Orison Swett Marden: Success

From the 1905 book, The Making of a Man by Orison Swett Marden:

Perhaps the biggest word in America to-day, the word which fills our newspapers and magazines, and which excites social rivalry — a word which covers up crime and is an excuse everywhere for misdemeanour, the word which the American child is taught to lisp with reverence and worship almost from the cradle, the “be all and end all” of many a human life, the word: which covers a multitude of sins — is “success.” Many an American youth’s model is the poor boy who can go to Chicago, or New York, or Boston, without a penny, and die a millionaire. This to him is success; and why shouldn’t it be? He sees the whole world running after the millionaire, regardless of who he is or how he got his money. No matter how he made it, spent it, or left it; few will ask whether he was rich in intellect, broad, beautiful, and noble in his life, or narrow, mean, avaricious, and grasping — if he left a million, he was called successful. No matter if he ground the very life out of his employees; no matter if others grew poorer that he might become rich; no matter if he poisoned and lessened the value of every acre of land in his neighbourhood; no matter if his children were mentally and morally starved and his home wretched; if he left a million, it was said that he had triumphed. This is the philosophy of the street which the boy breathes in as he learns to talk.

Don’t teach the young that “success” in acquiring wealth or position is the only condition of happiness.

Millions of bright boys and girls are destined to spend their lives in the constant service of others — in helping the sick, the poor, the unfortunate, the helpless — and practically they will never have an opportunity to become either well educated or very rich. But they must not expect to be forever miserable unless they succeed according to the popular standard of success. Many a poor woman, who spends her life in the sick room or in menial service, has reached a success infinitely higher than has many a millionaire.

Do not strive to reach impossible goals. It is wholly in your power to develop yourself, but not necessarily to make yourself a king. Too many are deluded by ambition beyond the power of attainment, or tortured by aspirations totally disproportionate to their capacity for execution. You may, indeed, confidently hope to become eminent in usefulness and power, but only as you build upon a broad foundation of self-culture.

The young man or woman who starts out in life with an ideal of success limited to the accumulation of wealth, or the performance of some deed that men will applaud, is to be pitied, for measured by such a standard the great majority of people are failures.

Original page images, click to enlarge:





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