Soon, more charter boat captains began giving me their boats to wash, and in some cases, their clients' fish to clean. Every single time, Jones's name was mentioned.
One day, Brent Burns, a songwriter performing at the Holiday Inn, told me that an old man had informed him that I was funny and had suggested that I might do some comedy during his breaks. Could I? he asked. I did, and though I was probably not very good, Brent laughed at my material several times a week and encouraged me with his words and an occasional meal.
The next several years were a blur. I continued to read biographies even though the pier was no longer my shelter. Through the influence of General George Patton, Madame Curie, Joshua, Caleb, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alexander the Great, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Boone, and eventually more than two hundred other biographies, I had begun to move my life in a forward direction.
At some point during that time, a crystallizing moment occurred as I read yet another account of the life of some influential, financially secure, highly successful person. I realized that a graph had formed in my mind, unconsciously identifying seven things that these great people all had in common—seven principles they had all employed. And I wondered, What would happen to my life if I harnessed the power of these seven principles? After all, I reasoned, principles work every time. And they work whether I understand them or not. The principle of gravity was working long before the apple ever fell on Newton's head . . . yet when that apple finally did fall, and Newton understood the principle behind it, society was then free to harness that principle to fly airplanes, build suspension bridges, and a host of other things!
Continuing this line of thought, I became convinced that the principles of personal success—in parenting, finances, leadership, and relationships—are no different from the principle of gravity. And since they do work every time, and they work whether or not I know them, I concluded, why shouldn't I harness them and apply them in my daily life, to create the future God wants for me?
So I did.
My life today, the well-being of my family, and whatever success we have enjoyed have been direct results of the power of seven simple principles. Several years ago, I shared these principles with the world, in a book that became a New York Times Best Seller and has since been translated into more than twenty languages. "The Traveler's Gift" is now used by corporations, teams, governments, and individuals all across the globe.
"The Traveler's Gift" is a story about a family enduring a tragic period in their lives. As the story progresses, the father, David Ponder, is allowed to travel through time, meeting with seven historic individuals who are also experiencing turmoil and hardship. These people—among them Harry Truman, Anne Frank, Abraham Lincoln, King Solomon, and Columbus—each give Ponder a separate principle to incorporate into his life. And because of these seven principles, his life is changed forever.
So, if you have ever heard me speak at a corporate event or read any of my books and wondered how I came to read more than two hundred biographies—books that led me to the seven principles—now you know. It was an old man named Jones who took an interest in (or pity on) a young man going through the worst time in his life.
I have thought of Jones every single day now for almost twenty-five years. On the day I was married, I had hoped he would be there. I wanted him to sit in the first row—where my father would have been. When each of my boys was born, I walked outside the hospital alone, in the half-light of an early morning, hoping to find Jones waiting, smiling, ready with advice and comfort about my future as a father. There have been so many times I've wished for just an hour alone with that old man. But I never saw him again.
Until last week.