Ambition And Success
ORISON SWETT MARDEN
Author of “Character,” “Cheerfulness,” etc.
THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY
Copyright, 1919, by
THOMAS Y. CROWELL COMPANY
|I||What is Ambition?||1|
|II||The Satisfied Man||7|
|III||The Influence of Environment||17|
|V||Ambition Knows No Age Limit||37|
|VI||Make Your Life Count||44|
|VII||Visualize Yourself in a Better Position||52|
|IX||Why Don’t You Begin?||68|
WHAT IS AMBITION?
“Ambition is the spur that makes man struggle withdestiny: it is heaven’s own incentive to make purposegreat, and achievement greater.”
In a factory where mariners’ compasses aremade, the needles, before they are magnetized,will lie in any position, wherever they areplaced, but from the moment they have beentouched by the mighty magnet and have beenelectrified, they are never again the same.They have taken on a mysterious power andare new creatures. Before they are magnetized,they do not answer the call of the NorthStar, the magnetic pole does not have any effectupon them, but the moment they have beenmagnetized they swing to the magnetic north,and are ever after loyal and true to their affinity.
Multitudes of people, like an unmagnetizedneedle, lie motionless, unresponsive to anystimulus until they are touched by that mysteriousforce we call ambition.
Whence comes this overmastering impulsewhich pushes human beings on, each to his individualgoal? Where is the source of ambition,and how and when does it gain entranceinto our lives?
How few of us ever stop to think what ambitionreally means, its cause, or significance!Yet, if we could explain just what ambition is,we could explain the mystery of the universe.The instinctive impulse to keep pushing onand up is the most curious and the most interestingthing in human life. It exists inevery normal human being, and is just as pronouncedand as real as the instinct of self-preservation.
I believe this incessant inward prompting,call it ambition or what we will, this somethingwhich pushes men to their goal, is the expressionin man of the universal force of evolutionwhich is flowing Godward, that it is a partof the great cosmic plan of creation. We donot create this urge, we do not manufactureit. Every normal person feels this imperiousmust which is back of the flesh, but not of it,this internal urge which is ever pushing us on,even at the cost of our discomfort and sacrifice.
It is a part of every atom, for all atoms arealive, and this upward impulse is in every oneof them. It is in the instinct of the bee, theant, and in all forms of insect and animal life.
The same kind of urge that is in the seedburied out of sight and which is ever pushingit up and out through the soil, prodding it todevelop itself to the utmost and to give itsbeauty and fragrance to the world, is in eachone of us. It is ever pushing us, urging uson to fuller and completer expression, to alarger, more beautiful life.
But for this desire to get on and get up,this God-urge, everything, even the universeitself, would collapse. Inertia would bringeverything to a standstill.
If we obey this call we expand, blossom intobeauty and develop into fruitage, but if weneglect or dissipate it, if we only half obeyit, we remain mere scrub plants, without floweror fruitage.
That mysterious urge within us never allowsus to rest but is always prodding us for ourgood, because there is no limit to humangrowth there is no satisfying human ambition—man’shigher aspiration. When wereach the height which looks so attractivefrom below, we find our new position as unsatisfyingas the old, and a perpetual call togo higher still rings in our ears. A divineimpulse constantly urges us to reach our highestideal.
“Faith and the ideal still remain the mostpowerful levers of progress and of happiness,”says Jean Finot.
“Did you ever hear of a man who had strivenall his life faithfully and singly toward an object,”asked Thoreau, “and in no measure obtainedit? If a man constantly aspires, is henot elevated? Did ever a man try heroism,magnanimity, truth, sincerity, and find thatthere was no advantage in them,—that it wasa vain endeavor?”
Aspiration finally becomes inspiration andennobles the whole life.
When the general habit of always aspiring,moving upwards and climbing to somethinghigher and better is formed, all the undesirablequalities and the vicious habits will fadeaway; they will die from lack of nourishment.Only those things grow in our nature whichare fed. The quickest way to kill them is tocut off their nourishment.
The craving for something higher and betteris the best possible antidote or remedy for thelower tendencies which one wishes to get ridof.
Every faintest aspiration that springs up inour heart is a heavenly seed within us whichwill grow and develop into rich beauty if onlyit be fed, encouraged. The better things donot grow either in material or mental soil withoutcare and nourishment. Only weeds,briers, and noxious plants thrive easily.
Most young people seem to think that ambitionis a quality that is born in one and whichcannot be materially changed, but the greatestambition may be very materially injured inmany different ways. The habit of procrastination,of postponing, the habit of pickingout the easier tasks and putting off the difficultones, for example, will very seriously impairthe ambition. Whatever affects the ideals affectsthe ambition.
Ambition often begins very early to knockfor recognition. If we do not heed its voice,if it gets no encouragement after appealing tous for years, it gradually ceases to trouble us,because, like any other unused quality orfunction, it deteriorates or disappears when unused.
