Lack of poise has always been an obstacle to those who are imbued with

the desire to succeed.

In every age the awkwardness born of timidity has served to keep back

those who suffered from it, but this defect has never been so great a

drawback as in the life of to-day.

The celebrated phrase of the ancient Roman writer who said, "Fortune

smiles on the brave," could very well serve as our motto
nowadays, with

this slight alteration: "Fortune smiles on those who are possest of


At this point let us attempt an exact definition of poise.

It is a quality which enables us to judge of our own value, and which,

in revealing to us the knowledge of the things of which we are really

capable, gives us at the same time the desire to accomplish them.

It is not a quality wholly simple. On the contrary, it is a composite of

many others all of which take part in the molding of that totality which

bears the name of poise.

It may be well to pass in review the principal qualities of which it is

composed, that one may characterize as follows:



Knowledge of one's own value.

Correctness of judgment.

Sincerity toward oneself.

The power of resisting the appeals of self-love.

Contempt of adverse criticism.

Pride that is free from vanity.

A definite and clearly conceived ambition.

Will, as is well known, is the pivot of all our resolutions, whether the

question for the moment be how to form them or how to keep them when


A man without will-power is a straw, blown about by every wind and

carried, whether he will or no, into situations in which he has no valid

reason for finding himself.

Without the will-power which enables us to take a firm hold of ourselves

and to get a grip upon our impressions, they will remain vague and

nebulous without presenting to us characters of sufficient definiteness

to enable us to direct them readily into the proper channels.

It is will-power which gives us the force to maintain a resolution which

will lead us to the hoped-for goal of success.

It is will-power also which enables us to correct the faults which stand

in the way of the acquiring of poise.

We are not now speaking of those idle fancies which are no more than

manifestations of nervousness. We have in mind rather that controlled

and enduring purpose which arms the heart against the assaults of the

emotions by giving it the strength to overcome them.

There are many cases even in which will-power has led to their entire


This happens more particularly in the case of those artificial emotions

that the man of resolution ignores completely, but which cause agony to

the timid who do not know how to escape them, and exaggerate them to


This abnormal development of their personalities is the peculiarity of

the timid, which their fitful efforts of will only heighten, alienating

from them the sympathy which might be of assistance to them.

They take refuge in a species of mischievous and fruitless activity,

leaving the field open to the development of all sorts of imaginary ills

that argument does not serve to combat.

Their ego, whose importance is in no way counterbalanced by their

appreciation of the friends they keep at a distance, fills their entire

existence to such an extent that they have no doubt whatever that, when

they are in public, every eye is, of necessity, fixt upon them.

Their negative will leaves them at the mercy of every sort of emotion,

which, in arousing in them the necessity of a reaction they feel

themselves powerless to realize, reduces them to a state of inferiority

that, when it becomes known, is the source of grave embarrassment to


The power of will which sustains those who wish to acquire the habit of

poise is, then, the capacity to accomplish acts solely because one has

the ardent desire to achieve them.

We are now speaking, understand, neither of extreme heroism or of


Another point presents itself here. Willpower, in order to preserve its

energy, must be sustained and fixt. At this price alone can we achieve

poise. We must, therefore, thoroughly saturate ourselves with this

principle: Reasoning-power is an essential element in the upbuilding of


It is reasoning-power which teaches us to distinguish between those

things that we must be careful to avoid and those which are part and

parcel of the domain of exaggeration and fantasy.

It is also by means of reasoning that we arrive at the proper

appreciation of the just mean that we must observe. It is by its aid

that we are enabled to disentangle those impulses that will prove

profitable from a chaos of useless risks.

It is always by virtue of deductions depending upon reason that we are

able to adopt a resolution or to maintain an attitude that we believe to

be correct, while preserving our self-possession under circumstances in

which persons of a timorous disposition would certainly lose their


Those who know how to reason never expose themselves to the possibility

of being unhorsed by fate for lack of good reasons for strengthening

themselves in their chosen course.

They adhere, in the very heat of discussion and in spite of the

onslaughts of destiny, to the line of conduct that sage reflection has

taught them to adopt and are more than careful never to abandon it

except for the most valid reasons.

They never stray into the byways in which the timid and the shrinking

constantly wander without sufficient thought of the goal toward which

they are journeying.

They know where they are going, and if, now and again, they ask for

information about the road that remains to be traveled, it is with no

intention of changing their course, but simply so as not to miss the

short cuts and to lose nothing of the pleasures of the scenes through

which they may pass.

Reasoning-power is the trade-mark of superior minds. Mediocre natures

take no interest in it and, as we have seen, the timid are incapable of

it, except in so far as it follows the beaten path.

