Why Some People Succeeed and Some Fail?

Hindu marriage

by H. A. LEWIS

Every young man is now a sower of seed on the field of life. The bright days of youth are the seed-time. Every thought of your intellect, every emotion of your heart, every word of your tongue, every principle you adopt, every act you perform, is a seed, whose good or evil fruit will prove bliss or bane of your after life.—Wise.

A man, to succeed, must possess the necessary equanimity of temperament to conceive an idea, the capacity to form it into some tangible shape, the ingenuity to put it into practical operation, the ability to favorably impress others with its merits, and the power of will that is absolutely necessary to force it to success. —Thomas A. Scott.

Young man, two ways are open before you in life. One points to degradation and want, the other, to usefulness and wealth. In the old Grecian races one only, by any possible means, could gain the prize, but in the momentous race of human life there is no limiting of the prize to one. No one is debarred from competing; all may succeed, provided the right methods are followed. Life is not a lottery. Its prizes are not distributed by chance.

There can hardly be a greater folly, not to say presumption, than that of so many young men and women who, on setting out in life, conclude that it is no use to mark out for themselves a course, and then set themselves with strenuous effort to attain some worthy end; who conclude, therefore, to commit themselves blindly to the current of circumstances. Is it anything surprising that those who aim at nothing, accomplish nothing in life?[480] No better result could reasonably be expected. Twenty clerks in a store; twenty apprentices in a ship-yard; twenty young men in a city or village—all want to get on in the world; most of them expect to succeed. One of the clerks will become a partner, and make a fortune; one of the young men will find his calling and succeed. But what of the other nineteen? They will fail; and miserably fail, some of them. They expect to succeed, but they aim at nothing; content to live for the day only, consequently, little effort is put forth, and they reap a reward accordingly.

Luck! There is no luck about it. The thing is almost as certain as the "rule of three." The young man who will distance his competitors is he who will master his business; who lives within his income, saving his spare money; who preserves his reputation; who devotes his leisure hours to the acquisition of knowledge; and who cultivates a pleasing manner, thus gaining friends. We hear a great deal about luck. If a man succeeds finely in business, he is said to have "good luck." He may have labored for years with this one object in view, bending every energy to attain it. He may have denied himself many things, and his seemingly sudden success may be the result of years of hard work, but the world looks in and says: "He is lucky." Another man plunges into some hot-house scheme and loses: "He is unlucky." Another man's nose is perpetually on the grind-stone; he also has "bad luck." No matter if he follows inclination rather than judgment, if he fails, as he might know he would did he but exercise one-half the judgment he does possess, yet he is never willing to ascribe the failure to himself—he invariably ascribes it to bad luck, or blames some one else.[481]

Luck! There is no such factor in the race for success. Rufus Choate once said, "There is little in the theory of luck which will bring man success; but work, guided by thought, will remove mountains or tunnel them." Carlyle said, "Man know thy work, then do it." How often do we see the sign: "Gentlemen will not; others must not loaf in this room." True, gentlemen never loaf, but labor. Fire-flies shine only in motion. It is only the active who will be singled out to hold responsible positions. The fact that their ability is manifest is no sign that they are lucky.

Thiers, of France, was once complimented thus: "It is marvelous, Mr. President, how you deliver long improvised speeches about which you have not had time to reflect." His reply was: "You are not paying me a compliment; it is criminal in a statesman to improvise speeches on public affairs. Those speeches I have been fifty years preparing." Daniel Webster's notable reply to Hayne was the result of years of study on the problem of State Rights. Professor Mowry once told the following story: "A few years ago a young man went into a cotton factory and spent a year in the card room. He then devoted another year to learning how to spin; still another how to weave. He boarded with a weaver, and was often asking questions. Of course he picked up all kinds of knowledge. He was educating himself in a good school, and was destined to graduate high in his class. He became superintendent of a small mill at $1,500 a year. One of the large mills in Fall River was running behind hand. Instead of making money the corporation was losing. They needed a first-class man to manage the mill, and applied to a gentleman in Boston well acquainted with the leading men engaged[482] in the manufacture of cotton. He told them he knew of a young man who would suit them, but they would have to pay him a large salary.

"What salary will he require?" "I cannot tell, but I think you will have to pay him $6,000 a year." "That is a large sum; we have never paid so much." "No, probably not, and you have never had a competent man. The condition of your mill and the story you have told me to-day show the result. I do not think he would go for less, but I will advise him to accept if you offer him that salary." The salary was offered, the man accepted, and he saved nearly forty per cent. of the cost of making the goods the first year. Soon he had a call from one of the largest corporations in New England, at a salary of $10,000 per year. He had been with this company but one year when he was offered another place at $15,000 per year. Now some will say: "Well, he was lucky, this gentleman was a friend who helped him to a fat place."

My dear reader, with such we have little patience. It is evident that this young man was determined to succeed from the first. He mastered his business, taking time and going thorough. When once the business was mastered his light began to shine. Possibly the gentleman helped him to a higher salary than he might have accepted, but it is also evident that his ability was manifest. The gentleman knew whereof he spoke. The old proverb that "Circumstances make men" is simply a wolf in wool. Whether a man is conditioned high or low; in the city or on the farm: "If he will; he will." "They can who think they can." "Wishes fail but wills prevail." "Labor is luck." It is better to make our descendants proud of us than to be proud of our ancestry. There is hardly a conceivable obstacle to success that[483] some of our successful men have not overcome: "What man has done, man can do." "Strong men have wills; weak ones, wishes."

