Counting The Chances Of Success
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
There are few, indeed, who really stop to count the chances of success. Men look about them in life and see a few, here and there, who have achieved great eminence. They note their high position ; they see the great honors that surround the man of success; they are dazzled by his income and his comparative freedom from care, and they think at once that they will follow the same vocation and climb to the same dizzy height. They little think of the tireless activities and exhaustless energy of the world's great men. They do not see that those who climb to the mountain tops have long and rugged paths to traverse. The summit seems close at hand, when in fact it is miles up and miles away, through unknown valleys and over unseen ridges and rocks and chasms. In the glamours of a successful life, men do not seem to see that herculean strength,. exhaustless vim, great intrepidity of heart, and the finest qualities of mind are necessary for that climbing.
A young man is going into business as a merchant. He sees, here and there, a man who, in devotion to mercantile pursuits, has accumulated wealth and now lives in princely retirement. The young neophite does not take into account that certain great qualities of character are necessary to a successful merchant. He does not see that a hundred men embark in business life and only five of them attain anything like distinguished success. He does not see that ninety-five of them have failed to do more than get an honest living. He does not stop to realize that the world has seen only one Stewart, one Astor, and one George Peabody.
Or our young man will venture into the lists of authorship, or try the difficult task of becoming eminent in one of the learned professions. He sees the very small number who have won laurels of immortality. The foolish boy does not think it possible that he can be less than they. He never dreams that he has within him only the talents of an ordinary man, and that he must live and die among the thousands of unknown and toiling workers who are living honored lives in a very narrow sphere of action.
This is quite different from counting the chances and being sure. It is one thing to be inspired by the mere exhilaration of desire ; it is a very different thing to have that heaven-born talent that laughs at difficulty, knows its power and moves unerringly in the line of counted chances. The sanguine expectations and glowing enthusiasm of youth rest often on no solid basis of strength and character. An eager desire is often mistaken for the promptings of genius. A tumultuous impulse, born of hot-headed wishes, is sometimes supposed to be the voice of conscience and the sanction of judgment. Hundreds of men are struggling to be millionaires, when they ought to be content and happy on a thousand a year. Scores of poor deluded mortals are striving to "preach Christ" and Him crucified, when they ought to be "plowing corn" on hillsides and prairies.
Many a seedy ignoramus is conning Blackstone and shouting, "There's room enough at the top," when his lazy powers will never carry him within hailing distance of the summit. Many a brainless dunce parts his hair in the middle and measures ribbon behind the counter, doing a girl's work for a girl's pittance, when his brawn is sorely needed in the harvest field and at the "business end" of a hay-fork. Oh, it is a pity that so many hundreds of our young men are content to do the drudgery of town employments and engage fine physical powers in the fag-ends of professional work for which they are not and never can be fitted ! Why should it be deemed a disgrace to live an honest life on the farm ? Why do men speak with a curl of the lip of the disgraces of labor ? Oh, shame on that young man who enlists the grand powers of his young manhood in a trivial employment, simply because it enables him to work in a store and swagger in a town ! Yes, shame on him ! though he be a king's son.
There is most pressing need of two things among our young people at the present time. An adequate preparation for the duties of life and a careful counting of chances before they make the crowning mistake of their lives by plunging into a task that they can never carry through successfully. Young men are too impatient of delay. They must be through with their education before they are out of their teens, and immersed in business at the early age of twenty. Their best powers have no time to ripen. They are simply hardened in their contact with the world, and soon fall into the miserable scramble for money-getting, with no tastes nor desires above that. The world is full of wretched, useless men, who have embarked upon a voyage that they cannot sail through. In early life they did not wait to take account of their powers and count the chances of success.
Providence has graciously hidden from our view the events of the future. Into that impenetrable vista we cannot see. And how wise and good that it is so ! How could any man nerve himself for the struggles of a year if they were all spread before him in a prophecy ? Stout hearts would be crushed, great purposes wrecked, and the opportunities of life lost in discouragement if we could peep into the future. The greatest blessing that a wise Providence has reserved for us is this, that we cannot know what a day will bring forth. The chances of success, therefore, can-not be wholly counted. There always is and always must be an element of doubt in them. But we can look within. We can know what kind of a life our peculiar tasks would lead us into. We can discover the work for which we are best fitted by habit and inclination. We can see the easiest track from where we stand to the upper ridges of the mountain before us, and we can, by the grace of God, walk in that pathway. We may be obliged to turn this way and that in our ascent ; it may be necessary to take a tortuous way to the summit of our success; but if we have entered the truly travelled way, we shall reach our hope at last. We have counted the chances.. We have entered into prosperity.