Ambition and Success



Orison Swett Marden

Ambition and Success Cover

Chapter I

What is Ambition?

“Ambition is the spur that makes man struggle with destiny: it
is heaven’s own incentive to make purpose great, and achievement

In a factory where mariners’ compasses are made, the needles, before they are magnetized, will lie in any position, wherever they are placed, but from the moment they have been touched by the mighty magnet and have been electrified, they are never again the same. They have taken on a mysterious power and are new creatures. Before they are magnetized, they do not answer the call of the North Star, the magnetic pole does not have any effect upon them, but the moment they have been magnetized they swing to the magnetic north, and are ever after loyal and true to their affinity.

Multitudes of people, like an unmagnetized needle, lie motionless, unresponsive to any stimulus until they are touched by that mysterious force we call ambition.

Whence comes this overmastering impulse which pushes human beings on, each to his individual goal? Where is the source of ambition, and how and when does it gain entrance into our lives?

How few of us ever stop to think what ambition really 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 on and up is the most curious and the most interesting thing in human life. It exists in every normal human being, and is just as pronounced and as real as the instinct of self-preservation.

I believe this incessant inward prompting, call it ambition or what we will, this something which pushes men to their goal, is the expression in man of the universal force of evolution which is flowing Godward, that it is a part of the great cosmic plan of creation. We do not create this urge, we do not manufacture it. Every normal person feels this imperious must 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 are alive, and this upward impulse is in every one of them. It is in the instinct of the bee, the ant, and in all forms of insect and animal life.

The same kind of urge that is in the seed buried out of sight and which is ever pushing it up and out through the soil, prodding it to develop itself to the utmost and to give its beauty and fragrance to the world, is in each one of us. It is ever pushing us, urging us on to fuller and completer expression, to a larger, more beautiful life.

But for this desire to get on and get up, this God-urge, everything, even the universe itself, would collapse. Inertia would bring everything to a standstill.

If we obey this call we expand, blossom into beauty and develop into fruitage, but if we neglect or dissipate it, if we only half obey it, we remain mere scrub plants, without flower or fruitage.

That mysterious urge within us never allows us to rest but is always prodding us for our good, because there is no limit to human growth there is no satisfying human ambition–man’s higher aspiration. When we reach the height which looks so attractive from below, we find our new position as unsatisfying as the old, and a perpetual call to go higher still rings in our ears. A divine impulse constantly urges us to reach our highest ideal.

“Faith and the ideal still remain the most powerful levers of progress and of happiness,” says Jean Finot.

“Did you ever hear of a man who had striven all his life faithfully and singly toward an object,” asked Thoreau, “and in no measure obtained it? If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated? Did ever a man try heroism, magnanimity, truth, sincerity, and find that there was no advantage in them,–that it was a vain endeavor?”

Aspiration finally becomes inspiration and ennobles the whole life.

When the general habit of always aspiring, moving upwards and climbing to something higher and better is formed, all the undesirable qualities and the vicious habits will fade away; they will die from lack of nourishment. Only those things grow in our nature which are fed. The quickest way to kill them is to cut off their nourishment.

The craving for something higher and better is the best possible antidote or remedy for the lower tendencies which one wishes to get rid of.

Every faintest aspiration that springs up in our heart is a heavenly seed within us which will grow and develop into rich beauty if only it be fed, encouraged. The better things do not grow either in material or mental soil without care and nourishment. Only weeds, briers, and noxious plants thrive easily.

Most young people seem to think that ambition is a quality that is born in one and which cannot be materially changed, but the greatest ambition may be very materially injured in many different ways. The habit of procrastination, of postponing, the habit of picking out the easier tasks and putting off the difficult ones, for example, will very seriously impair the ambition. Whatever affects the ideals affects the ambition.

Ambition often begins very early to knock for recognition. If we do not heed its voice, if it gets no encouragement after appealing to us for years, it gradually ceases to trouble us, because, like any other unused quality or function, 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 to be trying to get to a higher level. Everything is in the process of evolution, and the evolution is always upward. The butterfly does not become a grub. It is not the evolutionary law. The grub develops into a butterfly. It is never the other way.

Be careful how you discourage or refuse to heed that inner voice which commands you to go forward, for if you do it will become less and less insistent until finally it will cease to prod you, and when ambition is dead deterioration has set in.

That inner call to go forward, to push on to a higher good, is God’s voice; heed it. It is your best friend and will lead you into light and joy.

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