In the contest, wills prevail. Some writers would make men sticks carried whither the tide takes them. We have seen that biography vetoes this theory. Will makes circumstances instead of being ruled by them. Alexander Stephens, with a dwarf's body, did a giant's work. With a broken scythe in the race he over-matched those with fine mowing-machines. Will-power, directed by a mind that was often replenished, accomplished the desired result.

Any one can drift. It takes pluck to stem an unfavorable current. A man fails and lays it to circumstances. The fact too frequently is that he swallowed luxuries beyond his means. A gentleman asked a child who made him. The answer was: "God made me so long—measuring the length of a baby—and I growed the rest." The mistake of the little deist in leaving out the God of his growth illustrates a conviction: We are what we make ourselves.

Garfield once said: "If the power to do hard work is not talent it is the best possible substitute for it." Things don't turn up in this world until some one turns them up. A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck. Luck is a false light; you may follow it to ruin, but never to success. If a man has ability which is reinforced by energy, the fact is manifest, and he will not lack opportunities. The fortunes of mankind depend so much upon themselves, that it is entirely legitimate to enquire by what means each may make or mar his own happiness; may achieve success or bring upon himself the sufferings of failure.[484]

Concentration of Effort.

The man who has no occupation, is in a sad plight: The man who lacks concentration of effort is worse off. In a recent test of the power of steel plates, designed for ship armor, one thousand cannon were fired at once against it, but without avail. A large cannon was then brought out. This cannon used but one-tenth as much powder as did the combined force of the others, yet, it was found, when the smoke had cleared away, that the ball had pierced the plate. Ten times the powder needed availed naught, because, the law of concentration was disregarded.

One of the essential requisites to success is concentration. Every young man, therefore, should early ascertain his strong faculties, and discern, if possible, his especial fitness for any calling which he may choose. A man may have the most dazzling talents, but if his energies are scattered he will accomplish nothing. Emerson says: "A man is like a bit of Labrador spar, which has no lustre as you turn it in your hand, until you come to a particular angle; then it shows deep and beautiful colors." There is no adaptation or universal applicability in man. Dryden has said:

"What the child admired,

The youth endeavored, and the man acquired."

Is it not so? Do we not find Michael Angelo neglecting school to copy drawings? Henry Clay learning pieces to recite in the barn or corn field? Yet, as Goethe says: "We should guard against a talent which we can[485]not hope to practice in perfection. Improve it as we may, we shall always, in the end, when the merit of the master has become apparent to us, painfully lament the loss of time and strength devoted to such botching."

The man who would know one thing well, must have the courage to be ignorant of a thousand other things, no matter how attractive they may be, or how desirable it may seem to try them. P. T. Barnum, the veteran showman, who has lost several fortunes but risen above all, paid every dollar of his indebtedness, and is to-day a millionaire, says in his lecture on 'The Art of Money Getting':

"Be a whole man in whatever you undertake. This wholeness is just what distinguishes the shabby, blundering mechanic from the splendid workman. In earlier times, when our country was new, there might have been a chance for the man who gave only one corner of his brain to his chosen calling, but in these days of keen competition it demands the most thorough knowledge of the business, and the most earnest application to bring success. Stick to your business, and you may be sure that your business will stick to you. It is this directing your whole mind and energies at one point, that brings success."

"The first thing a young man should do after selecting his vocation is to become thoroughly satisfied with his choice. He must be thoroughly satisfied or he is defeated at the start. In arriving at this decision he must bear in mind that if he would find a calling in which all will be sunshine, where the clouds never darken the pathway, he must look in some other world for that calling. On earth there are no such callings to be found."

"When we see Spurgeon, the great London preacher,[486] swaying the multitudes, we possibly do not remember the time when, as a poor boy of but eighteen, he begins preaching on the street corners to a shabby crowd. We would possibly be willing to partake of the fame that he may now enjoy, but might object to the pastoral visiting he is obliged to do each week. We would not object to the fame of Webster, of Calhoun or of Clay, but we might think it tedious to work night after night to obtain the knowledge which brought this fame. Ah! how many of us would 'peter' out in a short time? When one is satisfied with his calling he must work at it, if need be, day and night, early and late, in season and out of season, never deferring for a single hour that which can now be done. The old proverb, 'What is worth doing at all is worth doing well,' was never truer than it is to-day."

A certain class are clamoring for a division of the national wealth. They are like the worthless vagabond who said to the rich man, "I have discovered that there is money enough in the world for all of us if it was equally divided; this must be done, and we shall all be happy together." "But," replied the rich man, "if everybody was like you it would be spent in two months, and what would we then do?" "Oh! divide again; keep dividing, of course!" And yet a very considerable number of people think this is the solution of the labor problem. The point is, we must distinguish the dividing line between the rights of property and the wrongs of oppression. Either extreme is fatal. Education is surely the solution of the labor question.

