A parable is told of Arkad of Babylon. When his son reached adulthood and prepared to journey out into the world, Arkad gave the young man a bag of gold and a clay tablet containing the lessons Arkad had gained in his many years on earth. The son went forth and after ten years of toil, disasters, and, at long last, success he returned to his father’s house with this report:
'Thou didst give to me a bag of gold, Babylon gold. Behold in its place, I do return to thee a bag of Nineveh gold of equal weight. An equal exchange, as all will agree.
Thou didst give to me a clay tablet inscribed with wisdom. Behold, in its stead, I do return two bags of gold..... is I do to prove to thee, my father, of how much greater value I consider thy wisdom than thy gold. Yet, who can measure in bags of gold, the value of wisdom? Without wisdom, gold is quickly lost by those who have it, but with wisdom, gold can be secured by those who have it not.”
(Excerpt: The Richest Man in Babylon by George Samuel Clason)
My advice to anyone entering a new field or starting a new position is this: Seek out exceptional people who are engaged in the work you aspire to and, when you find them, go and work your heart out for them. Find a mentor and take on whatever task needs doing - and do it to your utmost ability. If you focus your energy on gaining wisdom from a master of your craft, you’ll nd the experience eye-opening, inspiring, and, I promise you, life changing.
Brian Cunat is a master of the real estate craft. He founded his real estate company in northern Illinois back in 1976 and, with years of tireless e ort, grew it from an initial $2,000 investment to over half a billion dollars in assets.
Moreover, Brian attracted a team of the most dedicated, talented, and caring people you will ever find.
Some of my friends baulked when, after graduating from Harvard College, I headed not to glamorous New York, booming San Francisco, or even beautiful Denver, but instead to McHenry, Illinois (population 26,000). In what I consider the luckiest turn in my professional life, I had found an incredible mentor - someone willing to share with me wisdom only years of experience can develop. Fresh out of school, my real education began through my mentor.
I worked my heart out for Brian Cunat and his team – doing whatever it was they needed and soaking up every bit of knowledge they offered. I learned by observation about business, what matters most to a company’s success, how an effective team works, and much more. Perhaps the most surprising lesson - and most relevant for young people who have made the decision to seek wisdom from a mentor - was about the nature of learning from a mentor:
Few of the most important ideas you’ll learn from your mentor arrive in the form of pre-planned, bullet-point lessons. True wisdom arrives when you least expect it – typically, as you’re immersed in your work alongside your mentor. It might arrive at a routine meeting or on the way to a site visitor as you listen in on a negotiation.
Months may go by without a breakthrough and then, perhaps as you’re growing impatient, inspiration will strike: in your mentor’s off-handed response to your casual question, you’ll glimpse an elemental truth you had not understood before.
If you’re lucky enough to find a good mentor, be prepared to commit to working your heart out for them over an extended period of time. It takes time for them to get to know you, to understand your passion and strengths, and to place you in situations where you’ll flourish. It takes time for the mentor-mentee bond to form. And it takes time for you to become immersed in the work which will o er you the greatest insights. It takes time, but it’s time incredibly well spent.
I eventually left McHenry, returned to Denver, and founded my own small real estate company on the principles my mentor taught me. Reflecting years later on the formative time I spent working my heart out for Brian Cunat and his team, I can only echo the words of Arkad’s son: “Who can measure in bags of gold, the value of wisdom?”