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The following message from T. Boone Pickens was written prior to his passing September 11, 2019.
“If you are reading this, I have passed on from this world — not as big a deal for you as it was for me.
In my final months, I came to the sad reality that my life really did
have a fourth quarter and the clock really would run out on me. I took
the time to convey some thoughts that reflect back on my rich and full
I was able to amass 1.9 million Linkedin followers. On
Twitter, more than 145,000 (thanks, Drake). This is my goodbye to each
One question I was asked time and again: What is it that you will leave behind?
That’s at the heart of one of my favorite poems, "Indispensable Man,"
which Saxon White Kessinger wrote in 1959. Here are a few stanzas that
get to the heart of the matter:
Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;
Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.
You be the judge of how long the bucket remembers me.
I’ve long recognized the power of effective communication. That’s why
in my later years I began to reflect on the many life lessons I learned
along the way, and shared them with all who would listen.
Fortunately, I found the young have a thirst for this message. Many
times over the years, I was fortunate enough to speak at student
commencement ceremonies, and that gave me the chance to look out into a
sea of the future and share some of these thoughts with young minds. My
favorite of these speeches included my grandchildren in the audience.
What I would tell them was this Depression-era baby from tiny
Holdenville, Oklahoma — that wide expanse where the pavement ends, the
West begins, and the Rock Island crosses the Frisco — lived a pretty
In those speeches, I’d always offer these future
leaders a deal: I would trade them my wealth and success, my 68,000-acre
ranch and private jet, in exchange for their seat in the audience. That
way, I told them, I’d get the opportunity to start over, experience
every opportunity America has to offer.
It’s your shot now.
If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through
life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She
always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to
success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.
Here’s how she put it:
“Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.”
After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has
proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never
have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most
likely the same guy.
Never forget where you come from. I was
fortunate to receive the right kind of direction, leadership, and work
ethic — first in Holdenville, then as a teen in Amarillo, Texas, and
continuing in college at what became Oklahoma State University. I
honored the values my family instilled in me, and was honored many times
over by the success they allowed me to achieve.
I also long
practiced what my mother preached to me throughout her life — be
generous. Those values came into play throughout my career, but
especially so as my philanthropic giving exceeded my substantial net
worth in recent years.
For most of my adult life, I’ve
believed that I was put on Earth to make money and be generous with it.
I’ve never been a fan of inherited wealth. My family is taken care of,
but I was far down this philanthropic road when, in 2010, Warren Buffet
and Bill Gates asked me to take their Giving Pledge, a commitment by the
world's wealthiest to dedicate the majority of their wealth to
philanthropy. I agreed immediately.
I liked knowing that I
helped a lot of people. I received letters every day thanking me for
what I did, the change I fostered in other people’s lives. Those people
should know that I appreciated their letters.
My wealth was built through some key principles, including:
A good work ethic is critical.
Don’t think competition is bad, but play by the rules. I loved to
compete and win. I never wanted the other guy to do badly; I just wanted
to do a little better than he did.
Learn to analyze well. Assess the risks and the prospective rewards, and keep it simple.
Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a
good leader: Avoid the “Ready-aim-aim-aim-aim” syndrome. You have to be
willing to fire.
Learn from mistakes. That’s not just a
cliché. I sure made my share. Remember the doors that smashed your
fingers the first time and be more careful the next trip through.
Be humble. I always believed the higher a monkey climbs in the tree,
the more people below can see his ass. You don’t have to be that monkey.
Don’t look to government to solve problems — the strength of this country is in its people.
Stay fit. You don’t want to get old and feel bad. You’ll also get a lot
more accomplished and feel better about yourself if you stay fit. I
didn’t make it to 91 by neglecting my health.
Although older people are generally threatened by change, young people
loved me because I embraced change rather than running from it. Change
Have faith, both in spiritual matters and
in humanity, and in yourself. That faith will see you through the dark
times we all navigate.
Over the years, my staff got used to
hearing me in a meeting or on the phone asking, “Whaddya got?” That’s
probably what my Maker is asking me about now.
Here’s my best answer.
I left an undying love for America, and the hope it presents for all. I
left a passion for entrepreneurship, and the promise it sustains. I
left the belief that future generations can and will do better than my
Thank you. It’s time we all move on.”
-T. Boone Pickens
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