Listen: Our country is the freest, the grandest, the best governed of any nation on earth; yet we spend yearly nine hundred million dollars for drink, and only[487] eighty-five million for education. Thus, while one dollar tends to education and wealth, over ten dollars is used to bring ignorance, degradation, and want. Over ten times the influence for evil that there is for good. Where is the remedy? Let Congress, which is supposed to control our interests, legislate against ignorance and for education. Suppose that nine hundred millions were yearly used to educate deserving young men and women in colleges; inaugurated into a "fresh-air fund" for the children in our large cities who have never been under its ennobling influence, but who, on the contrary, have never seen aught but vice and degradation. Nine hundred millions in one year. Nine thousand millions in ten years. How many thousands of young men could go through college if aided each, $100 per year. If it were wholly devoted to this purpose nine million young people could be helped through college in four years—in ten years there would be eighteen or twenty million college graduates from this source alone, what would be the result.

Suppose again that the money was devoted to building tenement houses that would be fit for human beings to live in, look at the wonderful good that could be done. I am not desirous of giving here a dry temperance lecture; but the object of this work is to aid others to success, and if vice and drink were removed there would be but little need for further advice. Ah! there lies the root of the evil. Strike the root, pull it up and trample it under foot until it is dead. Never allow it to take root again, and you can reasonably expect to be at least fairly successful.

This chapter is on "Concentration of Effort". Possibly some will imagine that we have wandered; not at all, as[488] we see it. The abolition of these vices tends toward concentration; bad habits, of no matter what nature lead to failure and tend to draw the attention from one's calling. Then let the young man who would succeed join his heart, his sympathies, his desires, with the right; let him live a consistent life; let him lead a strictly temperate life; let him give his whole influence to temperance, resting assured that if he puts his purposes into action that he will succeed in more ways than one.


Of all the elements of success, none is more essential than self-reliance,—determination to be one's own helper, and not to look to others for support. God never intended that strong independent beings should be reared by clinging to others, like the ivy to the oak, for support.

"God helps those who help themselves," and how true we find this quaint old saying to be. Every youth should feel that his future happiness in life must necessarily depend upon himself; the exercise of his own energies, rather than the patronage of others. A man is in a great degree the arbiter of his own fortune. We are born with powers and faculties capable of almost anything, but it is the exercise of these powers and faculties that gives us ability and skill in anything. The greatest curse that can befall a young man is to lean, while his character is forming, upon others for support.[489]

James A. Garfield, himself one of the greatest examples of the possibilities in our glorious Republic, once said:—

"The man who dares not follow his own independent judgment, but runs perpetually to others for advice, becomes at last a moral weakling, and an intellectual dwarf. Such a man has not self within him, but goes as a supplicant to others, and entreats, one after another, to lend them theirs. He is, in fact, a mere element of a human being, and is carried about the world an insignificant cipher, unless he by chance fastens himself to some other floating elements, with which he may form a species of corporation resembling a man." The best capital with which a young man can start in life, nine times out of ten, is robust health, good morals, fair ability and an iron will, strengthened by a disposition to work at some honest vocation.

We have seen in the preceding pages that a vast majority of our great men started life with these qualifications and none other. The greatest heroes in battle, the greatest orators, ancient or modern, were sons of obscure parents. The greatest fortunes ever accumulated on earth were the fruit of great exertion. From Croesus down to Astor the story is the same. The oak that stands alone to contend with the tempest's blast only takes deeper root and stands the firmer for ensuing conflicts; while the forest tree, when the woodman's axe has spoiled its surroundings, sways and bends and trembles, and perchance is uprooted: so is it with man. Those who are trained to self-reliance are ready to go out and contend in the sternest battles of life; while those who have always leaned for support upon those around[490] them are never prepared to breast the storms of life that arise.

How many young men falter and faint for what they imagine is necessary capital for a start. A few thousands or even hundreds, in his purse, he fancies to be about the only thing needful to secure his fortune. How absurd is this; let the young man know now, that he is unworthy of success so long as he harbors such ideas. No man can gain true success, no matter how situated, unless he depends upon no one but himself; remember that. Does not history bear us out in this? We remember the adage, "Few boys who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth ever achieve greatness." By this we would not argue that wealth is necessarily derogatory to the success of youth; to the contrary, we believe it can be a great help in certain cases and conditions; but we have long since discarded the idea that early wealth is a pre-eminent factor in success; if we should give our unbiased opinion, we should say that, to a vast majority of cases, it is a pre-eminent factor of failure. Give a youth wealth, and you only too often destroy all self-reliance which he may possess.

Let that young man rejoice, rather, whom God hath given health and a faculty to exercise his faculties. The best kind of success is not that which comes by accident, for as it came by chance it will go by chance. The wisest charity, in a vast majority of cases, is helping people to help themselves. Necessity is very often the motive power which sets in motion the sluggish energies. We thus readily see that poverty can be an absolute blessing to youth. A man's true position in the world is that which he himself attains.

