Earl Nightingale's Greatest Discovery

By Cook, Marie-Louise | Success, May 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Earl Nightingale's Greatest Discovery


Cook, Marie-Louise, Success


Earl Nightingale's 17-year quest for the secret of success ended one night in 1950, when he came across a sentence in a book. To Nightingale, it was more than a string of words on a page--it was the answer to the question that had haunted him since childhood. "What makes the difference?" Why are some people well-off financially and others poor?

At 12, Nightingale's father had left the family. Nightingale was living in a government-issued tent in Long Beach, Calif., with his mother and two brothers. It was during the Great Depression, and like many thousands of families, the Nightingales would have been homeless if not for the help of the government's Works Progress Administration (WPA), which created 8 million jobs and redistributed food, clothing and housing to the poor.

The disparity between the lives of the haves and have-nots was vast, and it troubled Nightingale. "As a youngster, I didn't know anything about a sense of achievement, but I was all too aware of being poor," he says in his book Earl Nightingale's Greatest Discovery. "It didn't seem to bother the other kids, but it bothered me. What made it all the more exasperating to me, as a boy of 12, was to be poor in Southern California, where there seemed to be so many who were rich. ... I decided to find out why some people were rich while so very many of us were poor."

He asked, but no one seemed to know. "I made, what was to me, an astonishing discovery: The adults in our neighborhood didn't know anything at all. They were pitifully uneducated--driven by instinct, other-directed."

'Knowledge Is Everything'

Fortunately, his mother, Gladys "Honey" Nightingale, loved books, and she actively encouraged the same trait in her sons. When she wasn't working in a sewing factory or looking after them, she read. She told her sons, "Knowledge is everything; everything you want to know has been written down by someone." Encouraged, Nightingale went to the public library to find the book he was sure would explain the secret of success. After being told there was no single book that contained the information he wanted, Nightingale began to read, certain it had to be written somewhere.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Through reading books on religion, philosophy, history and psychology, he learned about "the importance of honesty, personal integrity and courage, and of believing in what is right and being willing to fight for it." But he still didn't have the answer to his seemingly simple question: What is the secret of success?

He spent 17 long years seeking the answer. During that time, he joined the Marines, was posted to Hawaii aboard the U.S.S. Arizona, and was one of the few hundred men who survived the battleship's bombing in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Nightingale described the chaos and tragedy of the attack: scrambling to battle stations as bombs crippled the ship, seeing friends killed amid shrapnel and flames, getting blown into the water by the concussion of a blast and finally making it safely to shore with help from a Marine officer.

Great Expectations

His experience left him with a conviction that he was spared for a reason, says his widow, Diana Nightingale. "He was a great believer in paying the price for what you wanted--whether that was personal freedom or the freedom of your country," she says. "He came home from the war with great expectations and went about the business of life.

"He was a man who really did live in the present. He felt the past served as an education and we should take what was valuable from it. He said the future wasn't promised to anyone and that you should live each day fully and to the best of your ability."

Toward the end of the war, Nightingale was posted back to the United States, working as an instructor at Camp Lejeune, N.C. While traveling near the base, he noticed a radio station under construction and volunteered to work weekends and evenings as an announcer, thinking it would be a useful skill to learn.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Earl Nightingale's Greatest Discovery
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?