John D. Rockefeller has a lot to teach us about self-control, focus, and work ethic that he later applied in life to show the world what can be accomplished with purpose, vision, planning, and execution.


Here’s a transcript of our conversation:

Connor: Hey, Brittany.

Brittany: Hi, Connor.

Connor: You know, behind every great invention or idea or business, there’s often a backstory that teaches us a lesson. And today I wanna talk about John Rockefeller, who has a lot to teach us, you know, about things like self-control and focus and work ethic that he later applied in his life to show the world what can be accomplished with, you know, purpose and vision and planning and execution. Rockefeller was sometimes kind of criticized because he was rich, and, you know, as we’ve talked about in many episodes, there are so many people who believe that just because someone’s wealthy, they’re inherently evil. And as we’ve seen, when we highlight these successful entrepreneurs, that simply isn’t true. I kind of think like, Rockefeller’s, like the Elon Musk of his day in a way. I like that. And it reminds, it reminds me of, I saw this just, a little while ago on social media. Bernie Sanders was criticizing Elon Musk and saying, oh, you shouldn’t be trying to, you know, go to Mars. You should be trying to save the earth or something like that. Oh dear, And Elon replied and said, I am trying, because he is criticizing that Elon has all this money and that he’s, you know, putting it into SpaceX and, so forth. And so Elon replied and he said something to the effect of, I am accumulating resources so that I can make humans a multi-planetary species. Now, you know, maybe that’s not your cup of tea, or you think that’s even a bad idea or wrong or whatever. But the point is, Elon is not just trying to get rich to be rich. He has some very specific goals, and he has a plan, and he has a focus. And he knows that in order to accomplish big ideas, he’s gotta have a lot of resources. And so it’s a means to an end for him to try and create ways to earn a lot of money, make customers happy in the process so that they exchange their money with him so that he has a lot of resources to go do big things. Right. Think of Steve Jobs and all the others. You know, entrepreneurs we’ve talked about, we got a whole book about it that we’ll mention. These are people who, when they have a big vision, a big idea, they need to find ways to accumulate resources. And so, yeah, John Rockefeller was rich. He had a lot of money and it was required because some of the ideas he were, was doing, were big ideas for his day, you know, from an early age. his mom taught him to get money and give money.

Brittany: That sounds like a rap song when I hear that. Like, get money, give money. I don’t know. I was like giggling when I say I read that earlier.

Connor: Scratch talking about getting jiggy with it, you know? Yeah. and his mom was a huge influence on his life. Brittany, have you ever heard of the phrase snake oil salesman?

Brittany: I have. It’s basically someone who’s like selling something that doesn’t work. It used to be like a tonic or a potion. I almost had oils, but I don’t wanna make anybody mad. And I do use essential oils. So I’m allowed to say that, but, it’s supposed to be like, it’s when I was like, this pot’s gonna cure everything. It’s also gonna make you rich and it’s gonna make your hair grow back. And it’s like all a fraud. Like, it’s like a traveling salesman that’s hawking junk.

Connor: Absolutely. That is essentially what his father did. you know, he wasn’t really in young John’s life, but his, mom and her religious lifestyle really shaped like his strong character. And without his father around, he had to take on a lot of the extra responsibility at home. So, think of him as a young boy, right? He’s having to grow up, really quickly too.

Brittany: Yeah. And so, like you said, his mother was extremely important to him in his life. And even though he had to kind of step up and be the father figure, cuz he had younger siblings, he always went to his mother for advice. So this was somebody who was very influential in his life and she always taught him about self-control, focus and work ethic. And he later applied these all into his life to become what he became. And we’ll get there. But his mother taught him, and I love this quote so much control of self wins the battle for it means control of others. Now, you and I are not big fans of controlling others, and I don’t think that’s what she didn’t mean, like the government controlling us. It was basically the whole thing of like, you can’t change the world until you change yourself. it’s like that. So it’s persuasion.

Connor: Persuasion Of other people.

Brittany: Persuasion or even just being someone of influence, someone over other people.

Connor: Leadership.

Brittany: Leadership. Yes. That’s a good way to say it. So self-control and controlling it is so important. And that’s one of my favorite like quotes from, cuz this comes from the chapter of the Tuttle Twins Guide to, it’s not Courageous entrepreneurs.

Connor: Inspiring entrepreneurs.

Brittany: Inspiring Entrepreneurs, which I was reading last night, and was my favorite quote. Cause there’s just so much power in wisdom in this. And I shouldn’t condone this next part. The parents are gonna get mad at me. But one thing I really admired about him is he didn’t get good grades in school. Cause I did not get good grades in school, but this didn’t like condemn him, like, you know, tie him to a poor future, obviously because of the role in his household. He wasn’t able to get good grades. He just had to be a dad to his siblings as well as try to be a student. But this should also tell you a lot about the public school system because his teachers just like, kind of dismissed him as being slow and untalented. They didn’t try to help him. They were, you know, they were just like, oh, he’s the kid that’s never quiet. He’s never focused. Like he’s all over the place. so yeah, so he wasn’t great in school.