How detestable to us is the Briton's reverence of [491]pedigree. Americans reverence achievement, and yet we are tending towards the opposite. Witness society, as it bows with smile and honor to the eight-dollar clerk, while frowning on the eighteen dollar laborer. This is wrong; work is work, and all work is honorable. It is not only wrong, but disgraceful. It is better to make our ancestry proud of us than to be proud of our ancestors. He is a man for what he does, not for what his father or his friends have done. If they have given him a position, the greater is his shame for sinking beneath that position. The person who is above labor or despises the laborer, is himself one of the most despicable creatures on God's earth. He not only displays a dull intelligence of those nobler inspirations with which God has endowed us, but he even shows a lack of plain common sense.

The noblest thing in this world is work. Wise labor brings order out of chaos; it builds cities; it distinguishes barbarism from civilization; it brings success. No man has a right to a fortune; he has no right to expect success, unless he is willing to work for it. A brother of the great orator, Edmund Burke, after listening to one of those eloquent appeals in Parliament, being noticed as employed in deep thought, was asked of whom he was musing. He replied: "I have been wondering how Ned contrived to monopolize all the talent in the family; but I remember that all through childhood, while we were at play, he was at study."

Ah! that's it. The education, moral or intellectual, must be chiefly his own work. Education is education, no matter how obtained. We do not wish to be understood as depreciating the usefulness of colleges; not at all. But a mere college diploma will avail a young[492] man but little. As before stated, education, no matter how obtained, is equally valuable. Study like that of Webster and Greeley, by New Hampshire pine knots, and that of Thurlow Weed before the sap-house fire, is just as valuable, when once obtained, as if it had the sanction of some college president.

The world will only ask, "What can he do?" and will not care a fig for any college certificate. The point is; if a young man be not endowed by self-reliance and a firm determination, colleges will avail him nothing; but if he have these, colleges will push him wonderfully. Nevertheless, colleges are not essential to success—an educated idiot will never make a statesman. It is said that when John C. Calhoun was attending Yale College he was ridiculed for his intense application to his studies. He replied, "Why, sir, I am forced to make the most of my time, that I may acquit myself creditably when in Congress." A laugh followed which roused his Southern blood, and he exclaimed: "Do you doubt it? I assure you that if I was not convinced of my ability to reach the National Capitol as a representative within three years from my graduation, I would leave college this very day." While there are some things in this speech that were possibly unbecoming; yet the principle of self-reliance, this faith in himself, this high aim in life, was undoubtedly the marked characteristic which brought to Calhoun his splendid success.

No young man will ever succeed who will not cultivate a thinking mind. If he is not original in aims and purposes he will not succeed. Witness the attempt of others to continue the business of Stewart. They had not only his experience, but the benefit of his great wealth; he succeeded without either—they failed with[493] both; he was obliged to establish a business—they had the benefit of his great patronage.

It has been said that a lawyer cannot be a merchant. Why? While a lawyer he thinks for himself: When a merchant he allows others to think for him. A certain great manufacturer made "kid" gloves his specialty, and so well did he succeed that to-day his trade mark imports to manufactured ratskins a value incommunicable by any other talisman. It is a poor kind of enterprise which thus depends upon the judgment of others. What can be more absurd than for a man to hope to rank as a thundering Jupiter when he borrows all his thunder. Remember that the world only crowns him as truly great who has won for himself that greatness.

Economy of Time.

"Full many a gem, of purest ray serene,

The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

How many young men for whom nature has done so much, "blush unseen," and waste their ability. Franklin said, "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of." We have seen how Franklin used his time. Born the son of a soap-boiler, lived to become one of our most noted philosophers, died worth thousands. Advice from such[494] men carries conviction, for we cannot but feel that our chances are fully equal to what theirs were.

Gladstone, England's most noted Premier, once said, "Believe me when I tell you that thrift of time will repay you in after-life with usury, but the waste of it will make you dwindle away until you fairly sink out of existence, unknown, unmourned." Thurlow Weed was so poor in boyhood that he was of necessity glad to use pieces of carpet to cover his all but freezing feet; thus shod he walked two miles to borrow a history of the French revolution, which he mastered stretched prone before the sap-fire, while watching the kettles of sap transformed to maple sugar. Thus was it that he laid the foundation of his education, which in after years enabled him to sway such mighty power at Albany; known as the "king maker."

Elihu Burritt, a child of poverty, the son of a poor farmer, the youngest of ten children. He was apprenticed at eighteen to a blacksmith. He wanted to become a scholar and bought some Greek and Latin works, carrying them in his pocket and studying as he worked at the anvil. From these he went to Spanish, Italian and French. He always had his book near him and improved every spare moment. He studied seven languages in one single year. Then he taught school one year, but his health failing, he went into the grocery business. Soon what money he had was swept away by losses.

Here we see him at twenty-seven, life seemingly a failure. Alas! how many would have given up. He left New Britain, his native town, walked to Boston, and from there to Worcester, where he once more engaged himself at his trade. His failure in business turns his[495] attention once more to study. He now is convinced as to the proper course to pursue, his aim is fixed, and he now sets himself strenuously about the accomplishment of his purpose. At thirty years of age he is master of every language of Europe, and is turning his attention to those of Asia, such as Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldaic. He is offered by a wealthy gentleman a course in Harvard University, but prefers to work with his hands while he studies.

