Donald Lewis: The Next Chapter
By Carin Chea
We all know that one person for whom this adage applies: "I wish I could carry you in my back pocket!"
Normally reserved for those we revere as wise and inspirational, the saying seems apropos for engineer, entrepreneur and motivational writer Donald Lewis.
As an earnest 22-year-old who immediately began working as an engineer literally the week after his college graduation, Lewis was drawn to the kernels of wisdom he'd encounter in life.
Not wanting to forget lessons learned, he began chronicling them on index cards back in 1966. The result?
Over 700 principles that the author has trimmed down to 693 in book format.
The Principles of Don: 693 Principles of Personal and Business Success is as useful for a high school graduate as it is for retirees embarking on a new adventure.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Lewis, a man whose life journey is not punctuated by a period, but by its promise of a next chapter.
What was the very first principle you documented on an index card?
It started on my very first day as an engineer back in 1966. I left school on a Friday and started work the following Monday at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft. My supervisor, Edward O'Cheney, showed me a graph of the principle of diminishing returns. I dutifully wrote down that principle. I don't know what #2 was, but that's #1.
What was your first job after college?
I started as an engineer because I did an on-campus interview and I accepted the job. Afterwards, I ended up transferring to an information systems department and spent another 12 years as an operations research analyst.
One day, I thought, "If you're so smart, why don't you quit your job and make your wealth on your own?" So, I did.
My department manager at the time was so confident in me that he gave me $15,000 of his own money, and I returned it back to him, $43 for every dollar.
The first company I started was a computer software company. That company was initially successful but fizzled as mini-computers were replaced by networked personal computers. I, along with others, started a 2nd company called DataImage that had a small public offering and was eventually acquired by another company.
I was looking for something to do and acquired a tiny virtually-bankrupt company and grew it to a highly-successful company with about 100 employees when it was sold in 2010. It was renamed Foley Carrier Services at the time of the sale from Foley Services.
I realize this is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child, but which of your principles do you find to be the most meaningful or rewarding?
Every day, I'm always asking myself, "What's the most important thing I can do next?"
I do truly use everything in my book though and I say that with absolute sincerity.
I have a friend who was giving me consulting for my upcoming motorcycle race. He called me up one day and said, "Damn you." I said, "What do you mean, 'damn you'?'" And he said, "I started the book, and I can't put it down. Now I'm late for work."
It's even daunting for me. I read the book and thought, "Wow, this is hard." But, it's better to have that missing manual in life than learning everything the hard way.
In my book, I include everything embarrassing or costly thing that's ever happened to me. Some of the mistakes in my life cost anywhere from $20,000 of my own money, to even a quarter of a million dollars.
What motivated you to even begin documenting your principles back in 1966?
That's a good question. But, you never know what it will turn into when you first start doing it. It just became a thing for me. It's like meeting the person who'll become your wife, but you don't know it yet. All I know is that I started writing them on 3x5 cards, and here I am.
Tell us about The Book of Don. What inspired you to finally consolidate your catalog of principles into a book?
It started off when my father gave me some principles and I said, "There's a father passing something down to his son." I thought it would be a good idea to pass down some of my hard-earned wisdom to my children. Somewhere down the line, I made it into a book.
What do you want your readers to take away from your book?
I sincerely want everybody to remember me on their death bed because they've gained tools that significantly improved their life.
I'd also love to speak to high school and college graduating classes (not that they'd have me). I have heard a dozen but I have never remembered any at all collectively from those speeches. I'd love to be able to speak to graduating classes and leave them with ten principles that they would remember forever.
I'd also like to speak to MBA students as well and share what it really takes to thrive in the business world.
Is there a follow-up in the works? Are there any other writing projects you'd like to tell us about?
My next project is a huge project. I have perhaps foolishly entered a motorcycle race that's a 5-day event down the Baja Peninsula called The Mexican 1000. It's approximately 1,275 miles in total with about 1,000 miles of hard-core desert racing. It's very physically demanding to race for hours and hours every day for five days in a row.
It's hugely difficult from every perspective - getting a race bike, gathering together a support team, and getting physically ready for the race, which is a huge challenge for me since I'm doing this age 75.
I want to give people actual evidence what is possible at in one's middle 70's. Life isn't over at 75 as so many people believe. I am not naive since I have participated in a total of 26 Baja races so far.
On a different note: You are quite the renaissance man. You've broken records as a motorcycle racer. You've broken records as a mountain climber. Are there any other records you plan on breaking in the near future?
I take life one year at a time and forecasting is difficult, particularly about the future. To date the one that I am most proud of is that in the 51 year history of the California-based SCORE-International desert racing series I have won five season class championship.
As I understand no one east of the east of the Mississippi river has ever won a single class championship and I've five. My kids will probably put that in my obituary.
I'm hoping, for this one, to be the oldest person to finish the Mexican 1000 Race.
Your interests and lifestyles are varied and well-rounded. Is this a result of the principles you've espoused throughout your lifetime? Would you say that you and your life accomplishments are the sum of the 700-plus principles you've accumulated?
I can only assume so because no one on earth has ever done has documented principles of success on that scale. I totally believe in them and I have continuously put them into effect. I believe my book is going to help a lot of people.
Life is a little scary for me now since I feel the best I've ever felt in my life. I know how it will end but I don't yet see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I give a lot of credit to the stationary bike in my living room. I actually have two, and they're identical. The one I use has 44,000 miles on it and I've had it for 10 years and have nearly biked around the world twice in my living room.
I'm a strong believer of long, slow duration exercises. There's evidence that a good exercise program will slow aging at a cellular level. I am a huge fan of physical wellness. As evidence, I'm 75 and still motorcycle racing in the desert at speeds of up to 100 MPH.
Anything else you'd like to tell your readers?
I would encourage everyone to consider The Book of Don - 693 Principles of Personal and Business Success as a high school or college graduation gift as they enter adulthood. I think of it as the missing manual of life.
To keep up to date on Mr. Lewis' adventures (which, it seems, there will never be a dearth in) please visit CatchFlyPress.com.
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