By Samuel Patrick Smith
"Success,” wrote Elbert Hubbard, “is the most natural thing in the world. The man who is not successful is working in direct opposition to the Laws of the Universe.” The question, then, is what are these laws? Many people have read self-help books and attended seminars until they are blue in the face, and still success eludes them. How is this possible?
First, we have to define success. Do you require every area of your life to be ideal before you consider yourself successful? I can’t think of anyone whose life could meet this definition. Everyone has problems. Even Hubbard himself, a popular writer, publisher, and public speaker a hundred years ago, had major difficulties in his personal life, yet he continued to grow and succeed in his career.
Bronson Alcott, considered by Emerson—a genius himself—the most brilliant man he ever met, was a financial failure his entire life. But he was a devoted husband and father. His daughter, Louisa May Alcott, became one of America’s great writers. I guess her father was a success, all right.
Everyone—yes, everyone—has some area of life in which he can be considered a success. From there, it’s just a matter of overtaking some of those other regions one by one. That’s where the strong desire to improve, get ahead, and make something of yourself comes in. But ironically, there’s something about being too anxious to succeed that repels success. Being able to get along without a specific outcome seems to attract success and opportunities.
Hubbard had something to say about this, too. “A prime requisite for success,” he wrote, “is a goodly dash of indifference.” Do you know people who are desperate to succeed, who absolutely must get a certain result from certain actions, who are sure they will be happy and life will be good if they succeed? Quite often these people don’t succeed, and if they do, they aren’t satisfied once they “arrive.”
If you wanted to enjoy and observe the delicate beauty of soap bubbles, instead of grasping for them frantically, how much better it would be to allow one to gently float into your orbit. I’ve noticed that people who adopt this attitude get more of what they want and are happy with what they get. The person with a healthy attitude plans for success and works for success, but leaves the results in the hands of God, and is grateful for what he finally achieves.
Every few years a new book (or info-mercial) appears which feeds off of the person who has a lingering desire to tell his boss to drop dead. Many of these things may be intrinsically helpful. But the person who is frantically looking for success and hopes he has found his guru, orders the product—and continues to fail. “What’s wrong with me?” he wonders. “Why can’t I get ahead?” It may be that he lacks a “goodly dash of indifference.”
Being too worried about success can actually cause you to make poor choices. Because someone makes a lot of money in a particular line of work doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Some people think, “I’ll do this for five years, get rich, and then I’ll do what I really enjoy.” They launch into a business or career which fills them with dread, and from stubbornness or persistence—I’m not sure which—they never quit. And they never succeed.
I read about a man who at age 15 wrote down 100 things he wanted to accomplish in life, and he spent the rest of his days following that list and checking off the objectives one by one. This example was given as an ideal of setting and achieving goals, but I thought, “How sad! His entire adult life was planned by a 15-year-old!” It seems to me that we should set our goals based on where we are now, not what we wanted 10 or 20 years ago.
We have been taught that we should never give up. But what does this mean? Staying in a line of work you don’t like, year after year? Doing the same things in the same way with no evidence of success? Pursuing an outdated goal which no longer holds any fascination for you? Absolutely not. Never giving up means never giving up on yourself, your family, your life. You may, in fact, need to quit quite a few things along the way.
Elbert Hubbard quit the soap business at age 39 and started a hugely successful magazine, much to the astonishment of friends and family. It was after he started doing what he loved to do, that he wrote, “Success is the most natural thing in the world.” When your occupation uses your talents and brings you joy, you can be a little indifferent about what the world thinks, because the work is its own reward.