"What are the motives which keep men slaving after they have acquired a competence?" "Is ambition a selfish attribute?" These and similar questions are very frequently asked.
The passion for conquest, for power, the love of achievement, is one of the most dominant and persistent characteristics of human nature. With most people the bread and butter and housing problem, the question of getting a living, a competence, is only one, and often one of the least, of the motives for an active career.
We have an instinctive feeling that we have been set in motion by a Higher Power; that there is an invisible spring within us—the imperious must—which impels us to weave the pattern given us in the Mount of Transfiguration of our highest moment, to make our life-vision real. A divine impulse constantly urges us to reach our highest ideal. There is something back of our supreme ambition deeper than a mere personal gratification. There is a vital connection between it and the great plan of creation, the progress, the final goal, of the race.
Even if dimly, we are conscious that we owe something to the world, and that it is our duty to pay the debt. There is something within which protests against our living idle, purposeless lives; which tells us that our debt to the race is a personal one. It tells us that our message to humanity is not transferable; that we must deliver it ourselves. No matter how much money we may have, we don't feel quite right unless we are doing our part of the world's work.
We feel that it is mean, contemptible, to be drones in the great human hive; to eat, drink, wear, and use what others earn by hard labor. We have a sneaking feeling that we are criminals; that it is unworthy of us to shirk a manly or womanly part in life; it violates our sense of justice, of fairness.
These promptings of humanity and the yearning of every normal man and woman for a fuller, completer life; the craving for expansion, for growth; the desire to objectify our life-visions, to give birth to the children of our brain, to exercise our inventiveness, our ingenuity, to express our artistic temperament, our talents, whatever they may be; the inherent, instinctive longing to become that which we were intended to be; to weave the life-pattern given us at birth — these are the impelling motives for a creative career.
One person expresses themselves, or delivers their message to humanity, through their inventive ability to give their fellow man that which will emancipate them from drudgery; another delivers their message through their artistic ability; another through science; another through oratory, through business, or their pen, and so on through all the modes of human expression, each delivers themselves according to their talent. In every case the highest motive is beyond the question of mere living-getting.
The great artist does not paint simply for a living, but because they must express that divine thing in them that is struggling for expression. They have an unconquerable desire to put upon canvas the picture that haunts their brain. We all long to bring out the ideal, whatever it may be, that lives within us. We want to see it; we want the world to see it.
It is not so much what people get out of their struggles, as the inherent passion in every normal man and woman for self-expression—to do the biggest thing possible to them—that urges them on. This is what keeps people going, always struggling to achieve.
Some savage tribes believe that the spirit of every conquered enemy enters into the conqueror and makes him so much stronger. It is certain that every business or professional conquest, or financial victory, every triumph over obstacles, makes the achiever so much larger, so much stronger a person.
The exercise of the creative faculties, the stretching of the mind over greater and greater problems, and the solving of them, constitute a powerful mental tonic and give a satisfaction which nothing else gives. Think of the lameness, the insipidity, the weakness, the mental flabbiness of the life of the inactive and purposeless individual who has nothing special to do, no great life-motive, pushing them on, in comparison with one who feels all the forces within them heaving and tugging away to accomplish a mighty purpose!
The idle, aimless person does not know the meaning of personal power or the satisfaction which comes to the doer, the achiever.
Those who wonder why men and women who already have a competence continue to struggle, to play the game with as much zeal and ardor as ever, when they might retire from the field, little realize the tremendous fascination of the great life-game, especially for those who have artistic talent and those who have the ability to do things; people who have great executive powers, qualities of leadership.
With as much reason might we wonder why great singers, artists, actors, authors, do not retire from active life, give up their work when they are at the zenith of their power, when they are just in a position to do the greatest thing possible to them, as to wonder why great business and professional men and women do not retire in the most fruitful period of their lives merely because they have attained a competence.
The unborn creatures of the imagination of the artist, the author, the actor, the singer, struggling for expression, haunt them until they are made real. So the ambitions and ideals of the business person, the professional person, clamor for expression so long as they are able to continue in the game.
Those who have never won big battles in business do not realize what a deep hold this passion for conquest, this insatiable thirst for victory, gets upon the achiever; how it grips them, encourages them, nerves them for greater triumphs. A great businessman develops the lust of power, the passion for conquest, as did Napoleon or other great warriors. The desire to achieve, to dominate, grows stronger and more vigorous with every new victory.
The ambition for greater achievements is fed by every fresh triumph, and the passion for conquest, which years of winning and the habit of conquering have strengthened, becomes colossal, often abnormal, so that men who have grown accustomed to wielding enormous power shudder at the very thought of laying down the scepter.
Think of the great business potentates of our country, whose power governs vast fields of activity — think of these people as retiring, giving up active life, because they have acquired a competence! Some of our captains of industry, railroad men, bankers and financiers, wield more real power today, exercise a greater influence upon civilization than many European rulers.
We hear a great deal of criticism of the greed of rich men, which keeps them pushing ahead after they have more money than they can ever use to advantage, but the fact is, many of these men find their reward in the exercise of their powers, not in amassing money, and greed plays a comparatively small part in their struggle for conquest. Yet this is not true of all rich men.
Many of them are playing the game, and keep on playing it, for the love of accumulating. Their selfishness and greed have been indulged so long that they amount to a passion, and the accumulators oftentimes become money-mad.
