Business wasn’t looking good for the 27 year old oilman as he got ready for the train to meet with Cornelius Vanderbilt.
If he didn’t get a deal with the railroad tycoon then he would most likely go out of business.
With the stakes this great, you’d think John D. Rockefeller would come to the meeting on time, but he missed the train by a few minutes.
But as it turned out…
That train would never have taken Rockefeller to the meeting.
The train car, which Rockefeller would have sat in, went off the rails, plummeted off a bridge, slammed into the bottom of a valley, and burned everyone alive inside.
The Angola Horror was one of the most horrific train accidents of the era.
The close call made John D. Rockefeller ponder his fate.
“I do regard the thing as the Providence of God.”
He believed god spared him (although not his luggage, which made it onto the train). Rockefeller believed nothing happened without god’s will.
When he later went to meet Cornelius Vanderbilt he had a renewed sense of confidence because he saw his mission as ordained.
“I always tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity.”
Despite needing the deal more than Vanderbilt, he had the cojones to demand a higher rate than what his competitors were willing to offer, but unlike his competitors he promised to fill all 60 of Vanderbilt’s train cars with barrels of oil every day.
He shook hands with Cornelius and the deal was done.
On his way home he must have been staring out the window pondering one small problem…
He didn’t have the ability to fill all 60 cars! His current capacity was less than 30 cars!
But as luck or science would have it, he found a guy who was able to invent a safer more uniform kerosene oil (Think, Heisenberg from Breaking Bad).
During this time period, kerosene explosions were common because manufacturers were putting different types of stuff into the kerosene to drive down the costs of production.
Rockefeller, being the confident salesman, promised buyers that his kerosene oil was a higher more standardized quality oil that wouldn’t lead to any unexpected explosions.
To solidify his selling point he called his product and company, Standard Oil.
With a superior product and sales strategy, Rockefeller was able to not only fill the Vanderbilt order, but exceed it!
From this moment, Rockefeller would make more and more money to eventually surpass Vanderbilt money and have more money than anyone has ever had in money’s history. That’s a lot of money!
In today’s dollars, John D. Rockefeller would be worth $340 billion. To put that into perspective Bill Gates is worth $90 billion. One could imagine a conversation between these two billionaires looking something like this…
Rockefeller: Hey there Billy, can you get me a coffee?
Gates: How would you like it, sir?
Rockefeller: I like my coffee like I like my oil — black & overflowing.
How can we build John D. Rockefeller confidence?
Have a near death experience and attribute your survival to providence?
Have billions of dollars?
That also helps.
But overall I think his confidence came from possessing a higher purpose, sense of duty, and past accomplishments.
Singleness of purpose is essential to success in life.
Raised by a pious mother, Rockefeller had a strong faith in god.
He tithed 10% of his earnings to his church, never took a sip of alcohol or a puff of tobacco, and read the Bible daily.
“I was taught early to work as well as play, My life has been one long, happy holiday; Full of work and full of play — I dropped the worry on the way — And God was good to me everyday.”
He believed his actions were in alignment with the divine’s wishes.
“God gave me my money. I believe the power to make money is a gift from God — to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind.”
And he believed the reason god gave him money was because of his upstanding character.
“Our cup will truly run over only after we have sealed the character cracks.”
He felt it was his duty to use his money for good. He didn’t get his confidence from a desire to be liked. He got his confidence from his ability do good — great even.
“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”
In modern times, we like to say “you matter”, “you’re special”, “we’re equal”, but in Rockefeller’s mind your worth amounted to how much you gave. If you gave more you were worth more.
He primarily gave through business and philanthropy.
Standard Oil: lowered oil costs and increased oil quality/safety in the United States. Oil is the life blood of an industrial society so by making it cheaper and better, John D. Rockefeller pumped more blood into Industrial America, which sped up the industrialization process and therefore America’s economic power.
Rockefeller Foundation: He gave most of his money away. The foundation’s stated mission is to “promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world.” and is ranked as the 39th largest U.S. foundation by total giving.
Of course a man this rich and powerful is not without controversy, but overall the point here is to show that his confidence was reinforced by facts on the ground, i.e. his ability to give.
Since boyhood he was earning and giving.
His father walked out on his mother so Rockefeller was often depended upon to make money by selling candy on the corner. His ability to hustle was how he was able to go from nothing to owning his own oil refinery.
By overcoming such massive odds, he went from the bottom tier of society to the top 10% by the age of 27. It therefore doesn’t take an exaggerated sense of confidence for him to believe he could go from the top 10% to the top %1 by securing a deal with Vanderbilt.
If he succeeded before then he could succeed again.
One thing articles on “confidence” often miss is they see confidence as some sort of tactic, like if you never flew an airplane before you should somehow feel confident behind the wheel if you just pound your chest a few times and repeat a few affirmations, “I can fly a plane. I can fly a plane.”
Now maybe if an Egyptian Pharaoh came back to life, summoned a flock of ravens, which smashed through the windshield killing the pilots, then you might want to use a few affirmations to calm your mind before grabbing the wheel.
But overall, a better way to have confidence is to earn it from experience.
And the greatest way to earn confidence is by having small wins, which overtime add up to big wins. You want to get married? First be in a relationship. Haven’t been in a relationship? Then have a conversation with a girl. Haven’t had a conversation with a girl? Talk to Siri.
Me: Siri, will you go out with me?
Siri: Aw, that’s sweet, but I already have plans. Yeah. I have plans.
A higher purpose, sense of duty, and past accomplishments gave Rockefeller the confidence to go out and conquer the world. The drill has been passed to our generation. Go forth and strike oil!