This article sports quite the headline, doesn't it? It might smack of exaggeration. But believe it or not, it's true. Come with me now, on a journey into the past.

How it happened
Picture it: New Jersey, 1995. I was not yet a Fool employee. Perhaps like you, I was an avid reader of the online site. The Fool-founding brothers, David and Tom Gardner, were occasionally recommending stocks, and in this case they picked an online service provider called America Online (AOL).

I was still quite new to investing, and didn't know enough to do much of my own research. But at least I had one thing going for me: I was an AOL customer. I used the service every day and liked what I saw of its user-friendliness, usefulness, and potential. So I bought. I snapped up $3,000 worth of shares and hung on.

Over the following years, the stock would go up and down, sometimes significantly, but I kept holding on. And overall, it mainly went up, and it split and split. I remember checking very regularly -- several times a day! -- how rich I was becoming. I think that near the stock's peak, I was in possession of a 70-bagger! My $3,000 investment had become worth $210,000. If it doubled in value only two more times, I'd be (almost) a millionaire! All from a measly $3,000 investment.

Did I sell shares along the ride up? No. Did I sell at least some near the top, when my mom told me to? Nope. (That strange thudding sound you hear is me kicking myself.) I kept holding on. AOL merged with Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) in 2001, and ever since then, the stock has struggled. I remember when the shares were priced in the $70s. But it's a fuzzy memory. They've been below $20 for almost four years now. I did sell a big chunk of my shares -- in the teens -- when I needed money for a down payment on my house. And I finally got smart and sold some shares to diversify into some other stocks instead of holding such a big chunk of my net worth in a company in which I no longer had the most faith.

I still hold some shares, though, and despite my inclination to curse my stupidity at not selling earlier, I'm still sitting on a handsome profit, even at current levels. My cost basis is ridiculously low, and this has still been one of my best investments, ever. I really shouldn't complain.

How you can do it
If any of this story appeals to you, know that you have a chance to make it yours -- perhaps with an even happier ending, if you make a few decisions differently:

  • First, pay attention to products and services you know, use, and love -- especially if you see more and more people using them. There may a great stock behind them, no matter whether they're big or small companies. There are some wealthy people out there who years ago noticed that a coffee vendor named Starbucks was starting to spread out. And some early users of eBay's service probably saw the financial potential of the company long before you and I did. There are plenty of well-known companies that have done phenomenally well over the past decade or two. Women's-apparel retailer Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS), for example, has rocketed ahead nearly 100-fold since 1993. Large-cap titan Citigroup (NYSE:C) has been a 23-plus-bagger over the past 20 years. Consumer-goods stalwart Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) has been more than a 20-bagger in the same period.

  • Along those same lines, be wary of what you don't understand.

  • If you buy in to such a company, buy to hold. As long as you have faith in the company's future, it's often best to just hang on, despite inevitable hiccups. Don't let some naysayers in the media get you out of a stock because of short-term concerns when you still have long-term confidence. Consider Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). For its earliest investors, it's been more than a 250-bagger. For those who've hung on for just the past decade, during which the company was criticized for having missed the boat on the Internet, it's quintupled their money -- still not bad, eh?

  • Do consider selling at least some of your shares if they rise to levels you can't justify. That was my main mistake -- irrationally and greedily hoping to get even richer. If a stock is trading for more than you know in your heart that it's worth and you still hang on, you're no longer investing -- you're speculating, at great risk.

  • Finally, consider checking out the stocks that David and Tom Gardner are recommending now. They have some darned impressive track records, and you can access their ideas for free. Their Motley FoolStock Advisor newsletter service, launched in April 2002, offers two picks (and two investing styles) each month. Their returns since inception speak for themselves: On average, their recommendations are up 59.5%, vs. 22% for like amounts invested in the S&P 500. Those gains are in part made up of NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), a David pick that has more than doubled in about a year, and Tom's pick Quality Systems (NASDAQ:QSII), which became an eight-bagger for some investors after rising more than 700%. They have a few losers, of course, but those two picks show just how fast money can grow. You can try Stock Advisorfree for 30 days -- and you'll have full access to past issues' recommendations.

Here's to big profits in your future!

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Time Warner and eBay are also Stock Advisor recommendations, and Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick.

SelenaMaranjian'sfavorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. Sheowns shares of Time Warner and Microsoft.For more about Selena, viewher bio and her profile. You might also be interested in these books she has written or co-written:The Motley Fool Money GuideandThe Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.