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The First Law of Business - Nightingale

The First Law of Business - Earl Nightingale


Another essay by Earl Nightingale from the How to Completely Change Your Life Series


“Our rewards in life will always be in direct proportion to our contribution.” This is the law that stands as the supporting structure of all business and also of our personal well-being.

The paradox is that most people either don’t know about this wonderful law, or think that somehow it applies only to the other guy; the way drivers believe we ought to have speed limits—for other drivers. Well, the one predictable thing about most people is that they are consistently wrong.

For example, let’s take this law of our rewards in life being in direct proportion to our contribution. Like many great ideas, it’s really nothing more than a paraphrasing of a biblical admonition: as ye sow, so shall ye reap.

But, for a moment, look at it this way: laws are good or bad, depending on how we use them. The law of gravity keeps us from flying off into space. But it will also kill us if we step into an elevator shaft. There is nothing wrong with the law of gravity. If we misuse it, there is something wrong with us. Either we are ignorant of the law, or just plain stupid.

Now, let’s get back to the law of rewards and contributions. It’s like an apothecary scale, the kind with a crossarm on top from which two bowls are suspended. A delicate and honest mechanism. Let us label one of the bowls “Rewards” and the other one “Contributions.”

Right here we encounter the problem. Most people concentrate on the bowl marked “Rewards.” That is, they want things such as more money, a better home, college for the kids, travel, ' retirement, etc—all rewards. But in this hungering for the rewards, they are forgetting the bowl marked “Contributions.” In other words, they are concentrating on the wrong bowl. They are like the man who sat in front of the stove and said, “Give me heat, and then I’ll give you wood.” He could sit there until he froze to death. Stoves don’t work that way; neither does life. All we have to do is concentrate on the bowl marked “Contributions”; life and the first law will automatically take care of the rewards! Yet it’s a fact that most people have this backward.

But what do we mean by contribution--and to whom do we contribute? You can define contribution as the time and effort you devote to whatever it is you do. And your contribution is to mankind; beginning with the people you directly serve. So you can break it all down to a very simple statement: your rewards will be determined by the way you do your job.

In our exploding economy, if a person isn’t happy with his rewards, he should take a good, long look at his contributions. This may seem a hard, ruthless way of looking at things, but remember laws like this are neither good nor had; it depends on what we do about them.


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