Seize Your Opportunity
From: How To Succeed
"The blowing winds are but our servants
When we hoist a sail."
You must come to know that each admirable genius is but a
successful diver in that sea whose floor of pearls is all your
Who waits until the wind shall silent keep,
Who never finds the ready hour to sow,
Who watcheth clouds, will have no time to reap.
--HELEN HUNT JACKSON.
The secret of success in life is for a man _to be ready for his
opportunity_ when it comes.
Do the best you can where you are; and, when that is
accomplished, God will open a door for you, and a voice will
call, "Come up hither into a higher sphere."
Our grand business is, not to see what lies dimly at a
distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.
"When I was a boy," said General Grant, "my mother one morning found
herself without butter for breakfast, and sent me to borrow some from a
neighbor. Going into the house without knocking, I overheard a letter
read from the son of a neighbor, who was then at West Point, stating
that he had failed in examination and was coming home. I got the butter,
took it home, and, without waiting for breakfast ran to the office of
the congressman for our district. 'Mr. Hamer,' I said, 'will you
appoint me to West Point?' 'No, ---- is there, and has three years to
serve.' 'But suppose he should fail, will you send me?' Mr. Hamer
laughed. 'If he don't go through, no use for you to try, Uly.' 'Promise
me you will give me the chance, Mr. Hamer, anyhow.' Mr. Hamer promised.
The next day the defeated lad came home, and the congressman, laughing
at my sharpness, gave me the appointment. Now," said Grant, "it was my
mother's being without butter that made me general and president." But
he was mistaken. It was his own shrewdness to see the chance, and the
promptness to seize it, that urged him upward.
"There is nobody," says a Roman Cardinal, "whom Fortune does not visit
once in his life; but when she finds he is not ready to receive her, she
goes in at the door, and out through the window." Opportunity is coy.
The careless, the slow, the unobservant, the lazy fail to see it, or
clutch at it when it has gone. The sharp fellows detect it instantly,
and catch it when on the wing.
The utmost which can be said about the matter is, that circumstances
will, and do combine to help men at some periods of their lives, and
combine to thwart them at others. Thus much we freely admit; but there
is no fatality in these combinations, neither any such thing as "luck"
or "chance," as commonly understood. They come and go like all other
opportunities and occasions in life, and if they are seized upon and
made the most of, the man whom they benefit is fortunate; but if they
are neglected and allowed to pass by unimproved, he is unfortunate.
"Charley," says Moses H. Grinnell to a clerk born in New York City,
"take my overcoat tip to my house on Fifth Avenue." Mr. Charley takes
the coat, mutters something about "I'm not an errand boy. I came here to
learn business," and moves reluctantly. Mr. Grinnell sees it, and at the
same time one of his New England clerks says, "I'll take it up." "That
is right, do so," says Mr. G., and to himself he says, "that boy is
smart, he will work," and he gives him plenty to do. He gets promoted,
gets the confidence of business men as well as of his employers, and is
soon known as a successful man.
The youth who starts out in life determined to make the most of his eyes
and let nothing escape him which he can possibly use for his own
advancement, who keeps his ears open for every sound that can help him
on his way, who keeps his hands open that he may clutch every
opportunity, who is ever on the alert for everything which can help him
to get on in the world, who seizes every experience in life and grinds
it up into paint for his great life's picture, who keeps his heart open
that he may catch every noble impulse and everything which may inspire
him, will be sure to live a successful life; there are no ifs or ands
about it. If he has his health, nothing can keep him from success.
_Zion's Herald_ says that Isaac Rich, who gave one million and three
quarters to found Boston University of the Methodist Episcopal Church,
began business thus: at eighteen he went from Cape Cod to Boston with
three or four dollars in his possession, and looked about for something
to do, rising early, walking far, observing closely, reflecting much.
Soon he had an idea: he bought three bushels of oysters, hired a
wheelbarrow, found a piece of board, bought six small plates, six iron
forks, a three-cent pepper-box, and one or two other things. He was at
the oyster-boat buying his oysters at three o'clock in the morning,
wheeled them three miles, set up his board near a market, and began
business. He sold out his oysters as fast as he could get them, at a
good profit. In that same market he continued to deal in oysters and
fish for forty years, became king of the business, and ended by founding
a college. His success was won by industry and honesty.
"Give me a chance," says Haliburton's Stupid, "and I will show you." But
most likely he has had his chance already and neglected it.
"Well, boys," said Mr. A., a New York merchant, to his four clerks one
winter morning in 1815, "this is good news. Peace has been declared. Now
_we_ must be up and doing. We shall have our hands full, but we can do
as much as anybody."
