Time As An Element Of Success
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
In our day when every man is in reckless haste and impatient for results, we are gradually losing sight of the element of time. Every enterprise requires time—time for preparation ; time for a fair and good beginning ; time for success and triumph. There is no enterprise which can be safely hurried. There is a period in every life work, when it is necessary to simply sit down and wait. The young professional man may be anxious after his fees, but he must wait until his business has had time to grow. It is sheer folly for him to try to hasten success. There are some kinds of work that can be done only when all the circumstances are -favorable and right for it. The work of a writer for instance, cannot be done when the had is heavy and tired and the hand is dead. The biographer of Chas. Dickens tells us that he used to go to his study at times and sit through the morning hours totally unable to control his mind or do any literary work. He does not tell us that Dickens waited for inspiration for he prepared himself for his work with great care and did not commence a story until his preparations were most thorough and complete. It was only that there were certain conditions of mind necessary for successful literary composition, and these he did not always possess. Lord Byron said that poetical productions came from an excitement which, from its intensity, could only be temporary. Those inventive ideas so necessary to poetic composition come to a man at unforeseen moments and have to be siezed when they come. A poet or a writer therefore, when he does his best is obliged to work at rare intervals. Now with tremendous rapidity, now quite slowly, according to the dictates of his treacherous muse. Sir Walter Scott said that he had known a large number of very able men. Some of them worked methodically and seemed to produce the results for which they labored quite regularly and of a uniform degree of excellence. But he said that he had never known a genius who could work that way. The truth seems to be that the moments of highest and best invention are rare and cannot be summoned at will, and the man who would be a writer or a poet must learn to wait for that clearness of mind and brilliancy of conception that enables him to turn off work at a fever heat. The conditions favorable to good literary composition are formed in a long and thorough preparation which leaves the mind well supplied with material for its exhausting work. The element of time therefore is of the greatest possible importance to the man who would venture in the lists of authorship.
But is the element of time not necessary to every man ? Is there not the same need for careful preparation before there can be readiness of action ? Is it not necessary for a man to consume much time in diligent application before he can command that punctuality which is so necessary in every successful career ? Is it not always necessary to strengthen the mind with study and the body with exercise, before we can possibly cope with the difficulties of daily toil? It is, we think, the high appreciation of the value of time that makes the great workers so careful in its use. Rufus Choate, the noted Massachusetts lawyer, understood perfectly the value of time in the preparation of his cases. When he had once been retained upon a case, his preparations for the trial were most exhaustive. He went through the pleadings, rulings, examination of the principal witnesses, and took copious notes of all the work as he went along. The papers were then laid aside until the day of trial approached. Meanwhile his active mind was busy upon the case continually. Now and then, at frequent intervals, he would take out his notes, revise them here and there, or add something important to them. As the time of the trial drew near, the entire case was taken up anew and most thoroughly examined and revised. Everything, so far as possible, was made perfect for the day of the trial. He was never content until everything which had any possible bearing upon the case had been investigated and thoroughly mastered. After whole days and weeks of such preparation, Rufus Choate was ready with his case, and woe to the counsel upon the opposite side if he had not made as careful preparation. Choate had a keen appreciation of the element of time in his success. He never lost a moment. Regularly at nine o'clock he went to his office and spent the morning there. If clients were there, they received his first attention. If not, he turned the powers of his great mind to the preparation of his case or argument for trial. If these were not pressing, he devoted his time to some special line of study which he always kept marked out for spare moments. He was never idle. He sat with book and pen in hand, taking down notes of what he read, and storing his mind with knowledge for his daily work.
The element of time, therefore, should be carefully considered in counting the chances of success in any enterprise. One can ill afford to. run the hazard of too much haste. Something of importance may be forgotten. Some vital blunder may be overlooked that will spoil all in the end. That time is not wasted which is spent in careful preparation for active and vigorous work. Indeed, it is one of those necessary adjuncts of high endeavor, without which all will be lost. Like the merchant's capital; time is. one of the agents of production, and we can no more leave it out of account than we can tools, material or labor. Those save time to the best purpose, therefore, who love thoroughness and soundness in all that they learn to do, and who accept cheerfully the inevitable limitations that are put upon high endeavor and quick results. There is a point of proficiency at which an acquisition begins to be of some use, and unless we have, the time and resolution necessary to reach that point, our labor is as completely thrown away as that of a mechanic who began to build an engine and never finished it. Mr. Hamerton has pointed out that each of us has acquisitions which are practically unavailable on account of their unsoundness. We have a smattering of a language or two that we can neither speak nor write. We know something about a science whose elements we have hardly mastered; there is an art which we have studied, but which we cannot practice with any satisfaction to ourselves or others. The time spent on these useless acquisitions is well nigh wasted. We derive only a little mental discipline from them, and even that might be much increased if our pretended accomplishments were fewer in number and more thorough. Soundness is what is needed in every department of life; but to obtain it there is vast, need, of a great expenditure of time and effort. And the time is, as necessary as the effort.
"Time and occasion," says Sir Arthur Helps, "are the two most important circumstances in human life." To use the one properly and to take advantage of the other is the. highest exhibition of earthly wisdom. To save time and devote it to the noble purposes of life is to use the God-given means for success and excellence. To employ one's time in diligent, joyous self-culture is, to enjoy the greatest blessing this world has to give. To be timely in all things, saying the right word at the right time, doing the right thing in the right place, adapting one's self fully to the circumstances which surround him, is to. succeed in the high-est and best sense.