Connor: I mean, it’s interesting though because he, he may not have been known in school by his teachers for being like, reserved and, quiet. But what’s interesting I think is he was often admired by adults for being able to control his emotions. Like his mom was trying to teach him. And once he had a goal, he was very focused on setting out to accomplish it. He knew, you know, he wasn’t as naturally like gifted as his classmates. And so he learned that he was gonna have to try that much harder to become something more than he was. And, he wanted, you know, more than the life he was given. and he was determined to get it. He wasn’t content with like, looking around at his, you know, mom raised in him and what he was having to do. Like he aspired for a better life. We see this, especially with immigrants a lot. right. Really trying to like bootstrap themselves up working two jobs, four jobs, sacrificing really trying to give their kids, you know, or themselves a leg up in life. And I think that’s something we see in John’s life as well.

Brittany: Another thing we see, and you and I have talked about this a lot, is that traditional schooling is not for everyone, right? It’s not a one size fits all game. And Rockefeller didn’t really think he was going to thrive in his public school, and he wasn’t thriving. So he ended up dropping out and he enrolled in a business course and he poured all his time into learning, like bookkeeping and penmanship. It was before computers, so your penmanship mattered. and banking. And so once he entered the workforce, which was before, you know, some of his schoolmates who maybe went off to college, his ability to not only have these hard skills, we call these like the skills, like, knowing how to code today on a computer to be like a hard skill where like knowing how to work with people and a people person would be like a soft skill. That’s what they call them. But, so he had all these hard skills he could do, you know, banking, he could bookkeep, but he had this ability to control his emotions and make really rational choices. And that was key here. That’s what helped him become a success. Self-control isn’t only important for business either. It’s, honestly what I like to call a superpower in life. Because once you learn to control your emotions, I mean, that’s everything. And I think Rockefeller was kind of a superhero in this respect.

Connor: Well, I think we, because we see so often, especially with kids, I mean, every kid has to kinda learn this, but you see with so many adults, they’re like just big kids, you know, they’re throwing temper tantrums, even at, at work and all over the internet. And you’re like, you know, what are you doing? Like, yeah, you’re not gonna be a leader. You’re not gonna be influential. You, it’s like you haven’t matured and grown up. And, you know, so with John, as I said, he was like really focused on pursuing his dreams, but he needed to move, right? Like there weren’t a lot of opportunities where he lived. And so he did. And, once he moved, it was to Cleveland, he created a list of all the top financial institutions or companies in the city. And he went door to door, explaining, you know, his understanding of business, bookkeeping, his eagerness to learn, you know, and really just showing his ambitious attitude. I mean, that’s got, you know, a lot of bravery to it. To kind of just go to these companies and say, here I am. I know this. I wanna learn more. I’m, you know, ready to go. And, you know, we’ve talked before a lot about failure, right? And, how frankly helpful failure can be too, teach us? And if we let it, rather than just, oh, you know, victim mentality. Blame it on other people. And, ambitious people, even like John, you know, still fail. And, but what’s different, is that they just refused to stop trying. Yeah. And, so Rockefeller, right, his door-to-door attempts didn’t make him a rich man overnight. It’s not like all of a sudden he met some, you know, crazy wealthy person who gave him a, you know, good job. And he started thinking hand over fist. he was focused on just trying to be the best businessman he could be. And he controlled what he was able to control his character, his drive, his ambition, his, you know, the skills that he had. And eventually, he bought a small, produce firm. It was called Hewitt and Tuttle, which is fun. Tuttle.

Brittany: I was gonna say, is that a relation to the Tuttle twins?

Connor: No. Really. And, you know, this was his first experience of being in control of a company. And after all his training that he had been doing as these experiences, he was finally getting a chance to show what he learned. And so here’s kind of where he, you know, puts a pin on the map and starts to really prove himself.