He was owner and part owner of several ships lying dismantled during the
war, three miles up the river, which was covered with ice an inch thick.
He knew that it would be a month before the ice yielded for the season,
and that thus the merchants in other towns where the harbors were open,
would have time to be in the foreign markets before him. His decision
therefore was instantly taken.
"Reuben," he continued, addressing one of his clerks, "go and collect as
many laborers as possible to go up the river. Charles, do you find
Mr.----, the rigger, and Mr.----, the sailmaker, and tell them I want
them immediately. John, engage half-a-dozen truckmen for to-day and
to-morrow. Stephen, do you hunt up as many gravers and caulkers as you
can, and hire them to work for me." And Mr. A. himself sallied forth to
provide the necessary implements for icebreaking. Before twelve o'clock
that day, upward of an hundred men were three miles up the river,
clearing the ships and cutting away ice, which they sawed out in large
squares, and then thrust under the main mass to open up the channel. The
roofing over the ships was torn off, and the clatter of the caulkers'
mallets was like to the rattling of a hail-storm, loads of rigging were
passed up on the ice, riggers went to and fro with belt and knife,
sailmakers busily plied their needles, and the whole presented an
unusual scene of stir and activity and well-directed labor. Before night
the ships were afloat, and moved some distance down the channel; and by
the time they had reached the wharf, namely, in some eight or ten days,
their rigging and spars were aloft, their upper timbers caulked, and
everything ready for them to go to sea.
Thus Mr. A. competed on equal terms with the merchants of open seaports.
Large and quick gains rewarded his enterprise, and then his neighbors
spoke depreciatingly of his "good luck." But, as the writer from whom we
get the story says, Mr. A. was equal to his opportunity, and this was
the secret of his good fortune.
A Baltimore lady lost a valuable diamond bracelet at a ball, and
supposed it was stolen from the pocket of her cloak. Years afterward,
she walked the streets near the Peabody Institute to get money to
purchase food. She cut up an old, worn out, ragged cloak to make a hood
of, when lo! in the lining of the cloak, she discovered the diamond
bracelet. During all her poverty she was worth thirty-five hundred
dollars, but did not know it.
Many of us who think we are poor are rich in opportunities if we could
only see them, in possibilities all about us, in faculties worth more
than diamond bracelets, in power to do good.
In our large eastern cities it has been found that at least ninety-four
out of every hundred found their first fortune at home, or near at hand,
and in meeting common everyday wants. It is a sorry day for a young man
who cannot see any opportunities where he is, but thinks he can do
better somewhere else. Several Brazilian shepherds organized a party to
go to California to dig gold, and took along a handful of clear pebbles
to play checkers with on the voyage. They discovered after arriving at
Sacramento, after they had thrown most of the pebbles away, that they
were all diamonds. They returned to Brazil only to find that the mines
had been taken up by others and sold to the government.
The richest gold and silver mine in Nevada was sold for forty-two
dollars by the owner, to get money to pay his passage to other mines
where he thought he could get rich.
Professor Agassiz told the Harvard students of a farmer who owned a farm
of hundreds of acres of unprofitable woods and rocks, and concluded to
sell out and try some more remunerative business.
He studied coal measures and coal oil deposits, and experimented for a
long time. He sold his farm for two hundred dollars and went into the
oil business two hundred miles away. Only a short time afterward the man
who bought the farm discovered a great flood of coal oil, which the
farmer had ignorantly tried to drain off.
A man was once sitting in an uncomfortable chair in Boston talking with
a friend as to what he could do to help mankind. "I should think it
would be a good thing," said the friend, "to begin by getting up an
easier and cheaper chair."
"I will do it," he exclaimed, leaping up and examining the chair. He
found a great deal of rattan thrown away by the East India merchant
ships, whose cargoes were wrapped in it. He began the manufacture of
rattan chairs and other furniture, and has astonished the world by what
he has done with what was before thrown away. While this man was
dreaming about some far off success, he at that very time had fortune
awaiting only his ingenuity and industry.
If you want to get rich, study yourself and your own wants. You will
find millions of others have the same wants, the same demands. The
safest business is always connected with men's prime necessities. They
must have clothing, dwellings; they must eat. They want comforts,
facilities of all kinds, for use and pleasure, luxury, education,
culture. Any man who can supply a great want of humanity, improve any
methods which men use, supply any demand or contribute in any way to
their well-being, can make a fortune.
But it is detrimental to the highest success to undertake anything
merely because it is profitable. If the vocation does not supply a human
want, if it is not healthful, if it is degrading, if it is narrowing,
don't touch it.
