. It's the quality of the goods inside which tells, when they once get into the kitchen and up to the cook.
There are two parts of college education -- the part that you get in the schoolroom from the professors, and the part that you get outside of it from the boys. That's the really important part. For the first can only make you a scholar, while the second can make you a man.
The boy who does anything just because the other fellows do it is apt to scratch a poor man's back all his life.
There is one excuse for every mistake a man can make, but only one. When a fellow makes the same mistake twice he's got to throw up both hands and own up to carelessness or cussedness.
Putting off an easy thing makes it hard, and putting off a hard one makes it impossible.
Say less than the other fellow and listen more than you talk.
When a pup has been born to point partridges there's no use trying to run a fox with him. I was a little uncertain about you at first, but I guess the Lord intended you to hunt with the pack. Get the scent in you 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.
A real salesman is one-part talk and nine-parts judgement; and he uses the nine-parts of judgement to tell when to use the one-part of talk.
You've got to get up every morning with determination if you're going to go to bed with satisfaction.
And when a fellow knows his business, he doesn't have to explain to people that he does. It isn't what a man knows, but what he thinks he knows that he brags about. Big talk means little knowledge.
When you make a mistake, don't make the second one -- keeping it to yourself. Own up. The time to sort out rotten eggs is at the nest. The deeper you hide them in the case the longer they stay in circulation, and the worse impression they make when they finally come to the breakfast table. A mistake sprouts a lie when you cover it up. And one lie breeds enough distrust to choke out the prettiest crop of confidence that a fellow ever cultivated.
If you do succeed, though, you will be too busy to bother very much about what the failures think.
Consider carefully before you say a hard word to a man, but never let a chance to say a good one go by.
The fellow who can't read human nature can't manage it.
Hot air can take up a balloon a long ways, but it can't keep it there. And when a fellow's turning flip-flops up among the clouds, he's naturally going to have the farmers gaping at him. But in the end there always comes a time when the parachute fails to work. I don't know anything thats quite so dead as a man who's fallen three or four thousand feet off the edge of a cloud. The only way to gratify a taste for scenery is to climb a mountain. You don't get up so quick, but you don't come down so sudden. Even then, there's a chance that a fellow may slip and fall over a precipice, but not unless he's foolish enough to try short-cuts over slippery places; though some men can manage to fall down the hall stairs and break their necks. The path isn't the shortest way to the top, but it's usually the safest way. Life isn't a spurt, but a long, steady climb. You can't run far uphill without stopping to sit down. Some men do a day's work and then spend six lolling around admiring it. They rush at a thing and whoop and use up all their wind it that. And when they're rested and have got it back, they whoop again and start off in a new direction. They mistake intention for determination, and after they have told you what they propose to do and get right up to doing it, they simply peter out.
With most people happiness is something that is always just a day off. But I have make it a rule never to put off being happy until tomorrow. Don't accept notes for happiness, because you'll find that when they're due they're never paid, but just renewed for another thirty days.
Overall, Letters From a Self-Made Merchant to His Son was an excellent read.