Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Concentration of Effort

The man who has no occupation, is in a sad plight: The man who lacks concentration of effort is worse off. In a recent test of the power of steel plates, designed for ship armor, one thousand cannon were fired at once against it, but without avail. A large cannon was then brought out. This cannon used but one-tenth as much powder as did the combined force of the others, yet, it was found, when the smoke had cleared away, that the ball had pierced the plate. Ten times the powder needed availed naught, because, the law of concentration was disregarded.

One of the essential requisites to success is concentration. Every young man, therefore, should early ascertain his strong faculties, and discern, if possible, his especial fitness for any calling which he may choose. A man may have the most dazzling talents, but if his energies are scattered he will accomplish nothing. Emerson says: “A man is like a bit of Labrador spar, which has no lustre as you turn it in your hand, until you come to a particular angle; then it shows deep and beautiful colors.” There is no adaptation or universal applicability in man. Dryden has said:

“What the child admired,
The youth endeavored, and the man acquired.”

Is it not so? Do we not find Michael Angelo neglecting school to copy drawings? Henry Clay learning pieces to recite in the barn or corn field? Yet, as Goethe says: “We should guard against a talent which we cannot hope to practice in perfection. Improve it as we may, we shall always, in the end, when the merit of the master has become apparent to us, painfully lament the loss of time and strength devoted to such botching.”

The man who would know one thing well, must have the courage to be ignorant of a thousand other things, no matter how attractive they may be, or how desirable it may seem to try them. P. T. Barnum, the veteran showman, who has lost several fortunes but risen above all, paid every dollar of his indebtedness, and is to-day a millionaire, says in his lecture on ‘The Art of Money Getting’:

“Be a whole man in whatever you undertake. This wholeness is just what distinguishes the shabby, blundering mechanic from the splendid workman. In earlier times, when our country was new, there might have been a chance for the man who gave only one corner of his brain to his chosen calling, but in these days of keen competition it demands the most thorough knowledge of the business, and the most earnest application to bring success. Stick to your business, and you may be sure that your business will stick to you. It is this directing your whole mind and energies at one point, that brings success.”

“The first thing a young man should do after selecting his vocation is to become thoroughly satisfied with his choice. He must be thoroughly satisfied or he is defeated at the start. In arriving at this decision he must bear in mind that if he would find a calling in which all will be sunshine, where the clouds never darken the pathway, he must look in some other world for that calling. On earth there are no such callings to be found.”

“When we see Spurgeon, the great London preacher, swaying the multitudes, we possibly do not remember the time when, as a poor boy of but eighteen, he begins preaching on the street corners to a shabby crowd. We would possibly be willing to partake of the fame that he may now enjoy, but might object to the pastoral visiting he is obliged to do each week. We would not object to the fame of Webster, of Calhoun or of Clay, but we might think it tedious to work night after night to obtain the knowledge which brought this fame. Ah! how many of us would ‘peter’ out in a short time? When one is satisfied with his calling he must work at it, if need be, day and night, early and late, in season and out of season, never deferring for a single hour that which can now be done. The old proverb, ‘What is worth doing at all is worth doing well,’ was never truer than it is to-day.”

A certain class are clamoring for a division of the national wealth. They are like the worthless vagabond who said to the rich man, “I have discovered that there is money enough in the world for all of us if it was equally divided; this must be done, and we shall all be happy together.” “But,” replied the rich man, “if everybody was like you it would be spent in two months, and what would we then do?” “Oh! divide again; keep dividing, of course!” And yet a very considerable number of people think this is the solution of the labor problem. The point is, we must distinguish the dividing line between the rights of property and the wrongs of oppression. Either extreme is fatal. Education is surely the solution of the labor question.

Listen: Our country is the freest, the grandest, the best governed of any nation on earth; yet we spend yearly nine hundred million dollars for drink, and only eighty-five million for education. Thus, while one dollar tends to education and wealth, over ten dollars is used to bring ignorance, degradation, and want. Over ten times the influence for evil that there is for good. Where is the remedy? Let Congress, which is supposed to control our interests, legislate against ignorance and for education. Suppose that nine hundred millions were yearly used to educate deserving young men and women in colleges; inaugurated into a “fresh-air fund” for the children in our large cities who have never been under its ennobling influence, but who, on the contrary, have never seen aught but vice and degradation. Nine hundred millions in one year. Nine thousand millions in ten years. How many thousands of young men could go through college if aided each, $100 per year. If it were wholly devoted to this purpose nine million young people could be helped through college in four years—in ten years there would be eighteen or twenty million college graduates from this source alone, what would be the result.

Suppose again that the money was devoted to building tenement houses that would be fit for human beings to live in, look at the wonderful good that could be done. I am not desirous of giving here a dry temperance lecture; but the object of this work is to aid others to success, and if vice and drink were removed there would be but little need for further advice. Ah! there lies the root of the evil. Strike the root, pull it up and trample it under foot until it is dead. Never allow it to take root again, and you can reasonably expect to be at least fairly successful.

This chapter is on “Concentration of Effort”. Possibly some will imagine that we have wandered; not at all, as we see it. The abolition of these vices tends toward concentration; bad habits, of no matter what nature lead to failure and tend to draw the attention from one’s calling. Then let the young man who would succeed join his heart, his sympathies, his desires, with the right; let him live a consistent life; let him lead a strictly temperate life; let him give his whole influence to temperance, resting assured that if he puts his purposes into action that he will succeed in more ways than one.