Thursday, 24 January 2013

How curiosity and persistence work in your favour. Walking past the point of maximum discouragement. Entrepreneurs often succeed by following a non-conventional strategy. Personal initiative plays a key role in achievement

If you ever spend a holiday in Egypt, don't forget to visit the place where the barrack of archaeologist Howard Carter used to stand one century ago. When you inquire about the exact location, your guide will point at a promontory in the sand, a small elevation in the Egyptian desert that looks no different from the other dunes.

How curiosity and persistence work in your favour

Tourists who visit the place stand still, examine the spot, and look around, wondering if the guide is telling them truth. Those visitors are actually not interested in looking at the desert. What has brought them there is the story of Howard Carter, a man who, thanks to his curiosity and persistence, became the most famous archaeologist in History.

Despite his modest origins and lack of academic degrees, Carter's profound interest in the history of Ancient Egypt led him to read all available books on the subject and, little by little, he earned a reputation of specialist in Egyptian antiquities. His initiative and hands-on experience in excavations led him to develop the theory that the tomb of one Pharaoh, Tutankhamen, had not yet been found.

Carter's hypothesis conflicted with the prevalent idea at that time, held by professors and specialists alike, who sustained that all tombs in the Valley of Kings had been already found. When Carter was in his early forties, he teamed up with an English wealthy landowner, Lord Carnavon, obtained a concession to excavate the Valley of Kings and began to look for the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen.

Visit the promontory where Carter's barrack used to stand and you will see that the sand ends abruptly at the riverbank three hundred meters down the slope. The small boats crossing the Nile these days still offer a sight that is not that different from what Howard Carter witnessed at the beginning of the 20th century.

Walking past the point of maximum discouragement

In 1922, Carter went through the lowest point in his career and he must have spent many hours pondering his dark future and unsuccessful past, as he contemplated the boats sailing across the river. His sponsor, Lord Carnavon, had announced that he would no longer be funding Carter's excavations beyond the end of that year.

The belief in the existence of Tutankhamen's undiscovered tomb had not earned Carter any professional distinction. On the contrary, his theory, developed out of his own interpretation of fragments found by other archaeologists, was considered marginal and obscure.

During the previous six years, Carter had spent a good part of Lord Carnavon's fortune in excavations in the Valley of Kings. The results had been so disappointing that Carnavon had decided to put an end to the enterprise at the end of that season.

At that time, Carter was already 48 years old and must have been looking back at his life wondering if he had done the right thing by embarking on a risky venture instead of choosing a safer career as antiquities dealer or monuments inspector. He had no money, no wife, no children, and an uncertain future.

Entrepreneurs often succeed by following a non-conventional strategy

Although he had devoted decades to studying Ancient Egypt, he had failed to secure a high-paying position. The dominant view was that Tutankhamen's tomb had been pillaged and forgotten centuries ago. Only Carter was convinced that the tomb could still be found, buried somewhere under the sand.

Carter's hypothesis and initiative had moved Lord Carnavon to entrust him with conducting excavations in the Valley of Kings, but six years of digging had been to no avail. In fact, the determination to search for Tutankhamen's tomb had wasted Carter's own life and a substantial part of Lord Carnavon's fortune. Europe had been ravaged by World War I and Carter knew that, after his long years of failure, his chances of finding another sponsor for his excavations was nil.

Initiative is a virtue that can be taught only by example. Taking calculated risks to pursue your dream, as Howard Carter did, cannot be emphasized enough as the key to a happy and successful life. The level of risk must be assessed and minimized as much as possible, but in the end, a man must remind himself that he is going to live only once. Extraordinary value cannot be achieved by simply following prescribed routines.

Nowadays, when tourists visit the location of Carter's wooden barrack in the Valley of Kings, their guide usually asks them to take a few steps on the sand, turn around, use their hand to shade their eyes from the sun, and look at the sign on the other side of the dune.

It is the sign that points visitors to Tutankhamen's tomb, which Carter finally managed to find in November 1922, just when his last excavation campaign was to end. He had spent years looking for that tomb and had succeeded only a few days before Carnavon's final deadline. Carter's extraordinary initiative and persistence had paid off against all expectations, in direct opposition to the views of official experts and professors.

Personal initiative plays a key role in achievement

History provides countless examples of how entrepreneurship opens the door to striking success. Relentless initiative is far superior to stale knowledge. Those with vision and ambition can always acquire the information they miss. Possessing expertise is not worth much without the willingness to put it to practical use and take the risks associated with innovation.

After discovering Tutankhamen's tomb, Carter lived for another 16 years, enjoying the prestige and financial advantages of being the best known archaeologist in the world. The treasures found in Tutankhamen's tomb have an immense value, but they cannot be compared to the lesson drawn from Howard Carter's initiative and persistence.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


[Image by vilpedo under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]