There is an old story that I love that has been knocking around for years called “Acres of Diamonds”. Here is the story, quoted from the Nightingale-Conant website. I originally heard the story in one of Earl Nightingale’s courses.
The story — a true one — is told of an African farmer who heard tales about other farmers who had made millions by discovering diamond mines. These tales so excited the farmer that he could hardly wait to sell his farm and go prospecting for diamonds himself. He sold the farm and spent the rest of his life wandering the African continent searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems that brought such high prices on the markets of the world. Finally, worn out and in a fit of despondency, he threw himself into a river and drowned.
Meanwhile, the man who had bought his farm happened to be crossing the small stream on the property one day, when suddenly there was a bright flash of blue and red light from the stream bottom. He bent down and picked up a stone. It was a good-sized stone, and admiring it, he brought it home and put it on his fireplace mantel as an interesting curiosity.
Several weeks later a visitor picked up the stone, looked closely at it, hefted it in his hand, and nearly fainted. He asked the farmer if he knew what he’d found. When the farmer said, no, that he thought it was a piece of crystal, the visitor told him he had found one of the largest diamonds ever discovered. The farmer had trouble believing that. He told the man that his creek was full of such stones, not all as large as the one on the mantel, but sprinkled generously throughout the creek bottom.
The farm the first farmer had sold, so that he might find a diamond mine, turned out to be one of the most productive diamond mines on the entire African continent.The first farmer had owned, free and clear … acres of diamonds. But he had sold them for practically nothing, in order to look for them elsewhere. The moral is clear: If the first farmer had only taken the time to study and prepare himself to learn what diamonds looked like in their rough state, and to thoroughly explore the property he had before looking elsewhere, all of his wildest dreams would have come
This story is one both simple and true. We’ve probably heard it so often at this point that we’ve stopped paying attention to it…like the “yeah, yeah, yeah” response when a parent tells us at 21 that we should start and fund an IRA…but it is a valuable lesson.
We devalue the things that are common to us. They say that familiarity breeds contempt. In light of this story you almost have to wonder if it’s not so much that we’ve had an opportunity to learn everything bad about a person…maybe instead it’s that we’ve grown blind to all the good. We take for granted the people and things around us…telling ourselves that the new place/job/car/television is going to make us happy…not understanding that we carry our problems with us no matter how much we can distract ourselves with change. Our developing contempt is radiating outwards…not something that comes from the outside.
We trip over our own life’s “diamonds”…blinded by the hurry to progress to what we’re sure will be the motherlode. “When I” is our mantra…”when I” grow up, “when I” marry, “when I” get the job, “when I” get promoted…when any of these events happen, then things will really be good…and, it seems, every year breeds a new batch of “when I’s”…the carrot dangled in front of the donkey always out of reach.
I’m still working at recognizing my own acres of diamonds. John Lennon said that “life is what happens while you’re busy making plans”. Maybe if I can slow down a little, I’ll recognize and polish a few stones along the way.