Turning The Favorable Advantage
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Every man has at least one opportunity to succeed. Whatever his vocation in life, there comes a time when fortune smiles and every circumstance is set toward prosperity. In the field of great endeavor, he may be high up among the few who toil on mountain tops, or in an humble station he may be low down among the many that throng the valleys below. It matters not; for him, in his own field of effort, there is some time a golden chance to rise above what he is and has been. Somewhere in the battle of life, God gives every man a chance to wear the victor's crown and stand among heroes. The successful man sees this opportunity, turns it to his advantage and advances to the realization of his hope and aim.
These opportunities come to us, often, unexpectedly, but with irresistible power to make or mar our for-tune. The drift of life is sometimes completely changed in a few minutes when we come to stand where two ways diverge and a momentous choice must be taken. In the moment of our supreme opportunity the foundation of a good and happy life is laid, or else, in our carelessness, the line of irretrievable failure is marked out. With the suddenness of a thunder peal one chapter of life is closed and another begun under vastly different circumstances. Such moments are crucial, and are fraught with momentous consequences. Like the great battles, the great resolutions and discoveries of history, these moments are the turning points of destiny. They are the landmarks of our individual history. It was indeed a great moment in the life of Columbus when he paused at the gate of the old convent of La Rabida to ask for a drink of water from the hand of an humble friar. Sick at heart with long waiting he was leaving Spain to interest the King of France in his great enter-prise. But, of all men in Spain, Perez de Marchena could bring Columbus to the accomplishment of his cherished ambition, and the drink of water at La Rabida was the turning point to the discovery of a new world.
A chance interview has often colored a man's whole after life. A call is made and a new purpose is formed. A sudden suggestion flashes forth from the conversation of a friend and one's existence from that hour takes on a new meaning. A letter comes with an unlooked-for proposition and a great business enter-prise is set on foot. A few minutes talk at the post-office or in a railway train has often brought great results to bear upon our success in life, and the man who can see these decisive crises of life and turn to his own account the advantages which they offer is the man to succeed, and the man who cannot do this will never meet with success though he be possessed of great talents and though he labor for it with unremitting zeal. These high qualities of mind and character, which are summed up in the word tact, are the pre-requisites to successful action.
It was this quality which made the lamented Garfield so great a man. As a boy he could trample down all difficulties to secure the advantages of a good education. As a young man he could step into the rising Institute at Hiram and make of it a celebrated college. In manhood, when friends opposed and warned, he could step to the front in Ohio's Legislature. In later manhood, he could take the sword and lead conquering armies and give sage counsel in camp and field. When the echoes of war slept, he could go higher still, always turning to his own account the advantages of every opportunity, until he became the wisest counselor in a land of counselors. Then in a supreme moment, in the great convention, he could go still higher, to the highest place in the gift of a proud and happy people. And from his high place, which he had ennobled with every element of greatness, he could go through a baptism of unspeakable suffering to loving enshrinement in the hearts of a grateful nation. From the lowly farm to the place of a martyr-crowned hero went this strangely favored man, always alert, with rare tact, bending to his will the best of every opportunity.
We consider this quality to be a prime requisite to success. Without it, inherent genius will waste itself in misdirected and unmeaning effort. Without it, the highest motives and most sincere purposes to do well will fail. Without the shrewdness to see the main advantage and to mold it to your purpose, there can be no true success.
It is just here that good habits and sound education tell most 'powerfully upon one's life. A favorable opportunity presents itself and the possibilities of the future are enlarged a hundredfold. Is the man ready to improve the opportunity ? Has an instinct of mind been established? Does he think closely and reason to correct conclusions ? Is he schooled to severe and prolonged application ? Is his character strong enough to stand the shock of success ? Can the soul rely on the integrity of its experience and answer the new demands made upon it along the lines of previous habit ? Has the past of one's life been a growth unconsciously shaping itself to this unlooked-for turning point of destiny? Can the man rise to this mighty emergency and in the self-consciousness of power wrest from fortune her priceless gifts and most shining jewels ? These are questions of great moment in the supreme crisis of life when everything hangs upon quick decisions and success is won by prompt and vigorous action. At such a time preconceived opinions and habitual determinations are the only ground upon which a man is to stand. He must measure the present and the future with the yard-stick of the past, and woe be to him if he cannot measure quickly and compute rapidly the enlarged measures of a splendid opportunity ! Our actions should be such that they can be referred to certain laws and principles. Then, when the crisis comes, it cannot take us by surprise : we are ready for the issue.
Life is full of opportunities. They come by scores to every man. Grand chances, freighted with most magnificent results, are fairly knocking at our doors. There never was a time in the world's history when talent was more sure of recognition or industry of its reward than at the present. The world is clamoring for men to fill its high positions and shoulder its grave responsibilities, Men of integrity, pluck and industry, reasonably endowed with good qualities of mind, can climb to almost any dizzy height in our American society. Among us the question of distinguished success is quite generally a question of will. The opportunity is waiting, ay, all but thrust into the hands of every young man as he arrives at the strength of manhood.
We are now approaching the noonday splendor of a most magnificent progress. The civilizations of the old world have given up to us the treasures of their experience, art and industry. All the avenues of the world's progress are centred here. From every clime, from every age, the riches of all time are gathered here to make this the most favored society that sun e'er shone upon. Within the present century, the great discoveries that have revolutionized civilization again and again have come from brains teeming with inventions. The steam-engine and the steam-boat, the cotton-gin and the cotton-loom, the railroad, the telegraph, the telephone and a thousand inventions in the arts. All these in less than a hundred years ! And with these what shall be the history of the next century ? We are not yet at the zenith of America's greatness. With vast resources yet undeveloped, with lands untamed, with treasures still unearthed and metals still unsmelted, with civilization still next door to the wilderness, there are degrees of progress and greatness still unattained in this strangely favored land. What opportunities lie before the ambitious workers of to-day ! What chances for willing hands and stout hearts and cultured brains ! Into what a heritage has every young man entered ! He lives in a veritable atmosphere of gigantic possibilities, and a life of failure must necessarily be a history of lost opportunities and squandered possibilities.