A selfish vocation never pays. If it belittles the manhood, blights the
affections, dwarfs the mental life, chills the charities and shrivels
the soul, don't touch it. Choose that occupation, if possible, which
will be the most helpful to the largest number.
It is estimated that five out of every seven of the millionaire
manufacturers began by making with their own hands the articles on which
they made their fortune.
One of the greatest hindrances to advancement and promotion in life is
the lack of observation and the disinclination to take pains. A keen,
cultivated observation will see a fortune where others see only poverty.
An observing man, the eyelets of whose shoes pulled out, but who could
ill afford to get another pair, said to himself, "I will make a metallic
lacing hook, which can be riveted into the leather." He succeeded in
doing so and now he is a very rich man.
An observing barber in Newark, N. J., thought he could make an
improvement on shears for cutting hair, and invented "clippers" and
became very rich. A Maine man was called from the hayfield to wash out
the clothes for his invalid wife. He had never realized what it was to
wash before. He invented the washing-machine and made a fortune. A man
who was suffering terribly with toothache, said to himself, "There must
be some way of filling teeth to prevent them aching;" he invented gold
filling for teeth.
The great things of the world have not been done by men of large means.
Want has been the great schoolmaster of the race: necessity has been the
mother of all great inventions. Ericsson began the construction of a
screw-propeller in a bath-room. John Harrison, the great inventor of the
marine chronometer, began his career in the loft of an old barn. Parts
of the first steamboat ever run in America were set up in the vestry of
an old church in Philadelphia by Fitch. McCormick began to make his
famous reaper in an old grist-mill. The first model dry-dock was made in
an attic. Clark, the founder of Clark University of Worcester, Mass.,
began his great fortune by making toy wagons in a horse-shed.
Opportunities? They crowd around us. Forces of nature plead to be used
in the service of man, as lightning for ages tried to attract his
attention to electricity, which would do his drudgery and leave him to
develop the God-given powers within him.
There is power lying latent everywhere, waiting for the observant eye to
First find out what the people need and then supply that want. An
invention to make the smoke go the wrong way in a chimney might be a
very ingenious thing, but it would be of no use to humanity. The patent
office at Washington is full of wonderful devices, ingenious mechanism;
not one in hundreds is of earthly use to the inventor or to the world,
and yet how many families have been impoverished and have struggled for
years mid want and woe, while the father has been working on useless
inventions. These men did not study the wants of humanity. A. T.
Stewart, as a boy, lost eighty-seven cents when his capital was one
dollar and a half, in buying buttons and thread which people would not
purchase. After that he made it a rule never to buy anything which
people did not want.
The first thing a youth, entering the city to make his home there, needs
to do is to make himself a necessity to the person who employs him,
according to the Boston _Herald_. Whatever he may have been at home, it
counts for nothing until he has done something that makes known the
quality of the stuff that is in him. If he shirks work, however humble
it may be, the work will soon be inclined to shirk him. But the youth
who comes into a city to make his way in the world, and is not afraid of
doing his best whether he is paid for it or not, is not long in finding
remunerative employment. The people who seem so indifferent to employing
young people from the country are eagerly watching for the newcomers,
but they look for qualities of character and service in actual work
before they manifest confidence or give recognition. It is the youth who
is deserving that wins his way to the front, and when once he has been
tested his promotion is only a question of time. It is the same with
young women. There are seemingly no places for them where they can earn
a decent living, but the moment they fill their places worthily there is
room enough for them, and progress is rapid. What the city people desire
most is to find those who have ability to take important places, and the
question of gaining a position in the city resolves itself at once into
the question of what the young persons have brought with them from home.
It is the staying qualities that have been in-wrought from childhood
which are now in requisition, and the success of the boy or girl is
determined by the amount of energetic character that has been developed
in the early years at home. Take up the experience of every man or
woman who has made a mark in the city for the last hundred years, and it
has been the sterling qualities of the home training that have
constituted the success of later years.
Don't think you have no chance in life because you have no capital to
begin with. Most of the rich men of to-day began poor. The chances are
you would be ruined if you had capital. You can only use to advantage
what has become a part of yourself by your earning it. It is estimated
that not one rich man's son in ten thousand dies rich. God has given
every man a capital to start with; we are born rich. He is rich who has
good health, a sound body, good muscles; he is rich who has a good head,
a good disposition, a good heart; he is rich who has two good hands,
with five chances on each. Equipped? Every man is equipped as only God
could equip him. What a fortune he possesses in the marvelous mechanism
of his body and mind. It is individual effort that has accomplished
everything worth accomplishing in this world. Money to start with is
only a crutch, which, if any misfortune knocks it from under you, would
only make your fall all the more certain.
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