Character Building - Ambition
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
TO the small boy it is as simple to be ambitious for his future as it is to breathe. Of course he will grow up to be President; why not? Or if not President, at least he will be rich or famous in some way. It all looks so easy!
But as he grows older things seem altogether different. He finds it means continuous hard work even to hold his own in school or on the playground, and it is far easier to let some one pass him than to keep in the front rank. He grows, slowly but surely, to understand that it is going to be exactly so in the long race of life; hard work all the way to rise to the higher levels; and too often he accepts the second best as his lot, and thinks it not worth while to struggle toward the first. Perhaps he ceases to try at all, as he finds out that even second best things are difficult to attain, and sinks down to the utterly commonplace.
A boy who has no ideals of manhood and no ambitions will assuredly be a failure at any calling. Early in his life, before he begins to realize that the upper levels are hard to reach, he must be taught that work, hard and incessant work, is essential to any progress, and that he must accept this as a matter of course. When this is done, this one fact thoroughly instilled, everything looks possible to him. Lessons are hard, of course; but they are meant to be hard! It is almost impossible to win a first place in athletics, but at least one can try for it; the prize in anything means a struggle, and if there were none there would be no value to the prize, It is by dint of repeating such things to a child that ambition is awakened and achievement made to seem possible.
When the two parts of the whole are put together by the parent, ambition and effort, and both are constantly stimulated, children grow naturally to look on the best things as within their reach. Ignoble ambitions, of course, may be appealed to, carelessly or with intention, and a prize may be made to seem valuable for itself alone, or money-making or mere worldly success attractive; but a conscientious parent will carefully avoid these dangers. Boys especially are too apt to think of getting rich as the end and aim of life. The ambitions must constantly be turned toward the higher planes, and philanthropy made to be the end of wealth, not money itself; and position must be desired because thereby one can do so much for others, not because it will be delightful to be more conspicuous than other people.
Biography is one of the great stimulants to ambition of the right sort. No one can constantly read of such men as Lincoln, or the late Governor Johnson of Minnesota, or of such women as Florence Nightingale or Louisa May Alcott, without desiring to be like them. Such ambitions should be cultivated assiduously in the home and school, and intellectual and moral laziness despised. To be somebody, to do something in the world, should be held up as the thing worth striving for. Boys and girls will not fail to respond to wise training that urges them toward the highest things.
Foolish ambitions are delightfully dealt with in "The Rats and Their Son-in-law" and "The Story of the Man Who Did Not Wish to Die," in Volume I, but a worthy aim will be recognized in "The Juvenile Orator" in the same book. "Midas," in Volume II, shows the evil of a selfish ambition, while "Dick Whittington" in that volume teaches how a poor, humble boy may rise. The accounts of the travelers Baker and Burton, in Volume VI, are stimulating. Compare the biographies of Hamilton and Bismarck in Volume IX; also read the article "The Start and the Goal. " " Girls and Their Mothers," in Volume X, is recommended to the students of that essay. All may read with profit "Address to the Indolent," a poem in Volume XI.