It is only as we grow older that we understand fully the truth of the saying: "The more we know, the more we realise how little we know". We never stop learning and every day is a school day. Almost regardless of age, the career opportunities available nowadays are greater than ever, but how many make the most of them?
Up to the 1960s, only a few had the chance to get third-level education with the vast majority facing very limited prospects. Either stay at home on a farm that could at best support one family, or head for America or England without the support of a good trade or the experience, knowledge and skills to carve out a good living in relative security and comfort. How things have changed.
Drive through any country town at lunch time and look at the crowds of bright teenagers taking their lunch break. They of course know everything, as we all did in our teens, but a good few will avail of the opportunities education provides and will make the most of their precious school years.
Even if the school kids don't yet fully appreciate how lucky they are, the majority of their parents will hopefully help and encourage them accordingly and there are a few good, easy-to-read books that every household should have on their shelves to help young people on their way.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, millions of emigrants from all over Europe fled to America to escape widespread hunger and poverty in their countries of origin. To cater for their needs and their desire to improve their lot, many books were published offering guidelines for success and prosperity. A year or so ago I wrote about one such book, titled The Richest Man in Babylon, first published in 1926, which went on to sell millions of copies. Written in the form of parables, the pages contain simple and sound lessons in financial wisdom which never go out of date.
Nowadays help and advice is widely available and this has almost become an industry in itself. One frequently sees advertisements for "life coaching" and I even saw one where we can avail of the services of a "personal image consultant". I couldn't help smiling at that one when thinking of what some of the hardier cattlemen I knew in my youth would make of it.
We can all however benefit from sensible advice, and two books came my way recently which are fine examples of wisdom wrapped in an entertaining package. Both were written by Blaise Brosnan, who, following a highly successful career in business, set up as an independent management consultant and trainer.
The first book is simply titled Jack, and the cover tells us that it contains "business lessons from life, life lessons from business". Although far more comprehensive and dealing with modern times, it reminded me of The Richest Man in Babylon in that it is written as the fictional story of a young man's journey through life, in this instance starting with growing up on a small farm in Co Kerry in the 1950s, and at the end of each chapter, a summary is given of what Jack has learnt.
It is excellent stuff, all the more because the story itself is entertainingly written and even leaving aside the invaluable advice it contains, I found it hard to put down. One gets the feeling that the author has been through many of the situations that Jack encounters as his mother struggles to get him in to the Diocesan College, how his ability on the sports field helped him settle in, and how eventually he makes it to university and a successful career in business.
In between there is hardship on building sites in England and America, but with every setback, further invaluable lessons are learnt. I have met many people like Jack who had the character and determination to overcome the handicaps of relative poverty in childhood, and who grasped their chances when they came their way. It is so easy to drift through life and allow circumstances to rule our actions rather than creating the circumstances that will enable us achieve our ambitions.
We need to be streetwise to succeed in business, but must always retain honesty and integrity. Buddha said: "The mind is everything. What you think, you become".
Jack by Blaise Brosnan is available from all good bookshops send letters to: Farming Independent, Independent House, Talbot street, Dublin 1 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org