HOW TO GET ON IN THE WORLD; or, A LADDER TO PRACTICAL SUCCESS.
by MAJOR A. R. CALHOUN.
SINGLENESS OF PURPOSE.
We have all heard of the "Jack of all trades, and master of none."
Such men never win, though they may excite the admiration of the
curious by their impractical versatility.
In early times, even in the early settlement of our own country, it
was necessary for not only men, but women also, to be many-sided in
their capacity for work; but the world's swift advance has made this
unnecessary. A farmer can now buy shoes cheaper than he could make
them at home, and the farmer's wife has no longer to learn the art of
spinning and weaving.
A French philosopher in speaking of this subject says: "It is well to know something about everything, and everything about something."
That is general information is always useful, but special information
is essential to special success.
The field of learning is too vast to be carefully gone over in one
lifetime, and the business world is too extensive to permit any man
to become acquainted with all its topography. A man may do a number
of things fairly well, but he can do only one thing very well.
Often versatility instead of being a blessing is an injury. A few men
like Michael Angelo in art, Benjamin Franklin in science and letters,
and Peter Cooper in various departments of manufacture have succeeded
in everything they undertook, but to hold these up as examples to be
followed would be to make a rule of an exception.
Singleness of purpose is one of the prime requisites of success.
Fortune is jealous, and refuses to be approached from all sides by
the same suitor.
We have known men of marked ability, but want of purpose, who studied
for the ministry and failed; who then studied law—and failed. After
this they tried medicine and journalism, only to fail in each;
whereas, had they stuck resolutely to one thing success would not
have been uncertain.
A young man may not be able at the very start to hit upon the
vocation for which he is best adapted, but should he find it, he will
see that his ability to avail himself of its advantages will depend
largely on the energy and singleness of purpose displayed in the work
for which he had no liking.
There is a famous speech recorded of an old Norseman, thoroughly
characteristic of the Teuton. "I believe neither in idols nor
demons," said he; "I put my sole trust in my own strength of body and
soul." The ancient crest of a pickaxe with the motto of "Either I
will find a way or make one," was an expression of the same sturdy
independence which to this day distinguishes the descendants of the
Northmen. Indeed, nothing could be more characteristic of the
Scandinavian mythology, than that it had a god with a hammer.
A man's character is seen in small matters; and from even so slight a test as
the mode in which a man wields a hammer, his energy may in some measure be inferred. Thus an eminent Frenchman hit off in a single
phrase the characteristic quality of the inhabitants of a particular district, in which a friend of his proposed to settle and buy land.
"Beware," said he, "of making a purchase there; I know the men of that Department; the pupils who come from it to our veterinary school
at Paris do not strike hard upon the anvil; they want energy; and you will not get a satisfactory return on any capital you may invest there."
Hugh Miller said the only school in which he was properly taught was
"that world-wide school in which toil and hardship are the severe but
noble teachers." He who allows his application to falter, or shirks
his work on frivolous pretexts, is on the sure road to ultimate
failure. Let any task be undertaken as a thing not possible to be
evaded, and it will soon come to be performed with alacrity and
cheerfulness. Charles IX of Sweden was a firm believer in the power
of will, even in youth. Laying his hand on the head of his youngest
son when engaged on a difficult task, he exclaimed, "He shall do
it! he shall do it!"
The habit of application becomes easy in time,
like every other habit. Thus persons with comparatively moderate
powers will accomplish much, if they apply themselves wholly and
indefatigably to one thing at a time. Fowell Buxton placed his
confidence in ordinary means and extraordinary application; realizing
the Scriptural injunction, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it
with thy might;" and he attributed his own success in life to his
practice of "being a whole man to one thing at a time."
"Where there is a will there is a way," is an old and true saying. He
who resolves upon doing a thing, by that very resolution often scales
the barriers to it, and secures its achievement. To think we are
able, is almost to be so—to determine upon attainment is frequently
attainment itself. Thus, earnest resolution has often seemed to have
about it almost a savor of omnipotence. The strength of Suwarrow's
character lay in his power of willing, and, like most resolute
persons, he preached it up as a system. "You can only half will," he
would say to people who failed. Like Richelieu and Napoleon, he would
have the word "impossible" banished from the dictionary. "I don't
know," "I can't," and "impossible," were words which he detested
above all others. "Learn! Do! Try!" he would exclaim. His biographer
has said of him, that he furnished a remarkable illustration of what
may be effected by the energetic development and exercise of
faculties the germs of which at least are in every human heart.
