Have you ever heard of a man named Paracelsus? He did a very good thing for you and me. In the year 1500 AD, the doctors in Europe studied the work of a man named Galen. His works had been respected for 1300 years. That's an incredibly long time. You talk about well established! What he wrote became like sacred doctrine. If Galen wrote it, it was so, and that's all there was to say about it.
Now a lot of the things he wrote were accurate. But a lot of it was garbage. For example, supposedly inside each person were what were called the Four Cardinal Humors. Humor comes from the Latin umor meaning fluid or moisture.
The four Humors were Phlegm, Choler, Blood, and Melancholy. In order to be in good health, so the theory went, a person had to have a proper balance between these humors. The whole thing sounds pretty humorous, don't you think? But if you didn't have enough of one of these humors, or if you had too much of one, then you were sick. That's what disease was. So to make you well, the doctor's job was to restore the balance.
Galen also believed that each person had a certain balance that was just right for that particular individual. Therefore, each illness in each person was unique.
So the doctor, with his special knowledge, might find you had, say, too much of one of your humors, like blood for example. And he would treat you by making you bleed for awhile. One of their techniques was to attach leaches to your body to suck out some of your blood. And then you would be well. Now this sounds like a good Monty Python gag, but here were well-respected authorities, diligently studying for years to get their "Doctor of Physic" degree so they could go out and make people sweat and purge and bleed and vomit, and thereby supposedly make them healthy. A lot of the time, as you can probably imagine, the treatment killed the patient. But after 1300 years, this was a very well-established status quo.
Then along comes a rebel by the name of Paracelsus, who came up with the scandalous idea that something from outside your body, like smoke or germs, could make you sick. What a radical! He was viciously attacked by the medical profession so he never stayed in one place very long, and he lived his life in poverty.
But he never gave up. He felt pretty sure he was right, and he knew if he was right, it would have an enormous impact on the health of everyone.
Since he had no Doctor of Physic degree, he was never allowed to publish his ideas — including his studies of people who worked in mines who all seemed to die of the same thing (now called Miner's Disease) which seriously put in question one of Galen's "sacred" ideas that all diseases were unique.
It wasn't until a couple of decades after Paracelsus died that his work became known and published. He turned out to have been right, and although he never knew what he did, he opened up the way for a whole new approach toward disease, and doctors dramatically increased their effectiveness because of that persistent rebel.
Now some people might consider themselves a failure if they lived a life like Paracelsus — in poverty and scorned and all. But there are more important things in life than just winning or getting everyone's admiration, or collecting and spending a lot of money. Nothing wrong with these things. Not at all. But there's at least one thing that's more important: Being true to your own aspiration.
If it stirs you, if that vision captivates you, if the ideas for that invention haunt you and won't leave you alone, if you have a goal that may even seem petty to others, but it's something you feel is good and right, and you want to try...then do it, no matter how long it takes or who thinks you're a fool. Never give up on something that matters to you.
Adam Khan is the author of Slotralogy, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of What Difference Does It Make?: How the Sexes Differ and What You Can Do About It. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.