Ambition and Success

Chapter V

Ambition Knows No Age Limit

What has become of that something which in your youth keyed your determination up to such a lofty pitch? What has become of that something in you which would not let you rest, which robbed you of sleep, which constantly prodded you, bombarded you with visions of the great and wonderful things you were going to do in the future?

One of the earmarks of old age is the cooling down of the fires of ambition. While they burn brightly, as long as you feel just as eager and as determined as in your younger days to do your level best, to get up and to get on in the world, to keep growing, to keep improving, you are not aging very much. Your years may dispute this, but as long as a man aspires, as long as he is eager to grow, as long as he yearns and struggles to better his best he is not old.

When we are getting along in years there is always a great temptation to make ourselves believe that we have a right to let up a bit and to take things easier, to get rid of as much drudgery as possible. We have less and less inclination for the strenuous struggle to attain that which characterized our youth. The great danger at this time is that as we let up a bit in our efforts our ambition will decline, all of our life standards drop.

Many people are not quite as painstaking, not quite as particular when they get along in years as in their younger days. It is so much easier then to slide along easily, not to trouble about one’s dress and personal appearance, to hypnotize oneself into thinking, “Well, it does not matter very much now, I am no longer young.”

One of the most difficult things one is called upon to do as the years pass is to keep his ambition from dying, his ideals clear and clean-cut, his interest in his work from getting stale.

The secret of keeping the ambition fresh and bright is in keeping up the interest. The artist who is in love with his work, no matter how old, never loses his zest, his enthusiasm. He goes to his canvas in old age with all the interest and eagerness of his youth.

Many men and women age through sheer laziness, mental inertia, indifference. They are only half alive. They are not willing to take the trouble to pay the price for perpetual youth, to keep their ambition from lagging.

Some people seem to think that the ambition to do a certain thing in life is a permanent quality which will remain with them. It is not. One of the first symptoms of age and deterioration in one’s work is the gradual, unconscious oozing out, shrinkage, of one’s ambition. There is no one quality in our lives that requires more careful watching and constant bracing up, jacking up, so to speak, than our ambition, especially when we are advancing in years, and do not keep in an atmosphere which tends to arouse one to life’s possibilities. Without realizing it, or meaning to, we then easily become victims of the human inclination to take things easy, not to exert oneself very much.

No matter how high our youthful ambition, it is very easy to let it wane with the years, to allow our standards to drop. The moment we cease to brace ourselves up, to watch ourselves, we begin to deteriorate, just as a child does when his mother ceases to pay strict attention to him and lets him have his own way. The tendency of the majority at every age of existence is to go along the line of least resistance, to take the easiest way. The race instinct to climb is continually at war with the lower nature which would drag it down. Even the noblest beings are not free from the struggle of the higher with the lower which goes on ceaselessly throughout nature. It is the triumph over the lower that keeps the race on the ascent.

There is no more pitiable sight in the world than that of a person in whom ambition is dead,–a man who has repeatedly denied that inward voice which bids him up and on, a man in whom ambition’s fires have gone out from the lack of fuel. There is always hope for a person, no matter how bad he may be, as long as his ambition is alive; but when that has disappeared, the great life-spur, the impelling motive is gone.

It requires a great deal and a great variety of food to keep the ambition vigorous. Unless it is well fortified it does not amount to anything. It must be backed by a robust will power, stern resolve, physical energy, and great powers of endurance, to be effective.

The habit of watching the ambition constantly and keeping it alive, is absolutely imperative to those who would keep from deteriorating. Everything depends on the ambition.

If we lived and thought more scientifically there would not be such a dropping of standards, such a dulling of ideals, and letting down in our efforts with advancing years.

Whatever our ambition may be, nothing else can be quite so precious to most of us as life, and we want that life at its best. Every normal person dreads to see the mark of old age, the symptoms of decrepitude, and wants to remain fresh, buoyant, robust, as long as possible. Yet most people do not take sensible precautions to preserve their youth and vigor. They violate the health laws, longevity laws; sap their vitality in foolish, unnatural living, in deteriorating habits.

I have a friend who is always referring to his age. He has formed a habit of constantly dwelling upon his declining years, and keeping the picture of decrepitude in his mind. “You know, when a man gets past sixty he can’t stand what he once could,” he will say.

The idea that our energies and forces must begin to decline and the fires of ambition die out after a certain age is reached has a most pernicious influence upon the mind. We do not realize how impossible it is for us to go beyond our self-placed “dead-line” limits, to do what we really believe we cannot do.

No one is old until the interest in life is gone out of him, until his spirit becomes aged, until his heart becomes cold and unresponsive; as long as he touches life at many points he can not grow old in spirit. A man is old, no matter what his years, when he is out of touch with youth, with its ideals, its points of view, out of touch with the spirit of his times; when he has ceased to be progressive and up-to-date.

Many of the grandest characters that ever lived have retained their youthful mentality up to the very last of a long life. There was no deterioration in the mind of Marshall Field. When in his advanced years he never showed any inclination to take less pains, any cooling of ambition, any inclination to bank his fires, to drop his standards, to lower his ideals. We know that Gladstone’s mind was right in its prime at eighty.

Many a man signs his death warrant when he retires from business. Retiring from business to many means practically retiring from life, that is, from real living, because they have nothing to retire to. They have not prepared themselves for retirement to anything outside of routine business life. They have lost most of their friends in their absorption in business and their exclusive mode of living. They have never developed their social faculties, their love of art, of music, or of reading. The whole life has gone into one business channel and when out of this they are lost.

Life means little without a purpose. Once his life aim is gone man simply exists–he does not really live. A high ideal, a lofty purpose, a noble aim, whatever tends to make man look up and struggle up, tends to improve his health condition and prolong the life. The soul that aspires, other things being equal, has the longest life. Aspiration is a perpetual tonic; it stimulates all the faculties.

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