"'Men,' said the little prince, 'crowd into express trains without knowing what they are looking for. So they become agitated and rush round in circles…' After a pause, he added: 'It is not worth the trouble...'
In this bi-weekly Influential Books post, I’m introducing The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry.
The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) mascarades as children’s story, but its message should be heeded by adults. The narrator meets a curious young “prince” who tells of his journey to Earth and many encounters along the way. This classic oozes with metaphors on the human condition, the challenges and joys of life, and the strangeness of the adult world.
Selling over 200 million copies worldwide translated into 250 languages, The Little Prince is one of the best-selling single-volume books of all time.
Author Profile: Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
Antoine De Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, writer, poet, and aviator, born in 1900. Prior to publishing The Little Prince (1943), he flew for the French Air Force. In July of 1944, he disappeared over the Mediterranean on his last assigned reconnaissance mission.
The setting for The Little Prince was inspired by his own 1935 plane crash in the Sahara desert.
Who Should Read This
- Anyone worried they’ve become an adult.
- Anyone who’s abandoned the curious, imaginative, and creative child they once were.
- Anyone looking for a short and simple classic (but one that makes you reflect deeply).
How This Resonates With Me (with quotes from The Little Prince)
1. As we grow older, we sometimes forget we have an imagination.
"As a result of which I have been in touch, throughout my life, with all kinds of serious people. I have spent a lot of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at very close quarters which I'm afraid has not greatly enhanced my opinion of them."
The young prince laughs at the nature of adults and their need to rationalize everything with facts and figures instead of feel with imagination and heart.
Unless we live and work in a world of creativity and art, it’s easy to lose our sense of imagination. After 5 years of studying engineering at Georgia Tech and 5 more years working as a very logical and analytical consultant, I wasn’t exactly living a life driven by creativity.
I’ve come to believe that at our core, we are creative beings. We have an inherent need to create. One of my goals on this journey was to rediscover that dormant side of me. Through writing, photography, videography, and a whole lot of philosophizing, I now confidently proclaim: ‘I am creative.’
You may not think you are creative. But think back. Waaaay back. Did you ever make up ridiculous games as child? Ever imagine you were in a distant world battling fictitious enemies? Maybe build pillow and blanket forts that transported you to a new kingdom? How fun was that?
That’s how fun rediscovering your imagination can be. Just because we’re older does not mean imagination needs to die.
2. How you see the world defines your world.
"'What! You dropped down from the sky?' 'Yes,' I replied modestly. 'Oh! That is funny.' And the little prince brook into a lovely peal of laughter which annoyed me to no end. I like my misfortunes to be taken seriously."
The little prince marvels at how seriously adults take things. It’s a reminder that we don’t have much control over life’s situations, but we do have control over our attitude and how we choose to view those situations.
When we change our perspective, problems become opportunities. Growing pains become growth challenges. Mishaps become game-like obstacles.
Traveling long-term with no set agenda has made me look at “mishaps” in a new light. A 12-hour bus ride is an opportunity to read or write. Accidentally hopping off at the wrong train stop is a chance to discover a quaint town. Missing the last bus in the middle of Croatia is a challenge to try hitchhiking. Getting caught in the rain is a reminder that it’s kinda fun to get caught in the rain.
3. Sometimes we focus too much on what we can see on surface, and not enough on things that cannot be seen.
"Grownups love figures. When you talk to them about a new friend, they never ask questions about essential matters. They never say to you: 'What does his voice sound like? What games does he prefer? Does he collect butterflies?' They ask you: 'How old is he? How many brothers does he have? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father earn?'"
As serious adults, it’s easier to focus on things that can be seen, measured, and quantified. We understand them more. If you’ve been educated in a very analytical and rational field like I have, there’s no room for things like “feeling.”
This isn’t to say I think buildings and bridges should be built on feelings instead of physics and mathematics. But I believe all great creations are led by feeling and heart, not by facts and figures.
Challenging myself to view things at face value is a constant challenge on the road, especially with new people and places. For example, my first impressions of Estonians: not very friendly. They have a cold demeanor and are slow to smile. But as I befriended more Estonians, I realized they’re just as friendly as any other culture. As I dove deeper into the Estonian history and culture, I began to see beneath the surface and make my own conclusions.
Could it maybe have something to do with Estonians living under communist Soviet rule for over 50 years? And before that, Nazi rule? I’m no psychologist, but maybe blindly befriending strangers isn’t default mode.
4. It’s easy to judge others, much tougher to judge yourself.
"It is far more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then indeed you are very wise."
Casting judgment is so simple. It comes natural to us. The harder, yet more important task is to look critically at yourself and recognize when you’re not living up to your own expectations. Knowing that you only have control to change yourself, and not others, is a helpful reminder to judge internally before externally.
5. It’s important to tend to the garden of your mind.
"Good seeds come from good plants and bad seeds come from bad plants. But seeds are invisible. They remain dormant in the depth of the earth until one of them suddenly decides to wake up."
The little prince talks about the baobab plants that risk taking over his tiny planet. It’s easy to rid of these intrusive shrubs while they’re small, but almost impossible to destroy after they’ve established deep roots.
To me, this is a metaphor for positive and negative thoughts that are constantly being planted in our mind by other people, organizations, and sometimes ourselves.
There are good seeds and bad seeds. It’s easy to get rid of the bad thoughts while they’re young and before they overtake your mind. It’s just as important to feed and water the good thoughts.
Mind the seeds being planted. Kill the bad seeds, feed the good ones. Habitually tending your mental garden is most important because it influences your view of the world.
"It may be convenient sometimes to put off one's work until another day. But in the case of baobas, it is always catastrophic to do so."
6. When you’re curious, there’s no excuse for being bored.
The little prince looks at everything with a sense of wonderment and endless curiosity. He asks more questions than he answers. Everything seems to interest and amuse him.
I’ve learned to ask A LOT of questions when I travel. By not knowing things, you risk looking naive or dumb. But once you don’t care how you’re perceived, you open yourself up to growth.
7. Be an explorer, not a geographer.
"But I am not an explorer. I have no explorers on my planet. It is not the geographer's task to count the cities, the rivers, the mountains, the oceans, and the deserts. The geographer is far too important to waste his time browsing around. He never leaves his office. But he receives explorers. He questions them and notes down what they recall of their travels."
The little prince tells of a planet where a geographer lives. The geographer was far too intellectual and important to explore, so he just documented, judged, and validated the discoveries of explorers. The explorer vs. geographer metaphor is a powerful one. It reminds me of North Face’s slogan: “Never Stop Exploring.”
Are you on the ground, searching, doing, and acting? Or are you behind a desk, observing, surveying, and judging?
There’s a musician who goes by the stagename Youth Lagoon. I’ve listened to his recent album countless times over the past several months. The chorus of the song “17” is especially moving:
"When I was seventeen, my mother said to me: 'Don't stop imagining. The day that you do is the day that you die."
Take a listen. Close your eyes. Think about the words. Feel the music. Let it take you somewhere. Back when you were 17. Or 12. Or 6. And remember that time when you had an imagination that couldn’t be contained.
Want to learn more? The Little Prince is available on Amazon: The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry
Have any of these lessons resonated with you? Let’s discuss in the comments below.