Colin Powell: the best advice I ever got

Hey guys,

I thought I’d share something I recently stumbled across for the second time.

Many years ago, when this was first published in Fortune Magazine, I cut it out and pasted it on my front door. I was at probably the the lowest point in my life when I came across it. I’d been hit with a divorce I never saw coming. I had more than a hundred grand in debt. I had friends telling me I should close the newspaper that I’d started and just get a job or file bankruptcy.

But I happened upon this article with Colin Powell’s words and they really spoke to me. They really helped push me and keep me motivated as I read them each day on my door before leaving.

And every day as I walked out of my apartment, I’d remind myself that it didn’t matter that I was a struggling business owner in the present. It was more about what I could become if I just persisted and kept improving myself.

Let me quit blathering and just share what the great man said was the best advice he’d ever gotten when he was asked this question at the age of 72:

When I was a young infantry officer at Fort Benning, we had a lot of old captains who had served in World War II and Korea. They were not going to go higher in rank, but, boy, did they know about soldiering. So I didn’t learn this piece of barracks wisdom from an Eisenhower or Pershing. I heard it from these wonderful reserve captains.

This is the story: There was a brand-new second lieutenant who was very ambitious and wanted to be a general. So one night at the officer’s club the young officer spotted this old general sitting at the bar. So he went up and said, “How do I become a general?”

And the old general answered, “Son, you’ve got to work like a dog. You’ve got to have moral and physical courage. There may be days you’re tired, but you must never show fatigue. You’ll be afraid, but you can never show fear. You must always be the leader.”

The young officer was so excited by this advice. “Thank you, sir,” he said, “so is this how I become a general?”

“No,” said the general, “that’s how you become a first lieutenant, and then you keep doing it over and over and over.”

Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do my best today, think about tomorrow, and maybe dream a bit about the future. But doing your best in the present has to be the rule. You won’t become a general unless you become a good first lieutenant. 

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell


Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which has remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series has also been picked up by for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thriller, detective series, and World War II story.

10 thoughts on “Colin Powell: the best advice I ever got

  1. I remember you from those terrible Old Days. You were beaten down. You felt you’d never be able to accomplish anything. You felt like you’d never be able to get another date. We stood in the parking lot and I convinced you that you had all the Stuff to make it. And that you would be attractive to women and that you’d find just the very right lady. And guess what! You did, on both counts! Although if you said all that about yourself, you might sound self-serving (which would put you in the same league as the would-be presidential mongoose) you meanwhile might inspire others to Soldier On. You da best!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stan,
    Good story. Did he have any advice about commenters not shoving their personal politics in everyone else’s face? I follow you so I can read cool things about life on the planet Earth – not cheap shot political commentary.
    Semper Fi,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hah! I wish he had!!! I’m about sick of everyone else’s politics, as well. I’ve just tried not to talk about it. It’s not like you’re going to change anyone’s mind…

      Semper Fi,


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