John D. Rockefeller is remembered for his zeal for self-reflection and the little, red journal that made him study and pull himself out of poverty and mediocrity. Throughout his life, he documented and examined every fact and figure in order to gauge how he could make his life and business more efficient. He was an extremely austere businessman who is remembered among the biggest philanthropists.
Summary of his success
John Davison Rockefeller Sr. was a corporate titan (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937), an American oil industry business magnate as well as a philanthropist. His name has become synonymous with the ‘wealthiest American of all time’.
Having founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870, he ran it until 1897, remaining its largest shareholder. His wealth soared as kerosene and gasoline grew and he became the richest person in the country, controlling 90% of oil in America when it was booming. When he died in 1937, his assets equaled 1.5% of the U.S.’s total economic output. Late in life, he was extremely philanthropic.
How they journal
Rockefeller’s habits were rigorous and driven by self-reflection. His journal was his most powerful tool during his tours of the refineries and processing plants. Observing plants and querying managers, he meticulously jotted down myriad questions and worked out how he could strategise and improve his business.
The little red journal was a power bank that could strike fear in his employees. He understood that self-reflection was his strongest lever.
How long have they been doing it?
While his fame and wealth rose, Rockefeller’s habits of frugal living and journal keeping remained strong. He continuously scribbled in his diaries even as he started struggling for jobs.
One of his journals, called “Journal A”, comprised all his expenses, which he meticulously scribbled until he died. Every bill was closely assessed and reviewed for even minor errors. As he once put it: “The practice of keeping a little personal ledger by young men just starting… is, I think, a good one.”
It was his self-reflection and meticulous journaling that was recognised, rather than his intelligence. He was also scrupulous about paying every penny he owed. Years later, when asked about his first ledger, Rockefeller said he wouldn’t try all his riches in the world if it meant giving up his ledger.
It is more than forty-two years since I wrote what it contains. I call it ‘Ledger A’, and now I place the “greatest value upon it.”
How has self-reflection helped them achieve their success?
It was Rockefeller’s keen sense of self-reflection and documentation in his journal that made him disciplined, ruthless and generous. His personality was so inner-directed, that he was seeking only to reach his own goals, not the appreciation of others. Right from the beginning, he understood that power and wealth could lead to hubris.
So, while his net worth began to rise, he would continuously reflect on his soul and ego. Before he slept, he would think about the volatility of the oil industry and impermanence of success, rebuking himself all the time. He once said: “These intimate conversations with myself, I’m sure, had a great influence on my life. I was afraid I could not stand my prosperity and tried to teach myself not to get puffed up with any foolish notions.”
What challenges have they faced?
John D. Rockefeller was the son of a traveling salesman, William, who was rumoured to have fathered a number of children in other towns. Caught in rape scandals and scams, the family relocated from New York to Cleveland. His father taught John to be cunning and ruthless so that he could earn money, but his mother taught him about Christian thrift and hard work.
Young John grew up helping his family with their farm and looking after his younger siblings. Still, he wanted the bigger things in life, desiring to rise, although it was not clear how he would do that. In fact, he was thought to be dim-witted and slow, making little impression on his classmates. Even so, he felt through self-reflection that he was not “brilliant” but “reliable.” He once said: “I was not an easy student and I had to apply myself diligently to prepare my lessons.”
From lowly bookkeeper to corporate titan, it was self-reflection and journaling that lifted him higher.
What does the future hold for them?
John D. Rockefeller is the most legendary name in America’s business history. Forever, he will be remembered not only for being the “wealthiest American” and the “richest modern person” but also for his austere, disciplined habits and the deep self-reflection that made him a rags-to-riches icon.
How you can get started with Self Reflection?
Rockefeller has taught you one thing – you can succeed with self-reflection, meticulous documentation and journaling through inner and outer journeys in life.
Looking for an easy way to get started with your self-development practice? Daylitude can help shift your mindset, increase positivity, and discover a greater connection with yourself.