Wayback Advice: 3 Tips on “Money Getting” from P.T. Barnum

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Come one, come all for this edition of Wayback Advice. In our main tent, we’ll be discussing ringleader and circus master P.T. Barnum’s 1880 book, The Art of Money Getting; Or, Golden Rules for Making Money. You may know him as the guy who once famously said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but surprisingly, his advice still holds up for those aspiring to legitimate means of success.

1. You can’t depend on luck; you have to work hard.

There is no such thing in the world as luck. There never was a man who could go out in the morning and find a purse full of gold in the street to-day, and another to-morrow, and so on, day after day: He may do so once in his life; but so far as mere luck is concerned, he is as liable to lose it as to find it. "Like causes produce like effects." If a man adopts the proper methods to be successful, "luck" will not prevent him. If he does not succeed, there are reasons for it, although, perhaps, he may not be able to see them.

We really, really like this one—and here’s why: Luck is an external force beyond your control. You’re either “lucky” or you’re not. We don’t think it has any place in the discussion towards achieving success, and what you want to do in life. Barnum is demonstrating here that truly successful people take active steps to be in that position. They aren’t sitting back, banking on their “luck.” It’s daily actions (sound familiar?), habits, and hard work that put you in the position to be successful. There’s nothing passive about it—it’s something you have to work towards, and for.

2. Focus on the task at hand.

Men should be systematic in their business. A person who does business by rule, having a time and place for everything, doing his work promptly, will accomplish twice as much and with half the trouble of him who does it carelessly and slipshod. By introducing system into all your transactions, doing one thing at a time, always meeting appointments with punctuality, you find leisure for pastime and recreation; whereas the man who only half does one thing, and then turns to something else, and half does that, will have his business at loose ends, and will never know when his day's work is done, for it never will be done. 

This is kind of eerie—this book was written almost 140 years ago, and yet it predicted the misery of multi-tasking that plagues us to this day. The advice is simple and straightforward—focus on the task at hand, finish it, and move on to the next. Getting distracted, working on multiple things at once, and generally not being disciplined in your approach to your work is a great way to never get anything accomplished—and will eat up your free time in the process and generally make you miserable.  Accountability is the watch word here—just like it was then. Funny how much things have changed yet stayed the same since then.

3. Don’t confuse money with success.

To get rich, is not always equivalent to being successful. "There are many rich poor men," while there are many others, honest and devout men and women, who have never possessed so much money as some rich persons squander in a week, but who are nevertheless really richer and happier than any man can ever be while he is a transgressor of the higher laws of his being.

This threw us for a pleasant loop—the author of The Art of Money Getting is telling us that money doesn’t equate success—which is totally true! Making money (or “money getting” as this book and old-timey prospectors put it) is a great byproduct of working hard, meeting goals, and being good at what you do. We know that making a living a wage is important, but it’s also important to remember money isn’t the only thing to pursue in your path towards success, which Barnum seems to agree with despite the book’s title. As much as money as nice—it won’t buy you happiness, but unfortunately, “Satisfaction Getting” doesn’t sound as snappy for a title of a book!

What do you think? Were you as surprised at how effective this advice is, 140 years later? Can you forgive P.T. Barnum for running a circus with clowns? Let us know in the comments!