David Gerken
7 min readMay 31, 2019

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Can’t Find Your Way in Life? Read this Nine Page Mark Twain Essay

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

Mark Twain’s essay The Turning Point of My Life will take you fifteen minutes to read and could change the course of your life forever. Why? Because in recounting the events of his life that led him to a literary career, Twain teaches a universal lesson about how to live life. What is that lesson? Allowing your life to be governed by the marrying of fate and who you are at your core (what Twain calls temperament).

Twain wrote the essay in 1910 at the request of Harper’s Bazaar, which asked several prominent writers to relate the one incident in their lives that led them to the literary profession (here’s a free link to the essay: www.online-literature.com/twain/1324). At the outset, Twain calls BS on the question itself, arguing that there were several turning points that led him to a literary career, none more significant than the others. And, most important, every one of those turning points was random and dictated by fate.

Twain’s recounting of how he found the literary life offers a clear picture of how this can help you find YOUR way in life. Here it is.

A measles epidemic changes everything

Twain gives the lion’s share of credit for becoming a writer to a measles epidemic that ravaged his small Iowa town when he was twelve. What? Yes. With his father recently deceased and his mother carrying the burden of the family, a measles epidemic killed several people in town. Twain was cooped up inside for weeks and worried constantly that he would be the next to get sick and die. One day he couldn’t take it anymore so he fled the house and jumped into bed with a friend who was dying. He just wanted to end it. Sure enough, he got sick and for the next two weeks was on the verge of death. Fortunately, he survived.

But his mother was so upset with him that she took him out of school and apprenticed him to a printer. For the next ten years young Twain traveled around, as printers did, and worked on setting several books. One of those books, about the Amazon River and its exotic birds and animals, captivated him. He resolved that he would go there once he had enough money.

Soon thereafter, fate stepped in when he found a fifty-dollar bill on the street, a lot of money in the 1850s. He advertised his find, but nobody claimed the money so…

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David Gerken

Meditation and Mindfulness teacher. Dad of three precious kids. Former writer for THE WEST WING. Follow me at davidgerken.net.