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A surprising life lesson from the discovery of penicillin

You know, antibiotics are needed!

But what exactly can the story of the discovery of the antibiotic penicillin teach me, you might ask?

Just wait!

What if I tell you that this special story has to do with you having a meaningful life, making a difference and having hope in your life?

That sounds better, doesn’t it?

Just stay with me for now and you will see a surprising life lesson unfolding before you.


The heroic part of the story of discovering penicillin

There is no question that Alexander Fleming is considered one of the heroes of history, someone who changed the world and made a difference.

After all, because of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin thousands of lives have been saved and millions of people have been helped. Doors were opened for complicated surgeries, organ transplants and more. And Fleming himself won a Nobel Prize and became one of the most famous and celebrated men in history.

Someone you think you can never be.

You think you can never make a difference, be famous or change someone’s life.

You think only people as outstanding as Fleming can do so.

What if I tell you that Fleming was – but also wasn’t – that outstanding.

The story behind the story

Fleming’s story is much more than a heroic story of one smart man. It is much more than a scientific discovery story.

There is a story behind the story!

Fleming actually never planned to discover penicillin.

It was pure luck.

He was actually just growing some bacteria in little plates called Petri dishes for some kind of experiment. Being a little clumsy he forgot to put lids on some of the Petri dishes. And he also forgot to close the window properly.

As a result, mold from the surrounding fell into his Petri dishes.

Luckily, Fleming had a deep look into his Petri dishes instead of being embarrassed and throwing them away.

And interestingly, he saw that the mold had destroyed the bacteria in the Petri dishes.

Luckily, Fleming was able to realize that something extraordinary had happened in front of him.

Because the mold he saw was Penicillium notatum and it produced something we now call penicillin.

One sometimes finds

what one is not looking for

– Alexander Fleming

Realizing what happens

Does the fact that the discovery of penicillin was an accident make it less fascinating and less world-changing? Of course not! No matter how the discovery happened, lives were saved, people were helped and doors were opened.

The real strength and genius of Fleming were to realize and use what was happening in front of him. Imagine Fleming would not have realized the importance of penicillin, would have thrown it away and would have gone home?

He would not have been famous, antibiotics might have been discovered – but much later – and all the medical achievements would have been postponed.

And we would have missed our life lesson!

Hope, Patience & Opportunities 

Because, if a man can make a world-changing discovery by being clumsy, then there is hope for each and every one of us to do something unthinkable. In our own world with all the special people around us, we can make a difference as well.

Maybe right now you feel hopeless, stuck, and unimportant or that your own potential is not recognized.

Please be patient.

Be patient with everything around you and with yourself as well.

In order to build something strong and sustainable, you have to invest time and energy now; but the results might not manifest themselves for a while.

It needs to be noted that Fleming’s discovery was published in a scientific paper but was not met right away by the big enthusiasm you might expect. It took some more years before the importance and value of penicillin was acknowledged, and methods were established (by other scientists) to produce enough penicillin to be used as medicine.

Be prepared.

Look and find your own way and your own voice and be unique, might it be with writing, music, being an entrepreneur or any other kind of arts. Learn and practice your skills.

Expect the unexpected.

Be curious and look for opportunities in unexpected places. You just might be surprised at what you find.

If something extraordinary comes your way, be able to realize that. And then grab the opportunity and use what is in front of you.

If a man can make a world-changing discovery

by being clumsy,

then there is hope for each and every one of us to

do something unthinkable.

Final thoughts

It gives hope that the real strength and genius of Fleming was to realize and grab the opportunity lying in front of him.

And it gives hope that you too can make use of your potential, make a difference and live a meaningful life by being patient, prepared and expecting the unexpected.

Over the centuries until now, there were many people who experienced this.

  • About 60 years before Fleming another famous scientist, Louis Pasteur, stated out of his own experience:

‘Chance favors the prepared mind.’

