Step Beyond the Impossible Wall
Learning from the Mongols

Over the years, I have written about the influence Mr. Lee had upon me while I lived in Merchantville, NJ.  Mr. Lee lived several houses down from my grandparents.  I was fascinated by him as a young child.  He was from China, which meant that he was the only Chinese person that I knew.  Also, he was very old and very wise. 

The summer before my family moved to Pittsburgh, I wanted to make some money by cutting lawns.  However, I wasn't able to find any neighbors who wanted me to cut their yards.  Apparently, they thought that I was too young.  Nonetheless, I felt like I had failed at my first entrepreneur attempt.  Seeking solace, I went to see Mr. Lee.

  Mr. Lee and I sat on a swing on his front porch as I told him about my failure.  He listened carefully and then responded.  Strangely, he started to tell me about the Great Wall of China.  He explained that it stretched about 3600-miles across his homeland.  He told me about the towers and gates that were scattered along the wall.  The Great Wall was built to keep the Mongols in the north from invading China.  Mr. Lee said that the wall was seldom breached. 

However, Mr. Lee told about some Mongol general who wanted to get through the wall near Beijing and told one of his lieutenants to attack the wall.  His officer tried several unsuccessful attempts and each time was repulsed.  Finally, he returned to his general to report that he couldn't breach the wall.  The general replied, "You need to go one step beyond the impossible wall.  If you do, success will be yours."

The lieutenant returned to his tent and thought all night about how he would take "one step beyond the impossible wall."  Initially, he was upset with his general comment.  Nonetheless, he, as the night wore on, designed a new strategy for breaching the wall.  As the sun rose the next day, the lieutenant told his troop his idea.  He sent them to the wall, and, this time, he was successful.  He sent word to his general that he had breached the Great Wall of China. 


One of the gates of the Great Wall of China

The general summoned his lieutenant and inquired how he was able to accomplish his task.  The lieutenant replied, "I took one step beyond the impossible wall.  I bribed the gatekeeper."  Then Mr. Lee said, "Allen, what is true for that lieutenant in China is equally true for you in Merchantville."  He went on to tell me to do my homework and then to put together a well-thought-out plan of attack.  I was to attack my objective with confidence that I will be successful.  He went on to explain the importance of not giving up even when you have failed.  Rethink your strategy and try again.  It was critical that I incorporate what I learned from my precious failures and, with my updated information, try again.  However, I needed to believe in my ultimate success.  If I wanted my dreams to come true, I needed to start with believing that I would be successful. 


The Mongol teachers

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