The physical, emotional and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on individuals and communities across the country and around the world. Many are frantically flailing about in urgent attempts to restore order to their lives. Rushing to open up the economy, racing to end social distancing and risking everything to return things to normal is exhausting everyone.

I regularly remind myself, and any who will listen, that we are in a “new now” not a “new normal.” Only by being present to the current challenges can we have the fortitude to do what needs to be done today in order to reap the benefits of a better tomorrow. 

The collective will and willingness of the people to sacrifice for the common good have us on the eve of a major step forward. The future prospects for health, wealth and wellness of the nation — its people and the economy — are beginning to look brighter. Now is not the time to give up on the disciplines of social distancing and staying safe. Nor is it the time to give in to our natural desires to gather in larger groups.

The past is truly a present for our future. In times like these, it is important to remember that there have always been times like these. I have found myself looking to history for wisdom and insight to navigate the current circumstances and prepare for the future.  

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I am not suggesting a hunker-down approach. I am saying that patience and perseverance have us closer than ever to success in the battle against this pandemic. We might even be three feet from gold.

Napoleon Hill first published his classic “Think and Grow Rich” in 1937. The country was beginning to emerge from the Great Depression. He interviewed successful people to discover what principles they had learned and applied in their pursuit of excellence.

Mr. Hill told a story about a gentleman named R.U. Darby. Mr. Darby was a millionaire when Hill interviewed him in preparation to write his book. Darby shared with Hill a story from his past that become a present, and even a defining moment, for his successful future. It was a lesson in persistence and staying the course.

As a young man Darby’s uncle convinced him to go with him out West to work in a gold mine. The uncle had found a promising spot and secured the necessary machinery to work the mine.

Their early efforts were promising and hope of riches ran high. Then the vein of gold ore they had been mining disappeared. The two kept at it. But it seemed that their luck had come and then rapidly run dry. Still they persisted — for a time.

Every day they desperately drilled. No gold. No promising vein. They were only digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt. 

Finally, they both decided to quit. They sold the drilling machinery to a nearby junkman and returned home in devastating defeat.

The junkman wasn’t convinced their mine had no gold. The junkman decided to pick up where the Darbys had left off. With the help of a mining engineer he found that elusive vein of gold just three feet from where Darby and his uncle had stopped drilling. Three feet! 

The lesson of giving up and giving in just three feet from gold became a present from the past that forever changed Darby’s future. He would stay the course in his pursuits and ultimately achieve great success.

While reminding myself of the importance of this lesson from “Think and Grow Rich,” I stumbled upon another present from the past. In a few brief paragraphs that easily could have been written today rather than in 1937, Napoleon Hill showed the path forward for our current COVID-19 world.

Hill writes, “The business depression marked the death of one age, and the birth of another. This changed world requires practical dreamers who can and will put their dreams into action. The practical dreamers have always been, and always will be the pattern-makers of civilization.”

He then describes how the economic challenges of the Great Depression changed the world, leveled the playing field and created extraordinary opportunity for such practical dreamers. “This changed world in which we live is demanding new ideas, new ways of doing things, new leaders, new inventions, new methods of teaching, new methods of marketing, new books, new literature, new features for media.” (Hill actually notes new features for the media of 1937 — radio and moving pictures.) 

Hill concludes, “Never has there been a time more favorable to pioneers than the present.”

The present from the past that should guide us for the future is that most of the great breakthroughs and break-withs, along with the truly innovative products and legendary companies, were launched in the midst of the most challenging times. 

Practical dreamers lean into the tempestuous moments in history in order to transform industry and society.

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 T.E. Lawrence referred to these transformational souls as “dreamers of the day.” He wrote:

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

The power of perseverance, even when required action and sacrifice seem futile, is like not giving up “three feet from gold.” Viewing the current COVID-19 challenge with the opportunistic eyes of a dreamer brings hope and opportunity to individuals, communities, states and nations. 

These two principles from the period of America’s Great Depression of the past can provide each of us a present and gift to guide us toward a positive future.

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