He now begins to lecture, and everybody is eager to hear the learned blacksmith. After a very successful tour he returns to the anvil. After this he visits Europe, becomes the warm friend of John Bright and other eminent men; writes books, lectures, edits newspapers, builds a church and holds meetings himself. He said: "It is not genius that wins, but hard work and a pure life." He chose the best associates only, believing that a boy's companions have much to do with his success in life. At sixty-eight he died, honored by two hemispheres.

If our readers want further proof as to the result of improving spare moments, let them study the lives of such men as Douglass, Lincoln, Grant, Garfield, Blaine, Cleveland, and others too numerous to mention, and they will find that they were reared in the lower walks of life, but by using every available minute they have been enabled to rise to influence and usefulness. By this means they have worked the very odds and ends of time, into results of the greatest value. An hour every day, for ten years, will transform any one of ordinary ability from ignorance to learning.

Think of it. One hour could be easily improved each evening, counting three hundred week days to a year; in ten years you have spent three thousand golden[496] hours. If directed toward some specific end, think what it would accomplish. Then there are the Sundays devoted to religious knowledge. One of the first things to be learned by him who would succeed, is Economy of time. Lost wealth can be replaced by industry; lost health by hygiene; but lost time is gone forever.

The most frequent excuse one hears is: "I have no time." They cheat themselves with the delusion that they would like to do this or that, but cannot as they have no leisure. Dear reader, did you ever think that the more a person has to do, the more they feel they can do? Look at the men in our own community who have done the most for mankind; are they the wealthy, whose only duty seems to be to kill time? No. Almost universally they are the over-worked class who seem already burdened with cares. These are the men who find time to preside at public meetings, and to serve on committees.

It is easier for an over-worked man to do a little more than for a lazy one to get up steam. A light stroke will keep a hoop in motion, but it takes a smart blow to start it. The busy man succeeds: While others are yawning and stretching, getting their eyes open, he will see the opportunity and improve it. Complain not that you have no leisure. Rather be thankful that you are not cursed with it. Yes, curse it is nine times out of ten. Think of the young man going to some vile place of amusement to kill time, then think of that young man utilizing that hour every night in the acquisition of knowledge which will fit him for life's journey. Think also of the money he will save. Leisure is too often like a two-edged sword; it cuts both ways.[497]

Causes of Failure.

Horace Greeley has truly said: "If any man fancies that there is some easier way of gaining a dollar than by squarely earning it he has lost the clew to his way through this mortal labyrinth, and must henceforth wander as chance may dictate." Look about you; how many there are who are determined to share all the good things of this world without exchanging an equivalent. They go into business, but are not content to wait patiently, adding one dollar to another, and thus rendering to mankind an equivalent for this wealth for which they are asking. This excessive haste to become rich is one of the most frequent causes of failure. When a young man has decided to work with a will, and to accumulate every dollar he legitimately can he has made a long stride toward success. We do not deprecate a desire to be some one in the world, but we do most emphatically frown upon the desire to get wealth by speculation or illicit means. We most earnestly advise all young men to choose a calling, become thoroughly master of that calling, then pursue that vocation to success, avoiding all outside operations. Another man who has dealt in stocks all his life may be able to succeed, but your business is to stick to your vocation until, if necessary, you fairly wring success from it.

Moses Taylor was a successful merchant, he had long deposited with the City Bank, and was finally made its president. The late Commodore Vanderbilt often tried[498] to induce him to enter into his grand speculations, but of no avail. At last the crash of '57 came. The bankers called a meeting to discuss the situation. One bank after another reported drafts of from sixty to even ninety per cent. of their specie. When Mr. Taylor was called he replied: "The City Bank contained this morning $400,000; to-night we had $480,000." This was the kind of a bank president such principles made him.

Hardly anything is more fatal to success than a desire to become suddenly rich. A business man now counts his wealth by the thousands, but he sees a grand chance to speculate. This is a little risky, of course, but then the old adage: "Never venture, never have." I admit I may lose, but then all men are subject to loss in any business, but I am reasonably sure of gaining an immense amount. Why! what would folks think? I would be a millionaire. I would do so and so. Thus he indulges in this sort of reasoning, goes into a business of which he knows nothing and loses all. Why wouldn't he? Men who have made a study of that business for years, and who have amassed a fortune in it, are daily becoming bankrupt. What an idiot a man makes of himself when he leaves a calling in which he has been eminently successful to embark in a calling which is, at best, uncertain, and of which he knows nothing. Once for all, let me admonish you: If you would succeed never enter outside operations, especially if they be of a speculative nature. Select a calling, and if you stick to your calling, your calling will stick to you.

Frequent changes of business is another cause of failure, but we have treated this subject quite thoroughly elsewhere in this work. Therefore it seems to us that to add more here would be superfluous. True it is that[499] some men have succeeded who have seemingly drifted about. Dr. Adam Clark has said: "The old adage about too many irons in the fire conveys an abominable lie. Keep them all agoing—poker, tongs and all." But Dr. Clark seems to forget that the most of the people who try to follow his advice, either burn their fingers or find their irons cooling faster than they can use them. We cannot all be Clarks if we try, and to follow this method the most of us will fail; but we can, by following one line of procedure, at last bring success.