  • And 2000 years before that, philosopher Seneca, one of the smartest men in ancient Rome, understood the truth of hope, patience and opportunity:

‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’

(Yes, it was Seneca! No matter what some quotes on the Internet tell you!)

  • In our days, it was Oprah Winfrey who understood this truth and reconfirmed it:

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity.

If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.”

  • And a now professional well-paid musician summed it up in his own words:

‘Without those hundreds of unpaid hours spent fiddling with my recording gear, I would not have found my own sound and my own approach. This required patience.’

I hope you have this patience and will one day realize the opportunities coming along!


jackon opportunity dances

pictures courtesy of orlandobodyfitdc &

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Hi I'm Ilka, a self-development writer and lovable scientist with a knowledgeable expertise in brain science. I help people realize the power our behavior has on our brain - and the other way around.

Nini - June 15, 2016

Interesting to read! Don’t we all need our potion of luck in life? And we all have a potion of luck in our lives. In one or the other way. Coming across something like “the invention” of penicillin by means of luck has been a very lucky case for us all. ??

    simplyilka - June 15, 2016

    Hi Nini!

    Thanks for your comment.

    You are absolutely right. The ‘invention’ of penicillin has really been a lucky case for all of us. I personally have to thank batches of antibiotics for still being alive.

    Thanks for reading and sharing and all the best to you, Ilka

Ella - June 15, 2016

Hi Ilka!

Thanks for this post of Hope.

You are right, just like all the other guys you quoted in your examples. Life is a combination of luck, training, being prepared and patiently waiting to use what you prepared for. And OMG! Patience is one the hardest things to do.

Glad to have you back and looking forward to reading more, Ella

    simplyilka - June 15, 2016

    Hi Ella!

    Thanks for the welcome back. I am very thankful for your loyalty and friendship.

    You are right. Patience is one of the hardest things to do. It is also one of the most important things to do.

    Thanks and all the best to you, Ilka

Rob - June 15, 2016

I wonder how many great breakthroughs were missed because people viewed it as a mistake rather than being patient and looking for the opportunity.

It makes me want to be more aware and open to all possibilities.

    simplyilka - June 15, 2016

    Hi Rob!

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I wonder as well how many potential breakthroughs ended up in the trash and overlooked. Hopefully none of ours 😉

    I am glad you want to be open for all possibilities. Way to go!

    Have a great day, Ilka

Michelle Russell - June 15, 2016

Ilka, thanks for the story about this unique discovery! You’re right that it does offer hope, and the impetus to look for so-called “accidents” in our lives that may hold surprises. And now I’m really curious to know who the well-known musician is in the quote you used near the end of your post!

    simplyilka - June 15, 2016

    Hi Michelle!

    Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I am glad you see the hope this story reveals, and I truly wish that something outstanding will pass by your way.

    The musician (and composer) I refer to is Peter Buffet 😉

    All the best to you, Ilka

Myra Hall - June 16, 2016

Hi Ilka,
Hope is in short supply in this world, it seems, and you have delivered a good sized dose with this post. Thanks for the encouragement and looking forward to your next!

    simplyilka - June 16, 2016

    Hi Myra!

    Thank you for your encouraging words.

    Yes, hope is in short supply. If I could make a tiny difference and offer some hope, that would be amazing.

    Thanks for sharing and have a great day, Ilka

Ann Davis - June 16, 2016

Hey IIka,

My favorite is “You think you can never make a difference, be famous or change someone’s life”

People miss opportunities because they think they have to be famous to make a difference-great post to stir our minds to start and be patient with our dreams.

    simplyilka - June 16, 2016

    Hi Ann!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are right, so many people don’t believe that they are good enough or important enough to make a difference. But we all can make a difference in somebodies life. We might have already done it without knowing it.

    You are on a good way in fulfilling your dreams Ann. Keep going 🙂

    All the best, Ilka

Mark Tong - June 16, 2016

Wonderful post Ilka – keep writing, we need this!

    simplyilka - June 16, 2016

    Hi Mark!

