The Influence of Environment
Environment has a great deal to do with man’s ambition and achievement. It may make all the difference to you, my friend, between success and mediocrity, whether you are in a favorable environment and keep close to people who inspire and encourage you, who communicate to you the enthusiasm of their example, or whether you are surrounded by discordant conditions, and associate with people who have an opposite effect upon you.
We cannot associate with a really ambitious person without catching his spirit to a greater or less extent. We unconsciously reflect the people with whom we mingle much. Their mark is left upon us. We may not be able to see it ourselves, but other people can detect it.
Our Indian schools sometimes publish, side by side, photographs of the Indian youths as they come from the reservation and as they look when they are graduated–well dressed, intelligent, with the fire of ambition in their eyes. We predict great things for them; but the majority of those who go back to their tribes after struggling awhile to keep up their new standard gradually drop back to their old manner of living. There are, of course, many notable exceptions, but these are unusually strong characters, able to resist the downward-dragging tendencies about them.
If you interview the great army of failures, you will find that multitudes in it have failed because they never got into a stimulating, encouraging environment, because their ambition was never aroused, or because they were not strong enough to rally under depressing, discouraging, or vicious surroundings.
How often we see men and women with splendid brain power, with robust physiqúe, apparently superbly equipped for great careers, and yet they are living very ordinary lives, plodding along perhaps in mediocrity! This may be because they have never been aroused, and are totally ignorant of their powers. They may never have looked into the mirror of others who were succeeding along their lines and caught a glimpse of their own possibilities.
Whatever you do in life, make any sacrifice necessary to keep in an ambition-arousing atmosphere, an environment that will stimulate you to self-development. Keep close to people who understand you, who believe in you, who will help you to discover yourself and encourage you to make the most of your life. Choose companions and friends who are in sympathy with your ambition and who will give you their moral support and make you do what you are capable of doing. A few such friends may make all the difference to you between a grand success and a mediocre existence. We are all diamonds in the rough. Our environment may grind one, two or twenty facets. Some people never come in contact with the wheel which grinds a facet and lets in the light to reveal the hidden wonders. Many are buried as rough diamonds even though there may have been locked up in them great brilliancy and enormous value. Comparatively few human diamonds are ever so completely ground that all the hidden treasures are revealed.
Yet how trifling are the things which sometimes reveal the man! It may be the sight of a motto, the hearing of a sermon, a speech, the reading of some inspiring life history or some stirring ambition-arousing book, the encouraging conversation of a friend, of some one who believes in us and sees in us something which we never knew was there.
I know men who had apparently lost their ambition, who had been literally down and out, but who, by the reading of an inspiring book, or listening to a stimulating sermon, were thoroughly aroused to their possibilities even in a most discouraging environment and so completely transformed in a few months that they did not seem like the same individuals.
The speeches of Wendell Phillips, Webster, and Henry Clay, started a fire in many an ambitious youth which never went out, but which became a beacon light in American history.
We all know that the old-fashioned debating societies and clubs woke up the ambition of many a youth in the early days of our country, who might never have been heard from outside of his own little community but for the arousing influence of these debates.
The ambition of the boy who has lived on a farm in the back country is often aroused for the first time when he goes to the city. To him the metropolis is a colossal world’s fair, where everybody’s achievement is on exhibition. The progressive spirit which pervades the city is like an electric shock to him and arouses all of his latent energies, calls out his reserves. Everything he sees seems to be a summons to him to go forward, to push on.
He is constantly reminded by his city environment of what others have done. He sees the tremendous engineering feats, great factories and offices, vast businesses, all huge advertisers of man’s achievement, and is stirred by an ambition to do something great himself.
Ambition is contagious. When a man meets others at the restaurant or club, or in other social ways, and hears accounts of their great successes, greater achievement, he immediately says to himself, “Why can’t I do it?” “Why don’t I do it?” and if he is of any account he probably says, “I _will_ do it!” Then he goes back to his business with a new determination, perhaps with new ideas and new conceptions of the possibilities of his own success.