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Don't Try To Saw Sawdust

By Dale Carnegie - Excerpt From the Book: "How To Stop Worrying And Start Living" [Chapter 11 - Don't Try To Saw Sawdust]

As I write this sentence, I can look out of my window and see some dinosaur tracks in my garden-dinosaur tracks embedded in shale and stone. I purchased those dinosaur tracks from the Peabody Museum of Yale University; and I have a letter from the curator of the Peabody Museum, saying that those tracks were made 180 million years ago. Even a Mongolian idiot wouldn't dream of trying to go back 180 million years to change those tracks. Yet that would not be any more foolish than worrying because we can't go back and change what happened 180 seconds ago-and a lot of us are doing just that To be sure, we may do something to modify the effects of what happened 180 seconds ago; but we can't possibly change the event that occurred then.

There is only one way on God's green footstool that the past can be constructive; and that is by calmly analysing our past mistakes and profiting by them-and forgetting them.

I know that is true; but have I always had the courage and sense to do it? To answer that question, let me tell you about a fantastic experience I had years ago. I let more than three hundred thousand dollars slip through my fingers without making a penny's profit. It happened like this: I launched a large-scale enterprise in adult education, opened branches in various cities, and spent money lavishly in overhead and advertising. I was so busy with teaching that I had neither the time nor the desire to look after finances. I was too naive to realise that I needed an astute business manager to watch expenses.

Finally, after about a year, I discovered a sobering and shocking truth. I discovered that in spite of our enormous intake, we had not netted any profit whatever. After discovering that, I should have done two things. First, I should have had the sense to do what George Washington Carver, the Negro scientist, did when he lost forty thousand dollars in a bank crash-the savings of a lifetime. When someone asked him if he knew he was bankrupt, he replied: "Yes, I heard"-and went on with his teaching. Fie wiped the loss out of his mind so completely that he never mentioned it again.

Flere is the second thing I should have done: I should have analysed my mistakes and learned a lasting lesson.

But frankly, I didn't do either one of these things. Instead, I went into a tailspin of worry. For months I was in a daze. I lost sleep and I lost weight. Instead of learning a lesson from this enormous mistake, I went right ahead and did the same thing again on a smaller scale!

It is embarrassing for me to admit all this stupidity; but I discovered long ago that "it is easier to teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of twenty to follow mine own teaching."

Flow I wish that I had had the privilege of attending the George Washington FHigh School here in New York and studying under Mr. Brandwine-the same teacher who taught Allen Saunders, of 939 Woodycrest Avenue, Bronx, New York!

Mr. Saunders told me that the teacher of his hygiene class, Mr. Brandwine, taught him one of the most valuable lessons he had ever learned. "I was only in my teens," said Allen Saunders as he told me the story, "but I was a worrier even then. I used to stew and fret about the mistakes I had made. If I turned in an examination paper, I used to lie awake and chew my fingernails for fear I hadn't passed. I was always living over the things I had done, and wishing I'd done them differently; thinking over the things I had said, and wishing I'd said them better.

"Then one morning, our class filed into the science laboratory, and there was the teacher, Mr. Brandwine, with a bottle of milk prominently displayed on the edge of the desk. We all sat down, staring at the milk, and wondering what it had to do with the hygiene course he was teaching. Then, all of a sudden, Mr. Brandwine stood up, swept the bottle of milk with a crash into the sink-and shouted: 'Don't cry over spilt milk!'

"He then made us all come to the sink and look at the wreckage. 'Take a good look,' he told us, 'because I want you to remember this lesson the rest of your lives. That milk is gone you can see it's down the drain; and all the fussing and hair-pulling in the world won't bring back a drop of it. With a little thought and prevention, that milk might have been saved. But it's too late now-all we can do is write it off, forget it, and go on to the next thing.'

"That one little demonstration," Allen Saunders told me, "stuck with me long after I'd forgotten my solid geometry and Latin. In fact, it taught me more about practical living than anything else in my four years of high school. It taught me to keep from spilling milk if I could; but to forget it completely, once it was spilled and had gone down the drain."

Some readers are going to snort at the idea of making so much over a hackneyed proverb like "Don't cry over spilt milk." I know it is trite, commonplace, and a platitude.

I know you have heard it a thousand times. But I also know that these hackneyed proverbs contain the very essence of the distilled wisdom of all ages. They have come out of the fiery experience of the human race and have been handed down through countless generations. If you were to read everything that has ever been written about worry by the great scholars of all time, you would never read anything more basic or more profound than such hackneyed proverbs as "Don't cross your bridges until you come to them" and "Don't cry over spilt milk." If we only applied those two proverbs-instead of snorting at them-we wouldn't need this book at all. In fact, if we applied most of the old proverbs, we would lead almost perfect lives. However, knowledge isn't power until it is applied; and the purpose of this book is not to tell you something new. The purpose of this book is to remind you of what you already know and to kick you in the shins and inspire you to do something about applying it.

I have always admired a man like the late Fred Fuller Shedd, who had a gift for stating an old truth in a new and picturesque way. He was editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin; and, while addressing a college graduating class, he asked: "How many of you have ever sawed wood? Let's see your hands." Most of them had. Then he inquired: "How many of you have ever sawed sawdust?" No hands went up.

"Of course, you can't saw sawdust!" Mr. Shedd exclaimed. "It's already sawed! And it's the same with the past. When you start worrying about things that are over and done with, you're merely trying to saw sawdust."

By Dale Carnegie - Excerpt From the Book: "How To Stop Worrying And Start Living" [Chapter 11 - Don't Try To Saw Sawdust]

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