But the higher type of man plays the game, from start to finish, for the love of achievement; because it satisfies his sense of duty, of justice; plays it because it will make him a larger, completer man; because it satisfies his passion for expansion, for growth. He plays the game for the training it gives, for the opportunity of self-expression. He feels that he has a message to deliver to mankind, and that he must deliver it like a man.
The tyranny of habit is also a powerful factor in keeping people going. The daily routine, the business or professional system, becomes a part of our very nature. When we have been going to our office or business at just such a time every morning, doing about the same things every day for a quarter or half a century, any radical change—a sudden cessation of all these activities, a switching from the daily use of our strongest faculties to comparatively unused ones—is not a pleasant thing to contemplate, nor an easy thing to endure.
Every normal man and woman has a dread of the shrinking and shriveling which inevitably follow the change from an active to an inactive life. He or she dreads this because it is a sort of slow suicide, a gradual atrophy of a talent or power which had perhaps been the pride of their life.
There are many reasons why a person should not retire when they have a competence. A whole life's momentum, the grip of habit, which increases facility and desire at every repetition; strong ties of business or professional friendship; and, above all, the passion for conquest, for achievement, the love of the game, tend to keep them in it.
It is the love of forging ahead, of pushing out into new fields, which has grown to giant proportions in the grand struggle for supremacy, the ambition to push on a little further, not greed or selfishness, that keeps the majority of men and women in harness.
The artist, the business or the professional person is much like the hunter, who will endure all sorts of hardships and privations in the pursuit of game but loses all interest in it the moment he bags it.
The love of achievement is satisfied in the very act of creation, in the realization of the ideal which had haunted the brain. Ease, leisure, comfort are nothing compared with the exhilaration which comes from achievement.
Who can describe the sense of triumph that fills the inventor, the joy that thrills them when they see for the first time the perfect mechanism or device—the work of their brain and hand—that will ameliorate the hard conditions of mankind and help to emancipate man from drudgery?
Who can imagine the satisfaction, the happiness of the scientist who, after years of battling with poverty, criticism, and denunciation, and the tortures of being misunderstood by those dearest to them, succeeds at last in wresting some great secret from nature, in making some marvelous discovery that will push civilization forward?
The struggle for supremacy—the conquest of obstacles, the mastery of nature, the triumph of ideals—has been the developer of man, the builder of what we call progress. It has brought out and broadened and strengthened the finest and noblest traits in human nature.
The idea that a man, whatever his work in the world, should retire just because he has made enough money to live upon for the rest of his life is unworthy of a real man, who was made to create, to achieve, to go on conquering.
Every normal human being is born with a great sacred obligation resting upon them—to use their highest faculties as long as they can, and to give their best to the world; and the laws of their nature and of the universe are such that the more one gives to the world, the more one gets for themselves—the larger, the completer person they become. But the moment one tries to sell themselves to selfishness, to greed, to self-indulgence, the smaller, meaner one becomes.
It is no wonder that the person who retires merely for selfish gratification is uneasy, unhappy, and is sometimes driven to suicide. They know in their heart that it is wrong to withdraw their great productive, creative ability from a world which needs it so much. They know that it is a sin against their own development, their own future possibilities, to cease the exercise of their Godlike powers.
It is the wrestling with obstacles and the overcoming of difficulties that have made man a giant of achievement.
If we could analyze a strong, vigorous character, we should find it made up largely of the conquering habit, the habit of overcoming. On the other hand, if we should analyze a weak character we should find just the reverse—the habit of failure, the habit of letting things slide, of yielding instead of conquering—the lack of courage, of persistency, of grit.
There is the same difference between a self-made man, who has fought his way up to his own loaf, and the pampered youth who has never been confronted by great responsibilities that would exercise his powers and call out his reserves, that there is between the stalwart oak which has struggled for its existence with a thousand storms, with all the extremities of the elements, and the hot house plant which has never been allowed to feel a breath of frost or a rough wind.
Every bit of the oak's fibre has registered a victory, so that when its timber is called upon to wrestle with storms and the fury of the sea, it says, "I am no stranger to storms; I have met them many a time before. I feel within me stamina and fibre to resist the fury of any sea, because I have fought and overcome its equal a thousand times."
The hot house plant succumbs to the first adverse wind.
Responsibility is a powerful developing factor of which the idle, aimless person never gets the advantage. Great responsibilities bring out great reserves to match them.
The consciousness of having a message for mankind has held multitudes of people to their ideals, amidst suffering, hardship, and overwhelming difficulties.
Every normal human being is happiest as well as strongest when active, especially when doing that which they were intended to do, that which they are best fitted to do; when they are trying to make real the vision of their highest moment. They are weakest and most miserable when idle, or doing that which they are least fitted for by nature.
The divine discontent which all aspiring souls feel is a longing for growth, for a realization of possibilities. It is the call of the potencies within us to do, to be; the longing for that expansion and power which can only come from healthful, vigorous activity in pursuit of a worthy aim.
There is no mental tonic, no physical stimulus like that which comes from the consciousness of growing larger, fuller, completer each day in the pursuit of one's chosen work.
The passion for conquest, the conquering faculty which we all have—that something within us which aspires—becomes strong and powerful just in proportion as it has legitimate exercise and encouragement, so that every feeling out and stretching of the mind, every exercise of the faculties today makes a larger tomorrow possible.