God is whispering into the ear of all existence,of every created thing “Look up.”Every sentient thing in the universe seems tobe trying to get to a higher level. Everythingis in the process of evolution, and the evolutionis always upward. The butterfly does not becomea grub. It is not the evolutionary law.The grub develops into a butterfly. It isnever the other way.
Be careful how you discourage or refuse toheed that inner voice which commands you togo forward, for if you do it will become lessand less insistent until finally it will cease toprod you, and when ambition is dead deteriorationhas set in.
That inner call to go forward, to push on toa higher good, is God’s voice; heed it. It isyour best friend and will lead you into lightand joy.
THE SATISFIED MAN
F. W. Robertson has said, “Whoever issatisfied with what he does has reached hisculminating point—he will progress no more.Man’s destiny is to be not dissatisfied, but foreverunsatisfied.”
One of the saddest things in life is to seemen and women who started out with highhopes and proud ambitions settle down in mediocrepositions, half satisfied just merely to geta living, to plod along indifferently.
Oh, what tragedy there is in being contentwith mediocrity, in getting into a state whereone is indifferent to the larger, better thingsof life!
When you are satisfied with the life you areliving, with the work you are doing, with thethought you are thinking, with the dreams youare dreaming, satisfied with the character youare building, with your ideals, you may be surethat you are already beginning to deteriorate.
There is little hope for the man who feelssatisfied with himself, who does not know, “thenoble discontent that stirs the acorn to becomean oak.” Man’s ambition to improvesomething somewhere every day to get a littlefurther on and a little higher up than he wasthe day before, an insatiable passion for betteringthings all along the line, is the secret ofhuman progress.
Do you realize, my young friend, that if themotive were big enough, if you had a very unusualincentive, you could materially improveupon what you now are satisfied to consideryour best endeavor? As an employee youmay think you are doing your level best, andare conscientious, loyal, true and industrious;and yet, if a great prize should be offered youto bring your work up to a certain higherstandard for the next sixty days, would yourest until you had succeeded in very greatlyimproving what you now think is your bestwork?
Don’t you think, you who pride yourselfthat it would be impossible to better what youare now doing, that if your name were overthe door as proprietor instead of the name ofthe company you work for you could jackyourself up about fifty per cent; that youwould find some way of doing it? Don’t youthink you would be a little more ambitious,make a little better use of your time, that youwould try to call out a little more ingenuityand effectiveness, a little more resourcefulness?Do you think you would jog along inthe same half-hearted manner, thinking moreof your salary than of your opportunity to absorbthe secrets of your employer’s success?Do you think you would stand by without protestand see the merchandise injured, orwasted, when you could stop it; or that youwould be so careless or make so many blundersyourself? Don’t you think the prize to begained would make you take a little more interestin things than you do now; make you alittle more alert, more eager for the successof the business?
It is a deplorable sight to see so many youngmen and young women apparently so satisfiedwith themselves, with what they are doing,that they have no great yearnings, no insatiablelonging for something higher and better.
Multitudes of capable employees are satisfiedto plod along in mediocrity instead of risingto the heights, where their ability wouldnaturally carry them. I have a friend whohas a much superior brain to the man he isworking for, and yet for a great many yearshe has been on an ordinary salary. He hasnever married. He takes life in an easy-goingway and whenever I have tried to encouragehim to go into business for himself, to show himhow much superior he is to the man he is workingfor, he always says, “Why should I exertmyself more or take on greater business, responsibilities?I have nobody but myself toconsider. I like to have a good time, and don’twant to have the worry, the care and anxiety ofrunning a business of my own, although Iknow perfectly well I could do it if I wantedto.”
Of course, the higher up in the world a mangets the greater his responsibility, but think ofthe satisfaction which comes from the consciousnessthat he has made the most of histalents, that he has not buried any of them ina napkin, the satisfaction which comes fromthe feeling that he has made good, that he hasdelivered his message to the world and deliveredit like a man, that he has fulfilled his mission,that he has made the most possible of thematerial and the opportunities given him.The feeling that he has no regrets, that he hasdone his level best more than compensates forany additional effort and greater responsibility.
We tend to become like our aspirations. Ifwe constantly aspire and strive for somethingbetter and higher and nobler, we cannot helpbroadening and improving. The ambitionthat is dominant in the mind tends to workitself out in the life. If this ambition issordid and low and animal, we shall developthese qualities, for our lives follow ourideals.
Civilization has made its greatest advancementunder the stress of necessity, under theleadership of a great ambition to satisfy theheart’s yearnings for better things. We doour best work while we are trying desperatelyto match our dreams with their reality.
The struggle of man to rise a little higher,to get into a little more comfortable position,to secure a little better education, a little betterhome, to gain a little more culture and refinement,to possess that power which comes frombeing in a position of broader and wider influencethrough the acquirement of property, iswhat has developed the character and thestamina of our highest types of manhood to-day.This upward life-trend gives others confidencein us.