Imagine What You Could Be

a parable about potential

Feb 26, 2018 · 7 min read

There was once a man who got laid off.

It was the height of the Great Depression and the economy was in distress. Jobs were non-existent and there seemed to be little to no hope for this poor man.

As he walked home (because he had no car), he couldn’t bear the thought of telling his wife about the layoff.

Kicking the dirt as he walked,

I’ve got no education… I can’t read…. I can’t write… and whats worse, I don’t got any connections to speak of. What am I going to do?

Every step closer to home seemed to settle him deeper and deeper into despair.

When he arrived home, he tearfully told his wife about the layoff and their hopeless situation. Depressed, dejected and beat down, he went to bed.

The next morning, he didn’t get up. He was too depressed. Six days went by and he didn’t as much as roll over. On the seventh day, his wife was reading the paper and saw a help wanted ad. Certain it would cheer her husband up, she rushed into the room to show him.

Get up! Get dressed! The Church is hiring!

The man examined the paper. “Janitor wanted” the ad read. This might be just what I need the man thought.

He jumped up, got dressed, and rushed to the Church as fast as possible.

With the newspaper in hand, the man walked in and asked to interview for the position. Luckily, the pastor was in his office and heard the mans enthusiasm.

The pastor said,

Sir, you seem very enthusiastic about this position. What makes you so interested in being a janitor here at our good Church?

The man explained everything that had happened with the layoff and his depression and told the pastor that he believed God had opened the door for him to have this opportunity.

After a few more questions, the pastor told the man he seemed to be the perfect person for the job.

“You are strong, ambitious, enthusiastic and clearly a man who loves your family and honors God. I would love to give you the janitor position.

The man was elated. He could hardly keep himself from shouting.

Then, the pastor told him about his main responsibility.

Every day at 10:00 am, we receive our packages from the post office. When they arrive, all you have to do is sign for them and distribute them to the appropriate office.

Embarrassed, the man told the pastor that he couldn’t read or write and asked if there was an alternative to this responsibility.

Sir, I’m sorry, the pastor said. “It would bring disgrace to our good Church to make an illiterate responsible for the Churches important packages. I cannot give you the job.

Again, the man found himself discouraged as he walked back home. Again, unsure how he would tell his wife about their misfortune. He decided to stop at a roadside fruit stand and get an apple. After all, he had been so depressed, he hadn’t eaten in days.

He paid the man at the fruit stand and took his apple. As he was walking and eating, he noticed the apple was bruised and overripe and barely edible. Just my luck he thought, I cant get a break.

Frustrated he turned around and headed back to the fruit stand.

I might not be able to control my life but I won’t let this merchant sell me a bad apple without giving him a piece of my mind.

When he arrived back at the fruit stand he noticed how poorly the merchant had displayed the apples. They were stacked too high, causing all the apples at the bottom to bruise. They weren’t well covered, causing them to get overripe. The man walked up to the merchant and expressed his dissatisfaction with the apple and found the merchant to be a hard and unbending man.

After a few minutes of arguing, the man chose to cut his losses and get on his may. The merchant clearly didn’t care about his business or his customers.

The man was so angry about his interaction with the cruel merchant, he forgot all about the pastor and the janitor position.

I can’t believe it, he thought to himself. Who would be so reckless with their business? Who would be so careless with their customers?

When he arrived home, he told his wife all about the interaction with the merchant.

Well, If you think you can do it better, go do it better.

The man was taken back that his wife would be so bold but it got his attention. That evening, he laid in bed and thought of what he might do.

I’ve never run a business, I’ve got no education, I don’t see how this could possibly be a good idea. But I know one thing, I can do it better than that damned ole merchant I met today.

The next morning, the man got up with the sun. He took the last $50 he had and bought a bushel of apples (totaling 126 apples).

He built a basic roadside stand out of some old wood he had behind his house and set it all up a few hundred yards from the merchant he had argued with the day before.

As he was setting up, he noticed some of his apples looked a little dirty so he polished them before putting them on display. When he came across an apple that didn’t meet his standard, he would give them away for free to a struggling neighbor who owned a horse farm. He figured the bad apples shouldn’t be thrown away but they also weren’t going to be served to his customers.

He also noticed that people were more likely to stop and pick up an apple on their way home from work as opposed to the morning when they were going to work. So, the man moved his stand across the street to make it more convenient for his customers.

With this attention to detail and care for his customers, the man quickly garnered a reputation and his business began to expand rapidly.

Within a year, he had expanded to five additional location and was making money hand over fist.

There was a problem though…

Since the man couldn’t read or write, he had never opened a bank account. Every day, he would bring home all the cash from the fruit stand. He had money is mason jars, shoe boxes, kitchen drawers, and closets. There was money everywhere!

Concerned, his wife pleaded with him to take the money down to the bank so it would be safe.

What if our house were to catch fire or get robbed, she reasoned.

She had a point. So, the next morning, the man loaded all the cash in the back of his pickup truck, securing it with a tarp and throwing a wheelbarrow on top for weight.

When he arrived at the bank, he filled the wheelbarrow with the money and threw the tarp over it so people wouldn’t know what it was. He was a modest man and didn’t want to cause a fuss.

He wheeled the heap of money into the bank and approached the first teller he saw.

Can I help you, she asked.

Yes, I’m not a member of this bank but I’d like to open an account with the money I have here in this wheelbarrow.

Shocked by the sheer height of the money, the teller knew it had to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Without saying a word, she ran as quickly as she could and returned with the president of the bank.

This man says he wants to open an account the teller told the president.

The president, not sure what to think, took the man into his office and assured him he would take good care of him.

Once they had counted all the money, the president thanked the man for choosing his bank and asked him to sign the deposit slip and he would be all done.

Embarrassed, the man said to the president of the bank,

Sir, I am sorry. I can’t read or write. I can’t sign my name

The president was astounded.

Are you kidding me? You’ve been able to amass all this wealth in such a crippling economic depression and… you’re illiterate?!?!

Just imagine what you would be if you could read and write.

The man perked up and said…

That’s easy! I’d be the janitor at the Church down the street.


A few weeks after I graduated college, I asked my grandpa how he became so successful. He was in his 70's at the time and had come from nothing and managed to build a multi-million dollar business. Naturally, I wanted a step by step guide. Instead, he gave me something of much greater value. This story.

My Grandpa believed that formal education was not a prerequisite for success. In fact, it could be more of a deterrent, a stumbling block, and a barrier to achievement.

He did strongly believe in self education though. Learning by doing and being willing to stand for (or against) something.

Take what you will from this story. As for me, it will forever remind me of something my grandfather told me after sharing this story for the first time.

I asked him to sum up what made him successful. He said,

I wasn’t smart enough to know I couldn’t achieve it, so I did.

Thanks for reading! You can find more on my site,


Doug Stewart

Written by

Dale Carnegie instructor | TEDx Presenter | Coach | Podcaster | Storyteller — Lives in Raleigh, North Carolina

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