Successful People Use What They Learn

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all of my Irish friends and wannabe Irish friends today.  I’m wearing a green plaid shirt in honor of the day.  How about you?

As a career success coach I advise my clients to surround themselves with positive people if they want to achieve the career success they want and deserve.  I practice what I preach.  I have a strong network of friends and partners who I can call on.  I also make use of mentors.  Linda Hollander is one of my mentors.  She is teaching me how to attract corporate sponsors for one of my projects.

I was listening to a rebroadcast of one of Linda’s sponsorship training programs the other night and heard this piece of wisdom…

“They say that knowledge is power.  Knowledge is not power.  Acting on your knowledge is power.”

Linda is right.  My career success coaching clients will tell you that I am a big believer in the importance of continually building knowledge by becoming a lifelong learner.  However, learning is wasted if you don’t use what you learn. 

The US Steel pencils my dad would sometimes bring home from work used to say, “Knowing is not enough.”  When I was a kid, I was really fascinated and puzzled by these pencils. “Knowing is not enough – what the hell does that mean?” I used to think. I spent hours struggling with that idea. I was too stubborn to ask a grown-up.

When I got to Penn State, I took Philosophy 101 my freshman year. We had to read Johann von Goethe. One day, as I was plowing through an assignment, I came across this quote: “Knowing is not enough, we must do. Willing is not enough, we must apply.”

Boy was I glad I took that course! It solved one of the profound mysteries of my childhood:  “Knowing is not enough.” You have to take what you learn and use it, or what you’ve learned isn’t very valuable. That’s part of personal responsibility, using your knowledge to achieve your career success goals.

A Message to Garcia is one of the best-known writings on the idea of personal responsibility.  It is an inspirational essay written in 1899 by Elbert Hubbard that has been made into two movies, reprinted as a pamphlet and a book and translated into 37 languages.  It was well known in American popular and business culture until the middle of the twentieth century.  It was originally published as a filler without a title in the March 1899 issue of Philistine magazine.

A Message to Garcia celebrates the initiative of a soldier who was assigned and accomplished a daunting mission. “He asked no questions, made no objections, requested no help, and accomplished the mission.” The soldier was Andrew Summers Rowan, a class of 1881West Point graduate.

The essay suggests that the reader should apply Rowan’s ask no questions attitude to his or her own life as an avenue to career success. Its message was often used by business leaders to motivate to their employees. It was given to every United States Sailor and Marine in both World Wars and was often memorized by schoolchildren.

It is about an event in the Spanish-American War in 1898. As the American army prepared to invade Cuba, they needed to contact the leader of the Cuban insurgents, Calixto Iniguez Garcia. Garcia had been fighting the Spanish for Cuban independence since 1868 and sought the help of the United Sates.

Here are some selected excerpts from A Message to Garcia:

“In all this Cuban business there is one man who stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at Perihelion. When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail or telegraph could reach him. The President must secure his co-operation, and quickly.

“What to do!

“Someone said to President McKinley, ‘There is a fellow by the name of Rowan who will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.’

“Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia…

“McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia; Rowan took the letter and did not ask, ‘Where is he?’

“By the Eternal! There is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and the statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book-learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, concentrate their energies: do the thing – ‘Carry a message to Garcia…’

A hundred years later, Nike turned these ideas into its “Just do it!” ad campaign.  At the end of my career success talks, I often tell the US Steel pencil story and challenge the audience to put to work what they have just learned.  Linda Hollander does the same thing with her message that knowledge isn’t power, using it is.  As a career success coach, I often tell the Message to Garcia story.  I tell my career success coaching clients to be like Rowan. Treat all of your tasks as “a message to Garcia.”  If you would like to have the full text of A Message to Garcia, go to

The common sense point here is clear.  Successful people surround themselves with positive people.  Mentors, by definition are positive people.  They are willing to share their knowledge and wisdom to help others succeed.  Linda Hollander is one of my mentors.  Her message on the importance of using what you learn is invaluable.  Because, knowing is not enough.  You have to do.  We all have to do.  Take it from a career success coach, knowledge and learning are great.  However, knowledge and learning should never be ends in themselves.  The real career success payoff comes from applying what you’ve learned.

That’s my take on the importance of applying what you learn in your quest for career success.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.   As always, thanks for reading.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.