Closely allied with the qualities of self-reliance and energy is that characteristic quality which so much conduces to success in life, and is generally expressed by the word “enterprise.” It is distinct from energy, inasmuch as it is constantly active in discovering new fields for energy to exert itself in. We are familiar with examples of men who have won fortunes or gained renown, not because they pursued better or wiser courses, but because of some originality in their aims and methods, by which they were enabled to command the attention of the busy world long enough to wrest from it the special object of their choice.
True enterprise is constantly on the alert to discover some new want of society, some fertile source of profit or honor, some unexplored field of business, and is ready to supply the one or to take advantage of the other. It is nearly an indispensable element in these days of fierce competition. Every avenue of business is crowded, and as soon as it is known that one party has made a success by one method there are scores of eager aspirants ready to try the successful plan, so that straightway it, too, ceases to be unique, and, in becoming common, loses the power it formerly possessed of compelling success. Hence the late-comers in the field are doomed to failure, while they may at the same time be the better fitted for the peculiar work in hand. What they should do is to aim at success by new plans and methods. Every one knows the enthusiastic glow that animates the whole being of him who feels the ardor of an explorer, who surmounts difficulties by new and, before, unthought-of expedients, who plans and projects enterprises that had previously escaped the active minds of his fellow men.
It is by virtue of this very enthusiasm that the man of enterprise, who is so ready to adopt new measures, plans, and projects, is enabled to carry into his business or profession an energy and inspiration which is totally lacking on the part of those who are followers. Hence the latter ofttimes fail of success which their talents might almost be said to have promised them. Therefore, those who enter the lists to win life’s battles must expect, if they would reach their goal, to wage the fight not only by the old methods but by the new. To use only those tactics which are sanctioned by usage is to invite defeat. Throw open the windows of your mind to new ideas, and keep at least abreast of the times, and, if possible, ahead of them. Nothing is more fatal to self-advancement than a stupid conservatism or a servile imitation. The days when a man could get rich by plodding on without enterprise and without taxing his brains have gone by. Mere industry and economy are not enough; there must be intelligence and original thought.
Whatever your calling, inventiveness, adaptability, promptness of decision, must direct and utilize your force, and if you do not find markets you must make them. In business you need not know many books, but you must know your trade and men. You may be slow at logic, but you must dart at chances. You may stick to your groove in politics, but in your business you must switch into new tracks, and shape yourself to every exigency. We emphasize this matter because in no country is the red-tapist so out of place as here. Every calling is filled with bold, keen, subtle-witted men, fertile in expedients and devices, who are perpetually inventing new ways of buying cheaply, underselling, or attracting custom; and the man who sticks doggedly to the old-fashioned methods—who runs in a perpetual rut—will find himself outstripped in the race of life, if he is not stranded on the sands of popular indifference. Keep, then, your eyes open and your wits about you, and you may distance all competitors; but, if you ignore all new methods, you will find yourself like a lugger contending with an ocean steamer.
It is enterprise that oils the wheels of energy and industry. Industry gathers together, with, a frugal hand, the means whereby we are enabled to develop our plans and purposes. Energy gives us force whereby we gather the courage to persevere in the lines decided on, bids us put on a bold mien and go forth to do valiant battle against opposing circumstances. But it is enterprise that suggests ways and means to overcome difficulties that threaten to overwhelm us. It is enterprise that bids us explore entirely new fields, discovering expedients that enable us to change what, by the force of circumstances, was fast becoming a failure into a glorious victory, bringing to us wealth, position, and fame. It is to enterprise that we are indebted for those rich discoveries in scientific fields by which we decipher the records of past ages, and unravel the secrets which nature surrounded with mystery, compelling them to serve us.
It was enterprise that harnessed steam, teaching it to do our bidding, and brought the lightning down from the heavens to carry our thoughts to the uttermost parts of the earth. It is the spirit of enterprise driving curious minds to work in new directions that has given us all those useful and curious inventions, which have done so much to make this nineteenth-century civilization to shine with so lustrous a light. In short, it is enterprise that lifts the man of but mediocre abilities and attainments into the foremost ranks of the successful ones.
Enterprise is an inheritance and not an acquisition. But it can at the same time be improved by cultivation, the same as bodily strength or any mental faculty. He who would excel as a swimmer must be often in the water, and the gymnast does not spare himself long and fatiguing exertions. So of an enterprising spirit. Some men seem born with an overflow of this, while others possess it in a slight degree only. But if any would be known as enterprising men, they must not hesitate to show by their every-day actions that they rely upon themselves in cases of emergency, and the greater the necessity the better means of surmounting it are constantly discovered. They must not hesitate to try plans because they are new; but if sober judgment can discover no objection to it, they must seize upon the very novelty of the plan as an inducement, and be only the more eager to put it to the test. There is no life so routine but that it constantly affords scope for the exercise of enterprising energy. The very fact that you are finding it routine and commonplace should at once set you to work to devise some new way to change this.
Do not stand sighing, wishing, and waiting, but go to work with an energy and perseverance that will set every obstacle in the way of your success flying like leaves before a whirlwind. A weak and irresolute way of doing business will shipwreck your plans as readily as effects follow causes. You may have ambition enough to wish yourself on the topmost round of the ladder of success; but if you have not the requisite energy to commence and enterprise enough to push ahead even when you know you are off the beaten track, you will always remain at the bottom, or at least on the lower rounds. Providence has hidden a charm in difficult undertakings which is appreciated only by those who dare to grapple with them. But this can only be true when you, by your own exertions and the strength of your own self-reliance and enterprise, have achieved the results. Nothing can be more distasteful than to see men of apparently good abilities waiting for some one to come and help them over difficulties.
Be your own helper. If a rock rises up before you, roll it along or climb over it. If you want money, earn it. If you want confidence, prove yourself worthy of it. Do not be content with doing what has been done; surpass it. Deserve success and it will come. The sun does not rise like a rocket or go down like a bullet fired from a gun; slowly and surely it makes its rounds, and never tires. It is as easy to be a lead horse as a wheel horse. If the job be long, the pay will be greater; if the task be hard, the more competent you must be to do it. We must apportion our strength and exertions to the requisite tasks and duties. He who weakly shrinks from the struggle, who will offer no resistance, who will endure no labor nor fatigue, can neither fulfill his own vocation, nor contribute aught to the general welfare of mankind.
The spirit of the times demands that all who would rise in life shrink not back from labor, but it also demands that they exert themselves understandingly; that they spare no effort to master all the intricacies of the business or vocation in which they are engaged; that they be alert to discover new ways by which they may reach the desired goal easier than the old; that they bear in mind that sticking to the old ruts is only the right policy so long as no better way presents itself, and when that way is discovered, be not at all slow to improve it. If you do not, others more enterprising will rush forward to reap the profits it promises, and you will be left behind in the race. No matter what your position in life may be or the conditions which hem you in, there will be a “tide” in your affairs, “which, taken at its flood, leads on to fortune.” But you must be ready to accept the chance. While you are hesitating and deliberating the occasion goes by, in most cases never to return again. Therefore, be prompt to seize it as it flies. Cultivate as far as possible the spirit of enterprise, for on that in a great degree depends your success or failure.
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