Purpose And Will
( Originally Published 1879 )
WE can never over estimate the power of purpose and will. It takes hold of the heart of life. It spans our whole manhood. It enters into our hopes, aims, and prospects. It holds its scepter over our business, our amusements, our philosophy, and religion. Its sphere is larger than we can at first imagine.
The indomitable will, the inflexible purpose looking for future good through present evil, have always begot confidence and commanded success, while the opposite qualities have as truly led to timid resolve"s, uncertain councils, alternate exaltation and depression, and final disappointment and disaster. A vacillating policy, irresolute councils, unstable will, subordination of the future .to the present, efforts to relieve ourselves from existing trouble without providing against its recurrence, may bring momentary quiet, but expose us to greater disquiet than ever hereafter. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.
When a child is learning to walk, if you can induce the little creature to keep its eyes fixed on any point in advance, it will generally "navigate" to that point without capsizing; but distract its attention by word or act from the object before it, and down goes the baby. The rule applies to children of a larger growth. The man who starts in life with a determination to reach a certain position, and adheres unwaveringly to his purpose, rejecting the advice of the over-cautious, and defying the auguries of the timid, rarely fails if he lives long enough to reach the goal for which he set out. If circumstances oppose him, he bends them to his exigencies by the force of energetic, indomitable will. On the other hand, he who vacillates in his course, "yawning," as the sailors say, toward all points of the compass, is pretty sure to become a helpless castaway before his voyage of life is half completed. Smiles, in his Self-Help, tells of an English carpenter who was observed one day planing a magistrate's bench, which he was repairing, with more than usual carefulness, and when asked the reason replied, "Because I wish to make it easy against the time when I come to sit upon it myself." Singularly enough, the man actually lived to sit upon that very bench as a magistrate.
There can be no question among philosophic observers of men and events, that fixedness of purpose is a grand element of human success. Weathercock men are nature's failures. They are good for nothing.
The men of action, whose names are written imperishably on the page of history, were men of iron. Silky fellows may do for intrigue, .but the founders, and conquerors, and liberators, and saviors of empires, have all been of the warrior metal. No human being who habitually halts between two opinions, who cannot decide promptly, and having decided, act as if there was no such word as fail, can ever be great. Caesar would never have crossed the Rubicon, nor Washington the Delaware, had they not fixed their stern gaze on objects far beyond the perils at their feét.
Henry Ward Beecher, in a sermon, remarked: "We see supreme purposes which men have formed running through their whole career in this world. A young man means to be a civil engineer. That is the thing to which his mind is made up; not his father's mind, perhaps, but his. He feels his adaptation to that calling, and his drawing toward it. He is young, inexperienced, forgetful, accessible to youthful sympathies, and is frequently drawn aside from his life purpose. To-day he attends a picnic. Next week he devotes a day to some other excursion. Occasionally he loses a day in consequence of fatigue caused by over action. Thus there is a link knocked out of the chain of this week, and a link out of the chain of that week. And in the course of the summer he takes a whole week, or a fortnight out of that purpose. Yet there is the thing in his mind, whether he sleeps or wakes. If you had asked him a month ago what he meant to be in life, he would have replied, ' I mean to be a civil engineer.' And if you ask him to-day what has been the tendency of his life, he will say, `I have been preparing myself to be a civil engineer.' If he waits and does nothing, the reason is that he wants an opportunity to carry out his purpose. That purpose governs his course, and he will not engage in anything that would conflict with it.
" These generic principles, in the soul are like those great invisible laws of nature, whose effects are seen in the falling of the pebble-stone, in all the various changes which natural objects undergo. When a man has formed in his mind a great sovereign purpose, it governs his conduct, as the law of nature governs the operation of physical things.
" Every man should have a mark in view, and pursue it steadily. He should not be turned from his course by other objects ever so attractive. Life is not long enough for any one man to accomplish everything. Indeed but few can at best accomplish more than one thing well. Many, alas, very many! accomplish nothing worthy. Yet there is not a man endowed with fair or ordinary intellect or capacity but can accomplish at least one useful, important, worthy purpose.
"But few men could ever succeed in more than one of the learned professions. Perhaps the man never lived who could master and become eminent in the practice of all 6f them. Certainly not in them, and also in agriculture and the mechanic arts. Not be-cause one man was never endowed with capacity foi any of those pursuits or callings as he might choose. Our country, every country, abounds with men posses-sing sufficient natural capacity for almost or quite any pursuit they might select and pursue exclusively. But the reason is simply because no one man has the time, even if he have the capacity, to master and pursue with eminent success, so many and such widely different avocations. Indeed, man's days, at most, are so few, and his capacity, at the highest, so small, that never yet has he even by confining the united efforts and energies of his lifetime at the most trivial pursuit, much less in the deep and intricate learned professions, attained to perfection; and he never will. How much less, then, are the probabilities of his exhausting several, and those perhaps the most complicated spheres of man's activity."
It requires purpose, will, and oneness of aim and invincible determination to succeed.
It is will—force of purpose —that enables a man to do or be whatever he sets his mind on being or doing. A holy man was accustomed to say, "Whatever you wish, that you are; for such is the force of our will, joined to the Divine, that whatever we wish to be, seriously, and with a true intention, that we become. No one ardently wishes to be submissive, patient, modest, or liberal, who does not become what he wishes."
Will is the monarch of the mind, ruling with despotic, and at times with tyrannical powers. It is the rudder of the mind, giving directions to its movements. It is the engineer giving course and point, speed and force to the mental machinery. It acts like a tonic among the soul's languid powers. It is the band that ties into a strong bundle the separate faculties of the soul. It is the man's momentum; in a word, it is that power by which the energy or energies of the soul are concentrated on a given point, or in a particular direction: it fuses the faculties into one mass, so that instead of scattering all over like grape and canister, they spend their united force on one point. The intellect is the legislative department, the sensibilities are the judicial, and the will the executive.
Among the many causes of failure in life, none is more frequent than that feebleness of the will which is indicated by spasmodic action—by fitful effort, or lack of persistence. Dr. Arnold, whose long experience with youth at Rugby gave weight to his opinion, declared that "the difference between one boy and another consists not so much in talent as in energy." " The longer I live," says another competent judge, Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, "the more I am certain that the great difference between men, between the great and the insignificant, is energy, invincible determination, an honest purpose once fixed, and then death or victory. This quality will do anything in the world; and no talents, no circumstances, will make a two-legged creature a man without it." The very reputation of being strong-willed, plucky, and indefatigable, is of priceless value. It often cowes enemies and dispels at the start opposition to one's undertakings which would otherwise be formidable.
Says Shakespeare, "Our bodies are our gardens; to the which, our souls are gardeners": so that if we will plant nettles, or sow lettuce; sow hyssop, and weed up thyme; supply it with one gender of herbs, and distract it with many; either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry; why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills.
Where there is a will there is a way. Nothing is impossible to him who wills. Will is the root; knowledge the stem and leaves; feeling the flower.
"Where there is a will there is a way," is an old and true saying. He who resolves upon doing a thing, by that very resolution often scales the barriers to it, and secures its achievement. To think we are able is almost to be so—to determine upon attainment, is frequently attainment itself. Thus, earnest resolution has often seemed to have about it almost a savor of Omnipotence, "You can only half will," Suwarrow would say to people who had failed., "I don't know," "I can't," and "impossible," were words which he detested above all others. " Learn! do ! try ! " he would exclaim.