I love quotes. They are part of our folklore – historical epiphanies that help guide us along the river of life. The intended meanings of some of our most cherished and durable quotes, however, seem to evolve over time to support changing societal mores. For example: In 1935, after Alexander Graham Bell’s passing, the Winona Times quoted him as saying, “When one door closes, another door opens.” This is generally thought to mean that we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us – a warning that if we focus on our losses, we may fail to see serendipitous opportunities that may appear. Heeding this warning can help to shorten the process of mourning a loss and moving on to the next opportunity. But is this the message Bell intended? By all counts, this Scottish-born American inventor, scientist, and engineer was a meticulous researcher and persistent experimenter – much like his contemporary, Thomas Edison, who, when asked about his many failed attempts to invent a workable lightbulb said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
If you study the processes powerful, innovative people embody, the current reading of Bell’s quote seems far too passive. Motivated, goal-oriented people might want to consider a more aggressive, self-directed interpretation: First, the fact that a door is closing is not a failure, but an indispensable step in the process of success. Seen in this light, why spend countless days, weeks or years sadly observing the closing door. Recognizing that it will not lead to our desired destination, we slam it shut then actively seek the next door or create one that did not previously exist. And rather than waiting for it to open, we push it open, kick it open or, if that fails, knock it off its hinges with a battering ram – whatever it takes.
Because she was a woman, Marie Curie was prohibited from higher education in her native Poland (then controlled by Russia). Not to be deterred by poverty and political persecution, she moved to Paris in 1891 seeking alternative education for women. Perhaps best known for the development of the theory of “radioactivity” and for developing mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals during WW1, Madame Curie was the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields. In addition to adding two elements to the Periodic Table, polonium and radium, Marie Curie created innumerable previously non-existent doorways to innovation – doors through which unknown thousands have passed on the road to achievement of their goals.