One of Napoleon's favorite maxims was, "The truest wisdom is a
resolute determination." His life, beyond most others, vividly showed
what a powerful and unscrupulous will could accomplish. He threw his
whole force of body and mind direct upon his work. Imbecile rulers
and the nations they governed went down before him in succession. He
was told that the Alps stood in the way of his armies. "There shall
be no Alps," he said, and the road across the Simplon was
constructed, through a district formerly almost inaccessible.
"Impossible," said he, "is a word only to be found in the dictionary
of fools." He was a man who toiled terribly; sometimes employing and
exhausting four secretaries at a time. He spared no one, not even
himself. His influence inspired other men, and put a new life into
them. "I made my generals out of mud" he said. But all was of no
avail; for Napoleon's intense selfishness was his ruin, and the ruin
of France, which he left a prey to anarchy.
Before the man resolutely impelled to action by singleness of
purpose, every obstacle disappears as he approaches, and every lesson
of experience becomes the stepping-stone to further victories in the
It is this singleness of purpose, this absorption in a great life work, that nerves our missionaries in their exile. A splendid example
of this is presented in the career of the great missionary and
explorer, Dr. Livingstone.
He has told the story of his life in that modest and unassuming
manner which is so characteristic of the man himself. His ancestors
were poor but honest Highlanders, and it is related of one of them,
renowned in his district for wisdom and prudence, that when on his
death-bed, he called his children round him and left them these
words, the only legacy he had to bequeath: "In my lifetime," said he,
"I have searched most carefully through all the traditions I could
find of our family, and I never could discover that there was a
dishonest man among our forefathers; if, therefore, any of you, or
any of your children, should take to dishonest ways, it will not be
because it runs in our blood; it does not belong to you: I leave this
precept with you—Be honest." At the age of ten, Livingstone was sent
to work in a cotton factory near Glasgow as a "piecer." With part of
his first week's wages he bought a Latin grammar, and began to learn
that language, pursuing the study for years at a night-school. He
would sit up conning his lessons till twelve or later, when not sent
to bed by his mother, for he had to be up and at work in the factory
every morning by six. In this way he plodded through Virgil and
Horace, also reading extensively all books, excepting novels, that
came in his way, but more especially scientific works and books of
travels. He occupied his spare hours, which were but few, in the
pursuit of botany, scouring the neighborhood to collect plants. He
even carried on his reading amidst the roar of the factory machinery,
so placing the book upon the spinning-jenny which he worked, that he
could catch sentence after sentence as he passed it. In this way the
persevering youth acquired much useful knowledge; and as he grew
older, the desire possessed him of becoming a missionary to the
heathen. With this object he set himself to obtain a medical
education, in order the better to be qualified for the work. He
accordingly economized his earnings, and saved as much money as
enabled him to support himself while attending the Medical and Greek
classes as well as the Divinity Lectures, at Glasgow, for several
winters, working as a cotton-spinner during the remainder of each
year. He thus supported himself, during his college career, entirely
by his own earnings as a factory workman, never having received a
farthing of help from any other source. "Looking back now," he
honestly said, "at that life of toil, I cannot but feel thankful that
it formed such a material part of my early education; and, were it
possible, I should like to begin life over again in the same lowly
style, and to pass through the same hardy training." At length he
finished his medical curriculum, wrote his Latin thesis, passed his
examinations, and was admitted a licentiate of the Faculty of
Physicians and Surgeons. At first he thought of going to China, but
the war then waging with that country prevented his following out the
idea; and having offered his services to the London Missionary
Society, he was by them sent out to Africa, which he reached in 1840.