Brittany: So this part of the story I really thi find interesting. So he was kind of loud in school, you know, known for not necessarily being in class clown, but not necessarily reserved, the complete opposite in business. He was the quiet businessman. He kept his thoughts to himself because he wanted to think everything out before he spoke. And this was, you know, because of everything his mother taught him about self-control, he never cracked under pressure. He kept calm. he once said, success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth close. And I, the reason this is funny to me is, so a lot of times when we think of entrepreneurs, it’s like these big personalities I think of, what’s the guy in Ironman? What’s his name? Tony Stewart is like this like loud, arrogant, you know, kind of guy. And, that’s how I think when I think of entrepreneurs, cuz I know a lot of entrepreneurs who fit that bill, but Rockefeller noticed other business leaders, their heads got too big. Their e probably like your ego getting too big, like your sense of self. You think you’re too important. And he did not wanna let that happen to him. and he had seen a lot of really good business ideas fail all because these people didn’t keep that. They were just ranting their mouths. They were getting too arrogant and because of it, their businesses just collapsed.

Connor: it’s interesting because to have that kind of control in your life, you have to, you know, self-reflect. You, have to analyze yourself, thinking about, you know, who you are, who you want to become. That’s something that a lot of kids, you know, have not yet learned how to do. It’s something that a lot of adults don’t do. And, so here he was showing, you know, demonstrating the power of this. And, so to the kids listening out there, right, the more that we can kind of critique ourselves, learn from mistakes, point at like, think in our head, what did I do wrong? What can I do better? And really try and focus on improving. You’re gonna be light years ahead of other people. This isn’t just for entrepreneurs, right? Everyone can be doing this. And it’s another lesson that we learn, with his story, I think is that self-improvement is an important part of becoming the very best person that we can be. The most successful, version, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, this is just an impactful life lesson, that we can really focus on. And, you know, as John as he started making more money, he never lost sight of what was important. He stayed grounded. He stayed active in his church and his community. he was really trying to stay focused on those core things that matter to him so much.

Brittany: So where the turning point is, cuz as we talked about like this, he turned out to be one of the richest men in America, I think for a while. Maybe. I don’t think the richest, but one of them, right? I think so. I can’t, I don’t know what place he was. Well, so this will happen because the oil boom occurred in America, and this was in the 1860s. So this kind of changed the course of history. If you look into what people used to have to do to get sources of energy, like it involves like whale hunting, like crazy stuff. Look that up on your own. Cause we didn’t have this near, we thought it was limitless source of energy, until the ni or 1860s. So Rockefeller got in on the ground floor, so to speak because he was only a hundred miles away from where all this oil was coming from, like this main oil region. And the industry was a bit of a mess in the early days. But Rockefeller was, he’s like ordered a chaos, right? Because he’s so clear-headed that he’s always sitting back and thinking, all right, what is my best mood? And so this chaos kind of gave him an opportunity to say, all right, I’m gonna take what these people are completely jumbling and I’m gonna do this, right? So people used to just the other oil companies, they were discarding gasoline. They didn’t think, because that’s a, what’s called a byproduct of oil. So like buy meaning, like bicycle, more than one, like more than one wheel. So it’s like the other things that can come from this one product. So people just thought the gasoline was like a waste. They were dumping it in the ocean even. And Rockefeller was like, wait a second, we can use this as fuel. And this is huge. I mean, think about your parents filling up their cars with gas all the time. That’s because of Rockefeller largely. and he was the one that also realized that you could take the tar from oil and turn it into pavement. And he also discovered other byproducts, one of them being candles like candles were made from this. So by 1870, he had formed the standard oil company, and his profits, I mean, he was, that’s where the money starts being made.

Connor: Yeah, big time. and that’s, you know, where he makes his name is, is, you know, it becomes even more wealthy. A lot of people learn about him, but there’s so much in his life that I think provide a lot of takeaways. It’s why we included him in the Tuttle Twins Guide to Inspiring Entrepreneurs. There’s a lot about his life that I think we can learn from as well. And, you know, some takeaways here. No matter how rich he got, you know, he always remembered the lessons from his youth and, you know, stayed grounded, kept his emotions in check, tried to stay humble, you know, going to the church dedicated to his family life gave a lot to charity. And that’s quite different from, you know, the Tony Starks of the world, right? the kind of egotistical, brash, you know, selfish, big hot shots that you see in the world. He was really trying to not follow that path. He didn’t let anyone else control his destiny. He was really focused on his goals. He knew that he wanted to be more than he was born into. He wanted to kind of create success, create opportunity to improve his life. And so he took his mother’s advice, he made it happen. That I think is what the American dream is all about. So many life lessons that we can think of, whether you wanna be an entrepreneur or not, especially that importance of self-improvement, right? Focusing on our actions, our behaviors. What can we do to improve? How can we be better people? you’re gonna be very successful in life. The more that you can be focused on those things. Some great advice to be gleaned from his story. Check out the Tuttle twins Guide to Inspiring Entrepreneurs. You can find it at We’ll link to some stuff about john at on the show notes page. Thanks for subscribing. Make sure you share the episode or the podcast with some friends. We’d love to get even more people listening and appreciate you and your family listening. Brittany, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.