How to Succeed, or Stepping-Stones to Fame and Fortune



In all matters, before beginning, a diligent preparation should
be made.

How great soever a genius may be, … certain it is that he
will never shine in his full lustre, nor shed the full
influence he is capable of, unless to his own experience he
adds that of other men and other ages.

It is for want of the little that human means must add to the
wonderful capacity for improvement, born in man, that by far
the greatest part of the intellect, innate in our race,
perishes undeveloped and unknown.

If any man fancies that there is some easier way of gaining a
dollar than by squarely earning it, he has lost his clue to his
way through this mortal labyrinth and must henceforth wander as
chance may dictate.

What we do upon some great occasion will probably depend on
what we already are; and what we are will be the result of
previous years of self-discipline.

Learn to labor and to wait.

“What avails all this sturdiness?” asked an oak tree which had grown solitary for two hundred years, bitterly handled by frosts and wrestled by winds. “Why am I to stand here useless? My roots are anchored in rifts of rocks; no herds can lie down under my shadow; I am far above singing birds, that seldom come to rest among my leaves; I am set as a mark for storms, that bend and tear me; my fruit is serviceable for no appetite; it had been better for me to have been a mushroom, gathered in the morning for some poor man’s table, than to be a hundred-year oak, good for nothing.”

While it yet spoke, the axe was hewing at its base. It died in sadness, saying as it fell, “Weary ages for nothing have I lived.”

The axe completed its work. By and by the trunk and root form the knees of a stately ship, bearing the country’s flag around the world. Other parts form keel and ribs of merchantmen, and having defied the mountain storms, they now equally resist the thunder of the waves and the murky threat of scowling hurricanes. Other parts are laid into floors, or wrought into wainscoting, or carved for frames of noble pictures, or fashioned into chairs that embosom the weakness of old age. Thus the tree, in dying, came not to its end, but to its beginning of life. It voyaged the world. It grew to parts of temples and dwellings. It held upon its surface the soft tread of children and the tottering steps of patriarchs. It rocked in the cradle. It swayed the limbs of age by the chimney corner, and heard, secure within, the roar of those old, unwearied tempests that once surged about its mountain life. All its early struggles and hardships had enabled it to grow tough and hard and beautiful of grain, alike useful and ornamental.

“Sir, you have been to college, I presume?” asked an illiterate but boastful exhorter of a clergyman. “Yes, sir,” was the reply. “I am thankful,” said the former, “that the Lord opened my mouth without any learning.” “A similar event,” retorted the clergyman, “happened in Balaam’s time.”

Why not allow the schoolboy to erase from his list of studies all subjects that appear to him useless? Would he not erase every thing which taxed his pleasure and freedom? Would he not obey the call of his blood, rather than the advice of his teacher? Ignorant men who have made money tell him that the study of geography is useless; his tea will come over the sea to him whether he knows where China is or not; what difference does it make whether verbs agree with their subjects or not? Why waste time learning geometry or algebra? Who keeps accounts by these? Learning spoils a man for business, they tell him; they begrudge the time and money spent in education. They want cheap and rapid transit through college for their children. Veneer will answer every practical purpose for them, instead of solid mahogany, or even paint and pine will do.

It is said that the editors of the Dictionary of American Biography who diligently searched the records of living and dead Americans, found 15,142 names worthy of a place in their six volumes of annals of successful men, and 5326, or more than one-third of them, were college-educated men. One in forty of the college educated attained a success worthy of mention, and but one in 10,000 of those not so educated; so that the college-bred man had two hundred and fifty times the chances for success that others had. Medical records, it is said, show that but five per cent. of the practicing physicians of the United States are college graduates; and yet forty-six per cent. of the physicians who became locally famous enough to be mentioned by those editors came from that small five per cent. of college educated persons. Less than four per cent. of the lawyers were college-bred, yet they furnished more than one-half of all who became successful. Not one per cent. of the business men of the country were college educated, yet that small fraction of college-bred men had seventeen times the chances of success that their fellow men of business had. In brief, the college-educated lawyer has fifty per cent. more chances for success than those not so favored; the college-educated physician, forty-six per cent. more; the author, thirty-seven per cent. more; the statesman, thirty-three per cent.; the clergyman, fifty-eight per cent.; the educator, sixty-one per cent.; the scientist, sixty-three per cent. You should therefore get the best and most complete education that it is possible for you to obtain.

Knowledge, then, is one of the secret keys which unlock the hidden mysteries of a successful life.