5 Great Career Lessons from Christopher Columbus

Whether you are looking for a job or seeking funding for a business venture, you will probably have to go through a lengthy process of trial and error before you succeed.

If you have been feeling discouraged, I have some inspiration to share with you from one of my favorite historical figures – Christopher Columbus.

See Also: 10 Accidental Discoveries That Made People Rich

1. Dare to Dream

Columbus first began his dreams of exploration as a young boy. Yet if he had shared his dreams with anyone, they would have been dismissed as preposterous.

In the world of medieval Europe, that young boy was practically a nobody. The Columbus family was poor – sometimes desperately so – and as a family of wool weavers they would have been considered as not only of low status, but smelly as well!

It was hardly an ideal start, and inconceivable that he would ever have any opportunity to even leave Genoa, let alone explore the world.

Yet within the next 30 years, that boy would grow into a man who would one day seduce the richest and most powerful woman in Europe into giving him exactly what he wanted.

It all started with a dream that few would have dared to entertain.

Career Lesson: If somebody says your dreams are too big, you should take into account what they have achieved before you let their words discourage you. They may simply lack the capacity to understand the merits of your idea.

2. Never Give Up

Columbus had to endure a lot of rejection and even ridicule before he was successful in getting sponsorship for his plan.

He spent years traveling all over Europe visiting wealthy citizens and sovereigns. Turned down and mocked in the Royal Courts of Portugal, Spain, France, and England, the dogged would-be explorer pressed on.

It was in fact by a stroke of incredibly good luck that Columbus stumbled into his success. Purely by coincidence, Columbus stopped at a monastery to shelter from an approaching storm. There he described to the increasingly fascinated Abbot all that had happened on his travels, and the reason for his quest.

Columbus had no way to know it, but the man he was talking to was no ordinary monk. In fact at one time he had been confessor to Queen Isabella herself. The spellbound monk quickly dispatched a messenger to implore the Queen to give Columbus another chance to explain his quest.

This time, on the word of such an important friend, the Queen was at last willing to listen. By the time Ferdinand and Isabella finally granted his wish, Columbus had been waiting almost a decade and had become an object of ridicule throughout the whole of Europe.

Career Lesson: Your chances of success depend on your tenacity when things are less than perfect. By maintaining focus on what you want, and constantly working to achieve that goal, you will find the opportunities you need. Sometimes this can happen in the most unexpected way, as it did for Columbus.

3. Believe in Yourself

The first journey to the New World was anything but uneventful. For a superstitious crew who believed in powerful magic forces and sea monsters, a journey into the unknown was almost too much.

The longer they were at sea without seeing land, the worse the problem became. Mutiny was constantly simmering, and it was only the strong personality of the explorer himself that was preventing it from boiling over.

Columbus was constantly having to cling to whatever flimsy evidence he could use to convince the men not to turn back. Indeed, if they had turned back, all would have perished, but these rough, uneducated men mostly recruited direct from prison had no way of knowing that.

By remaining true to his beliefs and not allowing himself to be persuaded that all was lost, Columbus saved his own life and that of his crew and also made the greatest discovery in European history.

Career Lesson: Every project will always attract some naysayers. But if you are sure of your facts then you should not give in to their demands, and work hard to make sure others do not abandon you because of the discouragement. Look for whatever evidence you can find to support your position, and use it to convince your supporters that success is just over the horizon.

4. Be Unselfish

Columbus’s career was marked by meteoric rises and falls. At the end of his first journey, Columbus returned to Spain in triumph and became an instant national hero. By the end of his third voyage, he returned to Spain in disgrace, clanking through the streets in chains, destined to spend the rest of his days in prison.

Luckily the sovereigns believed his protestations of innocence, and not only freed him, but allowed him to embark on a fourth voyage.

Columbus had no intention of returning to the colony that had so callously cast him out, not least because he could not be sure of how he would be received.

But when he became aware that a devastating storm was approaching, he disregarded is own safety and raced for the settlement of Hispaniola to spread the warning.

His pleas were ignored and Columbus was dismissed as "a mere prophet". The next morning, the homebound fleet of 28 ships set sail for Spain. Of these, only one – the smallest and slowest – would make it safely home.

Coincidentally that vessel, which had been chosen by Columbus’s enemies as a sign of their disdain for him, was carrying his share of the wealth plundered from the mines of Hispaniola.

The settlement was utterly devastated by the storm, and not a single building was left standing. Everyone was utterly ruined, except the unselfish Columbus and the men who remained loyal to him.

Career Lesson: Selfish behavior may provide some short-term gains, but it nearly always turns back on you later. By acting unselfishly, you will be remembered for the right reasons, and people will be more likely to trust you in the future.

5. Know Your Limits

There is no doubt that Columbus was one of the finest sailors ever to command a fleet. As a navigator, he had no equal, and his keen observational skills gave him such an uncanny ability to make accurate predictions that he was held in awe by all who sailed with him.

On land, however, it was quite a different story. Every attempt he made to govern or wage war was an unmitigated disaster. If he had acknowledged his limits and subjugated his ego, everything would have gone much better for him.

Career Lesson: If you have a weakness, then you need to be sensible enough to recognize it and act upon it. This usually means delegating responsibility for tasks where you may not necessarily be the best person for them. There is more glory in this than in failing due to taking on more than you can handle.

See Also: 10 Ways to Travel the World on a Budget

Columbus died over 500 years ago, yet he was such a larger-than-life character that we can still learn a great deal from his experiences.

As many people accused him of being, Columbus was indeed a dreamer. Unlike most dreamers, however, Columbus was so convinced that he would succeed that he took incredible risks and overcame enormous odds to cement his dreams in reality.

Whatever your feelings are about this man, there is no denying that he always acted with courage and integrity. By emulating the best traits of Columbus and avoiding the worst, we can help to assure our own success at work or in life.

Do you know any other inspirational figures from history?





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