Ralph Waldo Emerson is often credited with saying, “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” Whether or not Emerson is the real source of such wisdom makes no difference when it comes to its truth. It’s only when we reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced can we learn the best lessons. Take it from these guys! They’ve learned a thing or two amidst life’s trials. 

Leonard Dickerson

Retired Chemical Engineer, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; United States Chess Federation Life Master; Current Chess Teacher at Knoxville Schools

“Life’s calling came really early when I was told that I should pursue God above all and even minister to others. But even at 10 years of age, I was arguing with the ministers that it didn’t seem proper that many heathens who lived up to all the dictates of their religion but hadn’t heard the word of Christ were doomed to Hell while many supposedly heaven-bound Christians were hypocrites and disregarded God in their daily lives. This quandary kept me from pursuing the ministry and had me vociferously saying that I never would tell people how to live their lives. So life allows me to simply meander about—but always knowing that I am a spirit loved of God.”

“The best advice that I was given was to live today trying to focus on now. Equally important was to always keep in mind that we are spirits doing a trial on Earth. Another very influential piece of advice that has guided me is: thoughts are things. This advice has been espoused by Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich), Emerson, Thoreau and all mystical masters. And I took the statement literally and have validated it.”

“When I was a kid, I had no particular role models but always found inspiration in stories of man triumphing over adversity, particularly one man facing his trials, like the tale of Jeremiah Johnson, The Revenant or The Old Man and the Sea. Chess is my favorite pastime, and I grew up when Russians dominated chess; hence my favorite players were ex-world chess champions Botvinnik and Petrosian.”

“The hardest lesson that I finally learned was that you can’t escape your trials. You either face them now or later. Even in facing a challenge and not entirely triumphing, you are still winning and growing as long as you are giving your best. And always keep in mind that you aren’t challenged beyond your capacity to resist.

“Another valuable lesson learned is that perfection isn’t required, with a partner or in your aspirations. Don’t delay happiness hoping for something better. Accept what you have and make it better, deriving all the benefits that you can. Then, if more is necessary or required, your life’s path will later present it to you, for life works hand-in-hand with your demands and God’s good.”

“The best advice that I would give my college-age self is to choose a career that gives you happiness rather than a big paycheck. My love was marine biology. But after completing the prerequisite courses, I noted that chemical engineers had significantly higher salaries, which encouraged me to go for the money. Later I learned that it is much better to seek a job that gives you satisfaction and sparks passion.”

Joe Fox

Co-Founder/CEO, Blühen Botanicals; Entrepreneur

“My passion is learning. In the typical entrepreneurial spirit, I am constantly trying to find new ways to utilize new information. Different chapters of life require different wisdom, but I am passionate about learning ahead of each new chapter.”

“The best advice I ever received was if you are going to do something, do it right. Anything I have done, I have mirrored others who dream big and execute well. The best advice I have received from numerous mentors is to commit yourself to doing it the right way with integrity. If you make a decision to do something, go all in and do it with a high level of integrity and strong ethics.”

“When I was a kid, I always looked up to the hero in the movies. I have always been a big movie buff. I watched a lot of movies as a kid and always gravitated to the good guys that overcome adversity.”

“One of the hardest life lessons I’ve had to learn is I think many times in life you are presented with an opportunity to take short cuts. I’ve learned, time and time again, that the right path is often the harder path. Life has taught me to trust my instincts, but that doesn’t mean rushing. Carving a new path always takes more work than taking a common path.”

“If I could, I’d go back in time and tell my college-age self not to be so self-conscious about your lack of formal education. Be confident in your ability to learn and adapt, and that will greatly influence your success.” 

Jerry Askew

President, Alliance for Better Nonprofits; Ordained Deacon, Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee

“My life’s calling came in two pivotal moments: in 1978, my college mentor called to tell me that he was going to die that day. Needless to say, it was not a conversation I wished to have. When he and I finished talking, I spoke with his mother and lamented that I would never be able to pay him back for all he had done for me. In her infinite wisdom, she said, ‘Jerry, if he lived to be 100, you couldn’t pay him back. You can’t pay back. You can only pay forward.’ Those words helped define my philosophy of life.

The second defining moment was when, for our 20th wedding anniversary, my wife, Robyn, gave me an incredible gift: a week in a monastery. Spending those seven days in silence, reflection and prayer were life-changing.”

“The best advice I ever received was that life is a team sport; relationships are everything.”

“When I was a kid, I always looked up to my Scoutmaster, Andy Reilly; and UNC Basketball Coach Dean Smith.”

“Some of the hardest life lessons I’ve had to learn are: 1. You’d be far less concerned about what others think of you if you knew how infrequently they do. 2. No matter how dark the night, morning always follows. 3. God has impeccable manners and would never even think of interrupting you, so if you want to hear what She has to say, you have to shut up!”

“If I could, I’d go back in time and tell my college-age self as you move around the country pursuing your dreams, be sure to stay in touch with old friends.”