The Prosperous Peasant: Five Secrets of Fortune and Fulfillment
One night each month, I meet at a local restaurant with a group of friends. We are the Woodstock Writers Guild. Mostly we eat, drink, and chat, but we also take turns sharing the stuff we've written: fantasy novels, horror stories, and even some literary fiction.
Though most of us are only aspiring amateurs, we do have one real writer in the group. Mark has published two novels: The Green Age of Asher Witherow and Lost Son. At our last meeting, he handed out copies of a new book, The Prosperous Peasant, which he co-authored with Tim Clark. It took a moment for me to realize what I was seeing. I was crushed.
“Mark,” I said. “This isn't fair. I'm the personal finance writer. But you've put out a book about money before I had the chance!” He just grinned at me.
But The Prosperous Peasant isn't a book about personal finance. It's a book about prosperity — a success manual. Though financial success is product of personal fulfillment, it's not the source. Fulfillment comes from balance, and from the pursuit of goals.
Explicitly drawing inspiration from George S. Clason's classic The Richest Man in Babylon, this book reveals its “secrets” through stories told by a learned master. In The Prosperous Peasant, the master is HIdeyoshi, a samurai and one of Japan's great leaders. At his temple school in Nagahama, Hideyoshi teaches the secret of his success to all who care to hear. His secret?
I fear I must tell you the truth. There is no secret. … But there are five eternal principles on which the ancients' prosperity was founded, principles which will continue to serve successful men long after our grandchildren's children have turned to dust.
It is these principles that The Prosperous Peasant hopes to convey.
Gratitude attracts luck
“Gratitude instills a spirit of sincere and industrious service.”
True luck visits few people in life, but opportunity is a frequent visitor. It is those who learn to act upon opportunity that others believe to be lucky. “Luck” also comes from helping others. When you give your time and resources to help other people achieve their dreams, they're likely to remember your actions, and to return the favor in the future. This isn't luck, either, but a form of social capital. The lucky man is not lucky — he seizes opportunity and helps others to achieve their aims.
Know your gift
“All men of grateful spirit can achieve success if they work to make the most of their talents.”
Know your strengths and how to use them. If you're good with people, don't become trapped in a job where you're only shuffling paper. If you enjoy the outdoors, find a way to make that your vocation. I've always loved to write, and I like to think that I have some modest skill at it. For years, though, I did not pursue this gift. It was only once I focused on this strength that I obtained fulfillment.
What if you don't know your talent? What if you have no gift? Consider the non-obvious. The Prosperous Peasant tells the parable of Taro, a boy whose gift is unfailing persistence. Though he has no skill in any particular trade, he's able to become a master potter by dedicating himself to the craft for ten years.
Conceivable means achievable
“We must all begin where beginning is conceivable.”
Napoleon Hill once said, “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” Though this idea has been co-opted by Law of Attraction cultists, there's some truth to it. When you set and pursue goals, you're conceiving — and achieving — the things you desire.
You start by setting goals that actually make sense for your situation. You cannot start by saying, “I want to win the Tour de France.” You begin by learning to ride a bicycle. From there, you might set a goal to win a local race. You start with realistic goals, goals that are conceivable. Success builds upon success, and eventually you just may find that winning the Tour de France is achievable after all. Lance Armstrong had to start somewhere!
Effort determines results
“Average effort produces average results, but extraordinary effort produces extraordinary results.”
In the things we do, it is our effort that plays the largest role in how successful we become. Sure, we all encounter unexpected obstacles. But strength of will and perseverance can usually help us overcome these. In most cases, the degree of our success is determined by how much effort we put into something. If we do a half-ass job, we're going to get half-ass results. If we pour blood, sweat, and tears into something, our effort will be rewarded.
Success doesn't happen overnight — you are not going to get rich quickly. Instead, it's a result of extended effort over months, years, or decades. Yes, you can become wealthy (or achieve other forms of success), but to do so requires sacrifice and hard work.
Collaboration breeds success
Everything you accomplish owes to the help of someone else.
The child learns from her parents and her teachers. The young woman learns from a mentor. And the lady learns from her peers. From the day we're born, we draw our strength from others. Our ability to work with family and friends plays a large role in our success.
No one person can be a master of everything. In order to achieve our dreams, we must rely upon other people, to draw upon their skills. For me to form a successful business, I need the advice of a trusted lawyer, a good accountant, and other such advisers. In turn, it is to my benefit to help others achieve their goals.
The Bushido Code
Though I like The Prosperous Peasant for its exploration of these five success principles, I love it for its underlying philosophy, as embodied by this statement:
Prosperity is as aptly measured in love, friendship, and personal fulfillment as in gold or fame.
Here at Get Rich Slowly, we spend a lot of time talking about gold. (This is a personal finance blog, after all.) But financial wealth is only one aspect of success. A truly successful person is rich in all aspects of her life.
The final chapter of The Prosperous Peasant briefly describes the virtues of the Bushido Code: justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, honesty, honor, loyalty, and character. These traits, and Hideyoshi's five principles of success, form an excellent foundation for life.
I like The Prosperous Peasant, and will certainly read it again in the future. I did have some problems with it — the narrative is slow to start, and I found myself getting lost in a sea of Japanese names — but these complaints are minor. I'll refrain from giving my usual buy/don't-buy recommendation. I'm not an impartial reviewer. Though I have no vested financial interest in the book's success or failure, it was written by friends, and I feel uncomfortable saying “Buy this book!” when I know my judgement is clouded by association.
Fortunately, you don't have to take my word for it. You can take the book for a test-drive yourself. The authors have posted a longish chapter for free in PDF format: “Gratitude attracts luck: The scroll of fortune”. By reading this, you should be able to determine whether this is the sort of book that could help you. You can also read more from them at The Prosperous Peasant blog, in which they meditate on balancing fortune with fulfillment.
Free books! Mark and Tim have generously offered to contribute five copies to Get Rich Slowly readers. From the comments on this review, I will select five names at random to receive a copy of The Prosperous Peasant.