Ambition and Success

Chapter II

The Satisfied Man

F. W. Robertson has said, “Whoever is satisfied with what he does has reached his culminating point–he will progress no more. Man’s destiny is to be not dissatisfied, but forever unsatisfied.”

One of the saddest things in life is to see men and women who started out with high hopes and proud ambitions settle down in mediocre positions, half satisfied just merely to get a living, to plod along indifferently.

Oh, what tragedy there is in being content with mediocrity, in getting into a state where one is indifferent to the larger, better things of life!

When you are satisfied with the life you are living, with the work you are doing, with the thought you are thinking, with the dreams you are dreaming, satisfied with the character you are building, with your ideals, you may be sure that you are already beginning to deteriorate.

There is little hope for the man who feels satisfied with himself, who does not know, “the noble discontent that stirs the acorn to become an oak.” Man’s ambition to improve something somewhere every day to get a little further on and a little higher up than he was the day before, an insatiable passion for bettering things all along the line, is the secret of human progress.

Do you realize, my young friend, that if the motive were big enough, if you had a very unusual incentive, you could materially improve upon what you now are satisfied to consider your best endeavor? As an employee you may think you are doing your level best, and are conscientious, loyal, true and industrious; and yet, if a great prize should be offered you to bring your work up to a certain higher standard for the next sixty days, would you rest until you had succeeded in very greatly improving what you now think is your best work?

Don’t you think, you who pride yourself that it would be impossible to better what you are now doing, that if your name were over the door as proprietor instead of the name of the company you work for you could jack yourself up about fifty per cent; that you would find some way of doing it? Don’t you think you would be a little more ambitious, make a little better use of your time, that you would try to call out a little more ingenuity and effectiveness, a little more resourcefulness? Do you think you would jog along in the same half-hearted manner, thinking more of your salary than of your opportunity to absorb the secrets of your employer’s success? Do you think you would stand by without protest and see the merchandise injured, or wasted, when you could stop it; or that you would be so careless or make so many blunders yourself? Don’t you think the prize to be gained would make you take a little more interest in things than you do now; make you a little more alert, more eager for the success of the business?

It is a deplorable sight to see so many young men and young women apparently so satisfied with themselves, with what they are doing, that they have no great yearnings, no insatiable longing for something higher and better.

Multitudes of capable employees are satisfied to plod along in mediocrity instead of rising to the heights, where their ability would naturally carry them. I have a friend who has a much superior brain to the man he is working for, and yet for a great many years he has been on an ordinary salary. He has never married. He takes life in an easy-going way and whenever I have tried to encourage him to go into business for himself, to show him how much superior he is to the man he is working for, he always says, “Why should I exert myself more or take on greater business, responsibilities? I have nobody but myself to consider. I like to have a good time, and don’t want to have the worry, the care and anxiety of running a business of my own, although I know perfectly well I could do it if I wanted to.”

Of course, the higher up in the world a man gets the greater his responsibility, but think of the satisfaction which comes from the consciousness that he has made the most of his talents, that he has not buried any of them in a napkin, the satisfaction which comes from the feeling that he has made good, that he has delivered his message to the world and delivered it like a man, that he has fulfilled his mission, that he has made the most possible of the material and the opportunities given him. The feeling that he has no regrets, that he has done his level best more than compensates for any additional effort and greater responsibility.

We tend to become like our aspirations. If we constantly aspire and strive for something better and higher and nobler, we cannot help broadening and improving. The ambition that is dominant in the mind tends to work itself out in the life. If this ambition is sordid and low and animal, we shall develop these qualities, for our lives follow our ideals.

Civilization has made its greatest advancement under the stress of necessity, under the leadership of a great ambition to satisfy the heart’s yearnings for better things. We do our best work while we are trying desperately to match our dreams with their reality.

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