There are scores of people in our great cities who do not really live at all. They merely exist. They are the slaves of a morbid ambition and a greed that has grown to be a monster. Many of these people take very little comfort; they are always on a strain to keep up appearances, to maintain homes in portions of the city where they can ill afford to live, to keep automobiles when they can barely afford a bicycle, to wear clothing and jewelry which is beyond their means, and they keep themselves constantly worried over it, killing their legitimate comfort and enjoyment through the exhaustion of the strain and stress,–and all for nothing that is real or permanent, nothing that adds to their character or well being.
Such people have a perfect mania for trying to make other people think they are better off than they really are, that they amount to more than they really do, that they cut a bigger figure in the world than is actually the case. In other words, they make themselves pitiable slaves of other people’s eyes. They go through life not doing the things they ought to do, what is best for their welfare and growth. Their lives are superficial because they do not live in or deal in realities. Everything about them is deceiving. They live masked lives. Few people know them as they really are. They only know them as they pretend to be. What do these people, who are always chasing shadows, get out of life, anyway?
There is an ambition which reminds one of a bird whose voracious appetite can never be satisfied. It grows on what it feeds, and the more it eats, the more ravenous the appetite. Woe be it to him who caters to a false ambition! He follows it blindly, expects that it will give him peace when it is satisfied, but alas, it is never satisfied. It is like the water in the enchanted story: the more the victim drank of it, the greater was his burning thirst. Such an ambition is fatal, and will surely wreck him who blindly pursues it. It will ruin his health and will rob him of all that is dearest and sweetest in life.
There are a great many people in this country who are committing suicide upon many years of their lives by being slaves of an inordinate ambition.
One of the most pathetic phases of our civilization is that men and women in poor health, devitalized from over-work, are goaded on way beyond their strength by a fiendish ambition. Their pride and their vanity say to them, “Now, it will not do to slow down. We must keep up the pace with our neighbors. People who do not keep up appearances in these days are nobodies. We must keep going, no matter how we feel. We must make more money, we must show more evidence of our prosperity. We must put up a better front or Mrs. Grundy will pass the suspicion along that we are, after all, not much of a success, that we lacked the ability to do what people thought we were going to do. No matter how we feel we must keep up, keep pushing, keep going, crowd on more steam, take stimulants and drugs, if necessary, goad ourselves on. It is absolutely imperative to keep pushing.”
Oh, what fools pride and vanity make of us, especially when we are in no condition to keep up the pace, when we owe it to ourselves to slow down, when it is positively wicked to crowd on more steam! How many people are driven into the grave by the lash of a mortgage on a farm, on a home, or on their business, put there in an attempt to satisfy some over-vaunting ambition!
Debt has made more people miserable, ruined the peace of mind of more human beings, the comfort and the happiness of more homes, than almost anything else in the universe. It is a terrible thing to so mortgage oneself to others that we must make slaves of ourselves. How much better to live simply, to struggle on in poverty until we can improve our position than to compromise ourselves with debt, sell ourselves to a mortgage, or a bill of goods!
What an easy thing it is to borrow money, to give a note or to give a mortgage! We believe at the time that we can pay all right, but no one can be certain that things will go all right with him. No one knows what the times may bring forth. No one knows whether his health and strength will be spared, or how soon he may be physically or mentally disabled.
The only true measure of real success is the quality of the ambition. If the animal figures too largely in your ambition, if the quality is coarse, the success will be cheap, no matter how great the quantity.
It is an unfortunate thing that so many of our youth should start out in life with only one aim; and that is to make money. This becomes the leading purpose in their lives and warps their way of looking at things. Everything else is seen in dwarfed proportions. They do not consider making a life, building character; they are bent only on making money. This is the all-absorbing topic everywhere.