Extravagance of living is another prolific cause of bankruptcy. A man imagines that by hiring a horse and driving in the park he will show people that he is as good as the neighbor who drives his own horse. He deludes himself with the idea that this sort of extravagance will, in the eyes of his fellow-men, place him on an equal footing with millionaires.

Dr. Franklin has truly said: "It is not our own eyes, but other people's, that ruin us." It has been said that the merchant who could live on five hundred a year, fifty years ago, now requires five thousand. In living, avoid a "penny wise and pound foolish" custom. A man may think he knows all about economy and yet be ignorant of its first principles. For instance, a business man may save every imaginable piece of writing paper, using all the dirty envelopes that come in his way. This he does instead of using a neat letter head and clean paper, at a slight additional cost, and vast gain in the influence which such a letter carries over the other. Some years ago a man stopped at a farm house over night. After tea he much desired to read, but found it impossible from the insufficient light of one candle. Seeing his dilemma, the hostess said: "It is rather difficult to read[500] here evenings; the proverb says, 'You must have a ship at sea in order to be able to burn two candles at once.'" She would as soon have thought of throwing a five dollar bill into the fire as of setting the example of burning two candles at once. This woman saved, perhaps, five or six dollars a year, but the information she thus denied her children would, of course, out-weigh a ton of candles. But this is not the worst of it.

The business man, by such costly stinginess, consoles himself that he is saving. As he has saved a few dollars in letter paper, he feels justified in expending ten times that amount for some extravagance. The man thinks he is a saving man. The woman is a saving woman, she knows she is a saving woman. She has saved five or six dollars this year in candles, and so feels justified in buying some needless finery, which could gratify nothing but the eye. She is sure she understands economy, yet she starves the mind to clothe the body in finery. She is something like the man who could not afford to buy more than a penny herring for his dinner, yet hired a coach and four to take it home. Saving by retail and wasting by wholesale. Nowadays we use kerosene and thus our light is both good and cheap, but the principle remains.

Wear the old clothes until you can pay for more; never wear clothes for which you owe anyone. Live on plainer food if need be. Greeley said: "If I had but fifty cents a week to live on, I'd buy a peck of corn and parch it before I'd owe any man a dollar." The young man who follows this principle will never be obliged to live on parched corn. How few people keep an itemized account of their expenses. Spendthrifts never like to keep accounts. Buy a book; post in it every night your[501] daily expenditures in the columns; one headed "Necessaries," the other "Luxuries," and you will find that the latter column will be at least double the former. Indeed, in some cases it will exceed it ten times over.

It is not the purchase of the necessaries of life that ruin people, but the most foolish expenditures which we imagine necessary to our comfort. Necessary to our comfort; Ah! what a mistake is that, as many a man will testify who is perpetually dunned by uneasy creditors. It is the sheerest kind of nonsense, this living on credit. It is wicked. Yet a gentleman recently told the writer that he personally knew a clergyman who had been preaching for years on a salary exceeding seven hundred dollars per year, and of late on twelve hundred per year; yet, this man of the gospel to-day owes his college debts. A man loaned him money to go through school, and he has never been "able" to repay that money, although he has practiced the most "rigid economy."

Stuff! this man knows nothing of the first principles of economy. In my opinion, there are many clergymen who will have to answer for the sin of extravigance: There are many more who will have to answer for the sin of slothfulness. The Bible says: "Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work." Ah! there is a part of the commandments too often skipped flippantly over. Many a clergyman would be horrified if asked to do any labor on the seventh day; but would be equally horrified if accused of sinning by attending to a foreign business, thereby neglecting to do all his labor during the six other days.

God gives us ample time to do our work, and it is a sin to leave any of it undone. God expects a man to choose some calling, and He also expects that man to[502] master that calling, and He expects him to do his utmost to excel in that calling. No clergyman can spend four days out of a week in some foreign work, and in the two remaining days thoroughly prepare himself for the Sabbath work. For two reasons: One is, he disregards the law of concentration, divides his mind and thoughts; hence, loses force and influence. The other, that God does not approve of other than our best effort.

This preacher will occupy one hour in preaching a twenty-five minute discourse, and then complain because people are not interested in his sermons. We do not justify Sabbath-breaking, nor a lack of religious interest, but the preacher who is unwilling to take any responsibility upon himself for such a state of things is lacking somewhere. We speak of the clergyman simply as illustrative of our idea in this matter. The same rule applies to the lawyer, physician, or merchant—the mechanic, artist or laborer. If I was a day laborer building a stone wall I'd study my work and push it so vigorously that I would soon be, if not the best, at least one of the best workmen anywhere to be found. Strive to be an authority. Wasted opportunity; there is the root of thousands of failures.

