Ambition and Success

Chapter VII

Visualize Yourself in a Better Position

No matter in what business you may be, or what your profession, your prime ambition should be to attain a high-water mark in it. The love of excellence is the lodestar that leads the world onward. It is this that makes not only the successful business or professional man, but also the all-round successful person in any line of endeavor.

Andrew Carnegie said, “I would not give a fig for the young man in business who does not already see himself a partner, or the head of the firm.”

Do not rest for a moment in your thought of yourself as a head clerk, foreman, or manager in any concern, no matter how big it is. Say each day to yourself, “My place is higher up.” Be king in your dreams. Vow that you will reach the position with untarnished reputation, and make no other vow to distract your attention.

I am frequently asked by youths and young men whether I think they really have enough in them to make much of a success in life, anything that will be distinctive or worth while, and I answer, “Yes, you have. I know you have the ability to succeed, but I don’t know that you will. That rests entirely with you. If you have the energy and the will to succeed nothing can hold you back. But if you have not, no amount of education, no pull or influence, no power on earth outside of yourself can push or lead or boost you into success.”

There is nothing so important in your life as your mental attitude towards yourself, what you think of yourself, the model which you hold of yourself and your possibilities. If this is small, narrow, and dwarfed your life will correspond.

You must see yourself above a clerkship or you will never be anything higher than a clerk. You must visualize yourself in a better position, and hold constantly a grim determination to reach it or you will never get there. Never for a moment blur your motive or weaken your determination by harboring a doubt of your ability to reach your goal. Whenever you do this you are neutralizing just so much of the force which would take you there.

Remember, there is a partnership waiting for you somewhere if you are big enough and determined enough and have pluck enough to take it. If you do not there is probably someone very near you who will do so, someone who perhaps has not had nearly as good an opportunity as you have had. And in the years to come, if you do not take advantage of this opportunity to climb, you will no doubt, grumble at your “ill luck” and wonder how Billy or Johnny or Jo, who worked alongside of you, managed to get the partnership or coveted position.

A recent writer says: “My advice to all those just starting to travel life’s turnpike is: ‘Don’t start until you have your ideal. Then don’t stop until you get it.’”

Very few of us realize how dependent our growth is on some special stimulus. Every act must have a motive. We do nothing outside of our automatic habitual acts without an underlying motive. Perhaps the stronger life motive of the average man is that which comes from his desire to get up in the world.

Abraham Lincoln

There was a force behind Lincoln which drove him from a log cabin up to the White House. There was a vision of the North Pole which haunted Peary, filled him with ambition to climb to the earth’s uttermost boundary, and finally drove him, after repeated failures, to the Pole. The same indomitable inner force urged the despised young Jew, Benjamin Disraeli, to push his way up through the lower classes in England, up through the middle classes, up through the upper classes, until he stood a master, self-poised, upon the topmost round of political and social power, the prime minister of the greatest country in the world.

The story of those men is the same at bottom as that of every man who has attained greatness. They were continually urged forward and upward by some inward prompting they could not resist.

This 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. Upon this climbing instinct rests the destiny of the race. Without it men would still be savages, and living in caves and huts. Civilization, as we know it, would not exist. There would be no great cities, no great factories, no railroads, no steamships, no beautiful homes or parks, pictures, sculpture or books, but for this mysterious urge which we call ambition.

The best of every man’s work is above and beyond himself, and is accomplished in the struggle to attain a lofty ideal. The artist stands aside and points through his work to a glimpse of the universal art. In his inspired moments the individuality of the orator is melted and fused into the all-pervading fire of eloquence. In art or business, in science or the daily commonplace tasks of life, the gods will move along toward the line of absolute excellence or they will leave us to our own devices.

We do our most effective work in our struggle to get what we are after, to arrive at the goal of our ambition. We put forth our greatest effort, our most strenuous endeavor, while we are climbing, not after we have arrived at our goal. This is one reason why rich men’s sons rarely achieve any great personal success. They lack the climbing motive of necessity, that tremendous urge, the prodding of ambition which drives us on to achieve what we desire and are capable of attaining. Ambition is the leader of all great achievement. It is the forerunner which goes ahead and clears a way for the other faculties.

The ambition is not always a safe guide, however. There are two wings to genius. Common sense and good judgment must accompany the ambition, or it will very often run away with a man. We have seen splendid pieces of machinery, whose iron fingers would punch holes through solid steel plates without a single jar. The machinery accomplishes this wonderful feat because of a huge balance-wheel. It is the stored-up power, velocity, and momentum which enable it to accomplish this wonderful task. Take away the balance-wheel, and the machinery, which does its work as easily as a cook would make the holes in rolled-out pastry, falls all to pieces the moment the balance-wheel is removed. The balance-wheel is the secret. The judgment is man’s balance-wheel–great common sense, horse sense. His ambition will run away with him if he does not have this.

The young man who overestimates his ability, who plunges beyond his depth, who is over-confident, whose self-trust is not based upon an accurate knowledge of his ability and limitations, almost always comes to grief. It is just as necessary to know what you are not qualified for, and to let it alone, as to know what you can do, and do it.

“Study yourself,” says Longfellow, “and most of all, note well wherein kind nature meant you to excel.”

It takes a giant to do a giant’s work. What a Morgan or a Carnegie would do with perfect ease and safety, might be as impossible for you to accomplish as to lift yourself by your own boot straps. On the other hand, you may be able to do something which even a Morgan could not do. Study your own adaptations. Try to get a measure of your possibilities.

A man should early take an inventory of his ability and locate himself where he belongs. If he has but one talent he should not try to train with the ten-talent man. He should simply try to make the most of his one talent.

It is impossible to make one talent do the work of ten talents, no matter how ambitious, or how much energy one may fling into his work.

A great brain does a great thing easily. We all do our best work without overstraining. It is dangerous to over-tax one’s faculties.

I have seen a college student who has overstrained his brain until he has seriously marred his mental power in the foolish effort to try to head his class when he was not a natural scholar. He seemed to think that by making a superhuman effort, studying all the time when others were at play, during holidays and Sundays, always plugging, plugging, plugging,–he could overcome any handicap. While he managed to come pretty near leading his class he never completely rallied from the effects of overstraining his brain.

It is a great thing to be able to measure our talents, to understand ourselves so thoroughly that we will undertake just so much as we are able to accomplish, and will not aim at the unattainable.

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