He had intended to proceed to China by his own efforts; and he says
the only pang he had in going to Africa at the charge of the London
Missionary Society was, because "it was not quite agreeable to one
accustomed to worked his own way to become, in a manner, dependent
upon others." Arrived in Africa, he set to work with great zeal. He
could not brook the idea of merely entering upon the labors of
others, but cut out a large sphere of independent work, preparing
himself for it by undertaking manual labor in building and other
handicraft employment, in addition to teaching, which, he says, "made
me generally as much exhausted and unfit for study in the evenings as
ever I had been when a cotton-spinner." Whilst laboring amongst the
Bechuanas, he dug canals, built houses, cultivated fields, reared
cattle, and taught the natives to work as well as to worship. When he
first started with a party of them on foot upon a long journey, he
overheard their observations upon his appearance and powers. "He is
not strong," said they; "he is quite slim, and only appears stout
because he puts himself into those bags (trousers): he will soon
knock up." This caused the missionary's Highland blood to rise, and
made him despise the fatigue of keeping them all at the top of their
speed for days together, until he heard them expressing proper
opinions of his pedestrian powers. What he did in Africa, and how he
worked, may be learnt from his own "Missionary Travels," one of the
most fascinating books of its kind that has ever been given to the
public. One of his last known acts is thoroughly characteristic of
the man. The "Birkenhead" steam launch, which he took out with him to
Africa, having proved a failure, he sent home orders for the
construction of another vessel at an estimated cost of 2,000 pounds.
This sum he proposed to defray out of the means which he had set aside
for his children, arising from the profits of his books of travel.
"The children must make it up themselves," was in effect his expression
in sending home the order for the appropriation of the money.
The career of John Howard was throughout a striking illustration of
the same power of patient purpose. His sublime life proved that even
physical weakness could remove mountains in the pursuit of an end
recommended by duty. The idea of ameliorating the condition of
prisoners engrossed his whole thoughts, and possessed him like a
passion; and no toil, or danger, nor bodily suffering could turn him
from that great object of his life. Though a man of no genius and but
moderate talent, his heart was pure and his will was strong. Even in
his own time he achieved a remarkable degree of success; and his
influence did not die with him, for it has continued powerfully to
affect not only the legislation of his own country, but of all
civilized nations, down to the present hour.
Horace Mann, famous as a teacher and reformer in his day, was urged
by his friends in Ohio to go to Congress. He replied: "I have a great
deal of respect for men in public life, but I have more respect for
my on life-work. If I know anything, it is the science or art of
teaching, and to this work, please God, I shall devote the whole of
my life." And he kept his word.
Singleness of purpose implies firmness, for in this day of change and
speculation, the young man who has saved up a little money, hoping
one day to go into business for himself, will find on every hand
temptations to invest in enterprises of which he knows nothing. Here
his resolution will be tested. Remember there is no element of human
character so potential for weal or woe as firmness. To the merchant
and the man of business it is all-important. Before its irresistible
energy the most formidable obstacles become as cobweb barriers in its
path. Difficulties, the terror of which causes the timid and pampered
sons of luxury to shrink back with dismay, provoke from the man a
lofty determination only a smile. The whole history of our race—all
nature, indeed—teems with examples to show what wonders may be
accomplished by resolute perseverance and patient toil.
It is related of Tamerlane, the terror of whose arms spread through
all the Eastern nations, and whom victory attended at almost every
step, that he once learned from an insect a lesson of perseverance,
which had a striking effect on his future character and success.
When closely pursued by his enemies, as a contemporary writer tells
the incident, he took refuge in some old ruins, where left to his
solitary musings, he espied an ant tugging and striving to carry a
single grain of corn. His unavailing efforts were repeated sixty-nine
times, and at each brave attempt, as soon as he reached a certain
point of projection, he fell back with his burden, unable to surmount
it; but the seventieth time he bore away his spoil in triumph, and
left the wondering hero reanimated and exulting in the hope of future victory.
How pregnant the lesson this incident conveys! How many thousand
instances there are in which inglorious defeat ends the career of the
timid and desponding, when the same tenacity of purpose would crown
it with triumphant success.
Resolution is almost omnipotent. It was well observed by a heathen
moralist, that it is not because things are difficult that we dare
not undertake them. Be, then, bold in spirit. Indulge no doubts.
Shakespeare says truly and wisely—
"Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win,
By fearing to attempt."
In the practical pursuit of our high aim, let us never lose sight of
it in the slightest instance; for it is more by a disregard of small
things, than by open and flagrant offenses, that men come short of
excellence. There is always a right and a wrong; and, if you ever
doubt, be sure you take not the wrong. Observe this rule, and every
experience will be to you a means of advancement.
A Review of "How to Get On in Life"
Table of Contents
Chapter XX - Business and Brains
OTHER WEBSITES ON SUCCESS:
Law of Attraction Articles