“The boy who does not look up will look down, and the spirit that does not soar is destined to grovel.” “Whoever is satisfied with what he does has reached his culminating point. He will progress no more.”It is sad to see how many people there are who have no definite aim or ambition, but just exist from one day to another with no well-defined life plan. All about us on the stream of life we see young men and women aimlessly drifting without rudder or port, wasting away time, without serious purpose or method in anything they do.
They simply drift with the tide. If you ask one of them what he is going to do, what his ambition is, he will tell you he don’t exactly know yet what he will do. He is simply waiting for a chance to take up something. How can a man who lives without a idea ever expect to arrive anywhere but in chaos and confusion? A clear-cut purpose has a powerful influence upon your life. It unifies our efforts and gives direction to our work, so that every effort counts. I have never known anyone who followed an indolent inclination ever to amount to much.
It is the man who struggles against the things that are fighting against his ambition who gets to the front. No one ever amounts to much who does not take himself in hand and force himself to do the thing that is best for him in the end, not the pleasantest or the easiest. Every man should be a stern master of himself. He cannot sit and take it easy every time he has the opportunity; he cannot lie in bed until he feels like getting up in the morning, and work only when he is in the mood, will never amount to anything.
He must learn to master his moods and to force himself to work no matter how he feels. Most of the ambitionless people who fail are too lazy to succeed. They are not willing to put themselves out, to pay the price, to make the necessary effort. They want to have a good time. Why should they struggle and strive and strain? Why not enjoy life, take it easy? Physical laziness, mental indifference, an inclination to let things slide, to go along the line of the least resistance, these are the causes which have made up the great failure army.
One of the first symptoms of deterioration in your work is the gradual, unconscious oozing out, shrinkage, of your ambition. There is no one quality in our lives that requires more careful watching and constant building up, bracing up, so to speak, than our ambition, especially when we do not stay in an atmosphere which tends to arouse you to life’s possibilities. The habit of watching the ambition constantly and keeping it awake, is absolutely imperative to those who would keep it from deteriorating. Everything depends on the ambition. The moment it becomes weak all the life standards drop with it.
One must keep the ambition lamp ever-trimmed and burning brightly. It is dangerous to dally with ambition-killing influences. When a person has taken an overdose of morphine, a doctor knows that sleep would be fatal, and every effort is made to keep the patient awake. He is sometimes obliged to resort to what seems to be most cruel treatment, pinching and pounding the patient, to keep off that slumber from which there would be no awakening. So it is with ambition; if it once goes to sleep, it is almost impossible to arouse it.
Everywhere we see humans like wrist watches with splendid equipment, apparently all ready to run, and we wonder why they are silent, why they do not keep good time. The reason is, they have no mainspring, no ambition. ‘ A watch may have perfect wheels, it may have a very costly jeweled setting, but if it lacks a mainspring, it is useless. So a youth may have a college education, excellent health, but if he lacks ambition, all his other equipments, no matter how superb, will not amount to much.
I know capable men less than thirty years of age who have not yet chosen their life’s work. They say they do not know for what they are skill. Ambition often begins very early to knock for recognition. If you do not heed its voice, if it gets no encouragement after appealing to us for years, it gradually ceases to trouble us, because, like any other unused quality or function, it deteriorates or disappears when unused.
Nature allows us to keep only that which is in constant use. The moment we stop exercising muscle, brain, or faculty, deterioration sets in, and the power ‘is taken away from us. If you do not heed the early call of “Upward!” if you do not encourage and nourish your ambition, and constantly strengthen it by vigorous exercise, it will soon die. An unfed ambition is like a postponed resolution. Its demand for recognition becomes less and less imperious, just as the constant denying of any desire or passion tends to its extinction.
All about us we see people in whom ambition has died. They have the appearance of human beings, but the fire that was once in them has gone out. They walk the earth, but they barely exist. Their usefulness is gone. They are of no account to themselves or the world. If there is a pitiable sight in the world, it is a person in whom ambition is dead, the man who has denied and denied that inward voice which bids him up and on, the man in whom ambition’s fires have cooled from the lack of fuel.
There is always hope for a person, no matter how bad he is, as long as his ambition is alive; but when that is dead beyond resuscitation, the great life-spur, the impelling motive is gone. One of the most difficult things a human being can do is to keep his ambition from fading out, his aspirations sharp and fresh, his ideals clear and clean-cut. Many deceive themselves into thinking that if they keep aspiring, if they keep longing to carry out their ideals, to reach their ambition, they are actually realizing their dreams. But there is such a thing as aspiring too much, as forming the dreaming habit to one’s injury.
Ambition requires a great deal and a great variety of food to keep it vigorous. A wam bam thank you mam ambition does not amount to anything. It must be backed by a robust will power, stern resolve, physical energy, powers of endurance, to be effective. The fact that you have an almost uncontrollable impulse, a great absorbing ambition to do a thing which meets with the approval of your judgment and your better self, is a notice served upon you that you can do the thing, and should do it at once.
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. It is like the daily manna which fell for the daily needs of the Israelites in the desert. They had to use it at once. When their faith was weak they tried to store it up, but they found it would never keep until the next day. The time to do a thing is when the spirit is upon you, when it makes a sharp, clean-cut impression upon you. Resolution fades and becomes dimmer at every postponement.
When the desire, the ambition, comes fresh and strong with zeal and enthusiasm, it is easy; but after we have postponed it a few times, we find ourselves less ‘and less inclined to make the necessary effort or sacrifice to attain it, because it does not appeal to us with the same emphasis as it did at first. Do not allow the ambition to cool. Make up your mind that you cannot and will not spend your life being half satisfied. Rouse your spirit, and go toward the goal which is worthwhile. It is one of the most discouraging problems in the world to try to help the ambitionless, the half satisfied, those who have not discontent enough in their natures to push them on, initiative enough to begin things, and persistency enough to keep going.
You cannot do much with a young man who is apparently contented to drift along in a humdrum way, half content with his accomplishments, undisturbed by the fact that he has used but a very small part of himself, a very small percentage of his real ability, that his energies are running to waste in all sorts of ways. You cannot do much with a young man who lacks ambition, life, energy, and vigor, who is willing to slide along the line of the least resistance, and who exerts himself as little as possible. There is nothing upon which to build. Even those foundations which he had at the start are slowly crumbling to uselessness. It is the young man who is not satisfied with what he does, and who is determined to better it every day, who struggles to express the ideal, to make the possible in him a reality.