A recent paper states that nine-tenths of our young lawyers fail from lack of study. Here is a thought for the clergyman who thinks he should have a better place. Of course there are circumstances to be considered, but the man of determination bends circumstances to his will. A man imagines himself capable of filling a higher place than he does. He imagines himself a Webster, a Lincoln, a Garfield, a Spurgeon—'but vainly waits for circumstances to favor his deserved promotion. Look at Spurgeon; was he picked up bodily and placed in the[503] pulpit he now stands upon? No, but he was full of the Holy Ghost, and without thought of what he deserved began preaching in the street. Was Talmage placed in the Tabernacle because he was of real inferiority to other preachers. No; but he was original, he borrowed from no one, he did his best, he fits the notch in which he is placed. Did people get down on their knees to Beecher, begging him to occupy Plymouth church? They recognized the necessity of concentration; and, although you see them in other fields, at times, still it was not until they had mastered their first undertaking. Elihu Burritt mastered over forty different languages by taking one at a time.

The writer, in early youth, learned a lesson which has ever been of inestimable benefit to him. The next lessons would begin Fractions, something we never had taken. We began to glance through that part of the book, and soon became thoroughly convinced that we should never be able to master their intricacies, at once becoming despondent. Coming home at night, he spoke of his discouragement, when his father set to work explaining the first principles. Thus, step by step, the stubborn principles were mastered, and to-day, if there is any part of Arithmetic in which he excels it is in Fractions.

"Never cross bridges until you come to them." A man should plan ahead, but he should be hopeful—not confident—should never borrow trouble, and must avoid all extremes. Another cause of failure is: The habit of endorsing without security. No one should ever endorse any man's paper without security or an equivalent. I hold that no man has a right to ask you to endorse his paper unless he can either endorse for you or give good[504] security. Of course there are cases where a brother, who is young and cannot give security, can be helped into business; but his habits must be his security, and his duty is to have made his previous life a guarantee of his ability to safely conduct the business. But even in such cases a man's first duty is to his family, and he should never endorse, even a brother's paper, to a greater amount than he feels that he could reasonably lose.

A man may be doing a thriving manufacturing business—another man comes to him and says: "You are aware that I am worth $20,000, and don't owe a dollar; my money is all locked up at present in my business, which you are also aware is to-day in a flourishing condition. Now, if I had $5,000 to-day I could purchase a lot of goods and double my money in a few months. Will you endorse my note for that amount?" You reflect that he is worth $20,000, and, therefore, you incur no risk by endorsing his note. Of course, he is a neighbor; you want to accommodate him, and you give him your name without taking the precaution of being secured. Shortly after he shows you the note, cancelled, and tells you, probably truly, that he made the profit expected by the operation. You reflect that you have done him a favor, and the thought makes you feel good.

You do not reflect, possibly, that he might have failed for every dollar that he was worth, and you would have lost $5,000. You possibly forget that you have risked $5,000 without even the prospect of one cent in return. This is the worst kind of hazard. But let us see—by and by the same favor is again asked, and you again comply; you have fixed the impression in your mind that it is perfectly safe to endorse his notes without security. This man is getting money too easily. All he[505] has to do is take the note to the bank, and as either you or he are considered good for it, he gets his cash. He gets the money, for the time being, without an effort. Now mark the result: He sees a chance for speculation outside of his business—a temporary investment of only $10,000 is required. It is sure to come back even before the note is due. He places the amount before you and you sign in a mechanical way.

Being firmly convinced that your friend is perfectly responsible, you endorse his notes as a matter of course. But the speculation does not develop as soon as was expected. However, "it is all right; all that is needed is another $10,000 note to take up the former one at the bank." Before this comes due the speculation turns out a dead loss. This friend does not tell you that he has lost one-half his fortune—he does not even tell you that he has speculated at all. But he is now thoroughly excited, he sees men all around making money—we seldom hear of the losers—"he looks for his money where he lost it." He gets you to endorse other notes at different times upon different pretenses until suddenly you are aware that your friend has lost all his fortune and all of yours. But you do not reflect that you have ruined him as well as he has ruined you.

All this could have been avoided by your gentlemanly but business-like bearing on the start. If you had said: "You are my neighbor, and of course, if my name will be of use to you at the bank, you can have it. All I ask is security. I do not at all distrust you, or your plan, but I always give security when I ask such a favor and I presume that you do." If you had simply asked security he could not have gone beyond his tether, and, possibly, very likely would not have speculated at[506] all. What the world demands is thinking men. Let justice rule in all business transactions. How many men would not waste another man's property, but would waste that which belongs to his family! Ah! we want more men who will recognize family demands for justice, as well as other people's demands—men who have the brains to comprehend that it is possible to cheat their own family as well as their neighbor.

Another frequent cause of failure is a neglect of one's business. There are many causes for this. One thing is certain, a man will attend to his business in proportion to the amount of interest he has in that business. This applies to all vocations, either in the professions, business, or manual labor. If we see a man playing checkers day after day in some corner-store, although the game itself may be no harm, still it is wrong for that man to waste valuable time.

Then there are pool and billiards. How many young men have been ruined for life, and possibly eternally damned, just by beginning a downward course at the billiard room. There is a peculiar fascination in the game of pool or billiards which cannot be described. Of course it is only a game for the cigars—yes, that's it; one habit leads to another. The young man who smokes goes in and in one evening's fun, "wins" fifteen or twenty cigars. He argues that he has got smoking material for two or three days or a week for nothing, but listen: He plays pool for ten cents a game. If he beats, his opponent pays; if his opponent beats, he pays. Each game is distinct by itself, and has no bearing on any previous game. Now, if you play and win two out of three games right straight along, you are steadily losing.