    I am glad you liked the post. Thank you so much for the encouragement Mark 🙂

    Have a great day, Ilka

Toby Nwazor - June 17, 2016

Hi Simplyilka
This article is simply refreshing and encouraging. People need to learn their mistakes are one of their greatest assets.Never be afraid to fail.Great post.

    simplyilka - June 18, 2016

    Thank you, Toby!

    I am glad you liked the post. You are right. Mistakes happen and are failures are definitely part of life. And we can always learn from them.

    Have a great day, Ilka

Marylin Warner - June 17, 2016

Ilka, this is excellent!
My mother is 98 next month. When she was 6, her father died of a urinary tract infection that because there was no penicillin, went into the bladder and then the kidneys. It was a miserable way to die, and years later a doctor told my grandmother that a few dollars worth of penicillin would have saved him.
So this post was very interesting to me. Thanks for a great blog.
Marylin Warner recently posted…The Practice of RememberingMy Profile

    simplyilka - June 18, 2016

    Hi Marylin!

    Thanks for sharing this real life sad family story. It touched my heart. It shows how important the discovery of penicillin was, and how hard life could be before the discovery.

    Sometimes I feel like I want to hug your mother because I know so much about her through you.

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing!
    All the best to you and your family, Ilka

Donna Merrill - June 18, 2016

Hi Ilka,

Wow what an inspiration! It does take patience and persistence when doing just about anything in our lives. This analogy of penicillin is wonderful. Great things don’t happen overnight.

For us in our lives we must remember this. Apply it to our personal goals. When we do, anything is possible.

Thanks so much,

Donna Merrill recently posted…My 3-Step Email Marketing StrategyMy Profile

    simplyilka - June 19, 2016

    Hi Donna!

    Great things don’t happen overnight! So, so true! And sometimes, even if great things happen suddenly, we can be so overwhelmed and scared that we don’t know what to do with it.

    Patience and persistence are a great way to keep going.

    Thank you for sharing & all the best, Ilka

Sawyerrshouse - June 19, 2016

Great work

    simplyilka - June 19, 2016

    Thank you so much! And thanks for hopping over. A big welcome here, at my blog 🙂

    Have a wonderful day, Ilka

Sherri Matthews - June 23, 2016

Hi Ilka! I absolutely love this post, so inspirational and I love the quotes. I really needed to read this today – you’ll see why after reading my email! This couldn’t have come at a better time. Thank you so much…I have always loved the way you make science so easy to understand while sharing your personal slant to encourage us not to give up. Wonderful, and so lovely to see you again in blogland my friend 🙂 xxx

    simplyilka - June 28, 2016

    Thank you, Sherri!

    I am always happy to be in touch. And thank you for the lovely feedback. I am glad I could encourage you – with a touch of scientific knowledge. You know I love your writing style and your way of being honest and funny at the same time. Can’t wait to read your book.

    Hugs, Ilka

Harleena Singh - July 27, 2016

Hi Ilka,

Good to be over at your blog, after a while 🙂

Yes, I just returned from my blogging break, and it’s wonderful to be back in the blogosphere now. Loved the lessons one can take away from this post – to never give up, to keep the faith, the hope, and be patience.

Like they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day! It was the same case with Fleming and the way he finally created penicillin, which was indeed an interesting story as well.

Thanks for sharing it with us. Have a nice week ahead 🙂
Harleena Singh recently posted…How to Build a Rock Solid Relationship Your Heart will LoveMy Profile

    simplyilka - July 29, 2016

    Hi Harleena!

    Welcome back from your blogging break. I know you were missed by many.

    I’m glad you liked the lessons one can take away from this post. Don’t we all need faith, hope, and patience from time to time?

    I’m sure you can tell your own story of success. I’m glad you never gave up and we can enjoy your motivation and wisdom now.

    Have a great day, Ilka

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