When You Have to Succeed!

I want to tell you a story today, which proves the point that when your belief system tells you that you must succeed, when there are no self-imposed limitations, you will indeed succeed.

George Bernard Dantzig was born in Portland, Oregon in 1914; like his father before him, Dantzig became a mathematician. In 1939 he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley to study for a Statistics Doctorate.  In a statistics course given by the renowned professor Jerzy Neyman, Dantzig arrived late for class one day and saw two problems written on the blackboard.  He supposed the two problems were homework, so he copied them down.  However, they proved a great deal more difficult than what we might refer to as “ordinary” problems.  Still, he knew he had to solve them so he stuck with it for a number of days until he solved them both.

In a 1986 interview for the College Mathematics Journal, Dantzig gave the following account of his amazing story: “It happened because during my first year at Berkeley I arrived late one day at [Jerzy] Neyman’s classes.  On the blackboard there were two problems that I assumed had been assigned for homework.  I copied them down.  A few days later I apologized to Neyman for taking so long to do the homework—the problems seemed to be a little harder than usual.  I asked him if he still wanted it.  He told me to throw it on his desk.  I did so reluctantly because his desk was covered with such a heap of papers that I feared my homework would be lost there forever.  About six weeks later, one Sunday morning about eight o’clock [my wife] Anne and I were awakened by someone banging on our front door.  It was Neyman.  He rushed in with papers in hand, all excited: ‘I’ve just written an introduction to one of your papers.  Read it so I can send it out right away for publication.’  For a minute I had no idea what he was talking about.  To make a long story short, the problems on the blackboard that I had solved thinking they were homework were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics.  That was the first inkling I had that there was anything special about them.

“A year later, when I began to worry about a thesis topic, Neyman just shrugged and told me to wrap the two problems in a binder and he would accept them as my thesis.”

In another account, Dantzig said, “If I had known that the problems were not homework but were in fact two famous unsolved problems in statistics, I probably would not have thought positively, would have become discouraged, and would never have solved them.”

Right.  He solved them because he thought he had to.  If you believe you have to do something—like giving ten presentations a week, for instance—it’s more than likely that you’ll do it.  Start putting your tasks into the MUST column and watch and see the Extraordinary results that follow.