Every game you lose is ten cents gone that you can[507] not possibly win back. If you play twenty-five games, (and it won't take long for good players to do that in an evening), and you win two out of three, you will then be out at least eighty cents. If you win twenty-four out of the twenty-five, you would be out ten cents. Don't you see that the percentage is against the player. You never heard of a man making anything playing pool or billiards unless he was in the business. You have personally seen many young men working by the day who admit that they have spent from $100 to $1,000 during the three to five years they had played. Now, why is it some succeed while others fail?

There is one thing that nothing living ever naturally liked except a vile worm, and that is tobacco; yet, how many people there are who cultivate this unnatural habit. They are well aware that its use does harm. It is a harder job to learn it than to learn to like castor oil, yet they will persist in it until they learn to long for it. Young lads regret that they are not men; they would like to go to bed boys and wake up men. Little Charlie and Harry see their fathers or uncles smoke, if not, then they see somebody's father or uncle puffing along the street, "taking comfort," and they think that is one of the essentials of being a man. So they get a pipe and fill it with tobacco, and as the parents, instead of persisting until they gain their affections, slowly teaching them to detest wrong, fly to pieces and say, "I will whip you if I see you doing that again." So little Charlie and Harry get out behind the barn and light up. By and by Charlie says, "Do you like it, Harry"? And that lad dolefully replies, "Not very much; it tastes bitter." Presently he turns pale and soon offers up a sacrifice on the altar of fashion. But the boys stick to it, and at[508] last conquer even their appetites, learning to prefer their quid to the most delicious peach.

I speak from personal knowledge, for I have seen the time that I never felt prouder than when behind a five or ten cent cigar or meerschaum. But that time is passed with me, and I never see a poor clerk going along the street puffing a cigar which he must know he can ill-afford to buy, but I think of what a man once said in speaking of a cigar: "It is a roll of tobacco with fire on one end and a fool on the other." One cigar excites the desire for another, hence the habit grows on a person. These remarks apply with ten fold force to the use of intoxicants. No matter how bountifully a man is blessed with intelligence, if the brain is muddled, and his judgment warped by intoxicating drinks, it will simply be impossible for him to succeed, to his utmost bounds, at least.

Orators for years have told you of the degradation and want that the "social glass" brings us to. Stories innumerable have been told of husbands leaving all they loved in this world to satisfy these unnatural desires. One habit indulged leads to another. We have seen how even the "innocent" habit of smoking may have an influence in deciding a young man to take the next step. Once in the billiard room it is not hard to see how the young can be led on to drink, first one thing, then another. We will say nothing of cards. Card-playing, gambling, is only the natural result of these other evils, that is, they tend that way, they go with it and it goes with them. Where one is found you will often find the other.

The coroner can tell you more about the results of bad habits than I can. To those who to-day may be so[509] unfortunate as to be under the fascination of any habit, let me say that you can overcome that habit, and learn to detest it, too. Young man, you desire to be rich and succeed, but you disregard the fundamental principles of success—hence fail. Why wouldn't you? You might as well expect to build a fine house without a foundation. You desire to gain wealth, yet you spend twenty cents every day on one extravagance or another, which, with interest, would amount to over $19,000 at the end of fifty years. There is food for thought for you. When you again wish to yourself that you were rich, and then take ten cents out of your pocket in the shape of a cigar, and proceed to burn it up, just let the thought pass through your mind, "What a fool I make of myself every day."

A man recently told the writer that he spent one dollar every day in treating and smoking. He is an ice dealer in New York City, and has done a good business for thirty years. I cannot say how long he has been spending this dollar a day, but I do know that one dollar earned each day, with interest, will make a man worth over $475,000 within fifty years. There is enough wasted by the average person within twenty-five years to make any family well off. The pennies are wasted in the desire to get the dollars. The dollars are not half so essential to success as the pennies. The old saying: "Honesty is the best policy," is surely true in more ways than one. There is more ways than one to succeed in this world.

A man may succeed in National honor, and yet have little of this world's goods. Many a Congressman, who has but little money, who sometimes feel the need of money, would not exchange places with a Rothschild.[510] But it is not necessary to be either a Rothschild or a Webster, in order to succeed. It is a question in my mind, whether that man, who has lived wholly for self, is happy, even though he be rich as Croesus or as honored as Demosthenes.

Therefore let us not entirely lose sight of the fundamental law of success.—"Do unto others as you would have them do to you." "Put yourself in his place." What is success? It is doing our level best. It is the making the most of our abilities. If we do not do this we both sin, and lose the goal of earthly happiness.

"And is it too late?

No! for Time is a fiction, and limits not fate.

Thought alone is eternal. Time thralls it in vain.

For the thought that springs upward and yearns to regain

The pure source of spirit, there is no Too late."

Suggestions for Further Reading

Author: Source: Reproduced from Why Some Succeed While Others Fail, by BY H. A. LEWIS. published by WRIGHT, MOSES & LEWIS, 1887; CLEVELAND, OHIO: MOSES, LEWIS & CO. 1888.

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