True poise never is guided by anything but reason. Certain risks can

never be undertaken save after ripe deliberation.

Confusion is never the fate of those who are resolved on a definite line

of conduct.

Such people are careful to plumb the questions with which they have to

grapple and to weigh the inconveniences and the advantages of the acts

they have the desire to accomplish.

When their decision is once made, however, nothing will prevent the

completion of the work they have begun. Such people are ripe for


The knowledge of one's real worth is a quality doubly precious when

contrasted with the fact that the majority of people are more than

indulgent to their own failings. Of many of them it may be said, in the

words of the Arab proverb, couched in the language of imagery: "This man

has no money, but in his pocket everything turns to gold."

This saying, divested of the language of hyperbole, means simply that

the man in question is so obsessed with the greatness of his own

personal value that he exaggerates the importance of everything that

concerns him.

This condition is a much more common one than one might at first

believe. Many an occurrence which, when it happens to some one else,

seems to us quite devoid of interest, becomes, when it directly affects

us, a matter to compel the attention of others, to the extent that we

find ourselves chilled and disappointed when we discover that we are the

victims of that indifference which we were prepared to exhibit toward

other people under similar circumstances.

The consciousness of our own worth must not be confounded with that

adoration of self which transforms poise into egotism.

It is a good thing to know one's own powers sufficiently well to

undertake only such tasks as are certainly within the scope of one's


To believe oneself more capable than one really is, is a fault that is

far too common. It is, nevertheless, less harmful in the long run than

the failing which is its exact antithesis. Lack of confidence in one's

own powers is the source of every kind of feebleness and of all


It is for this reason that poise never can exist without another

quality, that correctness of judgment which, in giving us the breadth of

mind to know exactly how much we are capable of, permits us to undertake

our tasks without boasting and without hesitation.

Soundness of judgment is the faculty of being able to appreciate the

merits of our neighbors without cherishing any illusions as to our own,

and of being able to do this so exactly that we can with assurance carry

out to its end any undertaking, knowing that the result must be, barring

accidents, precisely what we have foreseen.

This being the case, what possible reason can we have for depreciating

ourselves or for lacking poise?

Timid people suffer without recognizing their own defects in the matter

of insight.

They torture themselves by building their judgments upon indications and

not upon facts.

If the perception of a man of resolution causes him to understand at

once the emptiness of criticisms based on envy or spleen, the timid man,

always ready to seize upon anything that can be possibly construed into

an appearance of ridicule directed against himself, will give up a

project that he hears criticized without stopping to weigh the value of

the arguments advanced.

Far from arguing the question out, or attempting a rebuttal, he never

even dreams of it. The very thought of a contest, however courteously it

may be conducted, frightening him to such an extent that he loses all

his ideas.

The unfortunate shrinking which characterizes him makes him an easy prey

for people of exaggerated enthusiasms as well as to quick


A token of apparent sympathy touches him so profoundly that he does not

wait to estimate its value and to decide whether it be sincere or not.

He passes in a moment from careless gaiety to the blackest despair if he

imagines that he has observed even the appearance of an unsympathetic


He does not need to be sure, to be miserable. It is enough for him if

the circumstances that he thought favorable become seemingly hostile and


How utterly different is the attitude of the man who is endowed with


His firmness of soul saves him from unconsidered enthusiasms and he

jealously preserves his control in the presence of excessive

protestations as well as when confronting indications of aimless


How can such a man as this possibly fail to form a correct judgment and

to benefit by all the qualities that depend upon it?

Absolute sincerity toward oneself is one of the forms of sound judgment.

Without indulging in excessive modesty, it is a good thing to endeavor

to become intimately acquainted with one's aptitudes and one's failings,

and to admit the latter with the utmost frankness in order to set about

the work of correcting them.

It is also necessary to know exactly what sort of territory it is in

which one is taking one's risks.

The world of affairs, whatever these last may happen to be, may be

likened to a vast preserve containing traps for wild beasts.

The man who wishes to walk in such a place without coming to harm will,

first of all, make a careful study of the ground for the purpose of

avoiding the traps and pitfalls that may engulf him or wound him as he


Just as soon as he has located these dangers his step becomes firm and

he can advance with a tranquil gait and head upraised along the paths

which he knows do not conceal any dangerous surprizes.

These are the pitfalls that most frequently threaten that daring that we

sometimes find in the timid.

Their very defects preventing them from making proper comparisons, they

are altogether too prone to ignore their faults and to magnify their

virtues and so fall an easy prey to the designer and the sharper.

Their very carelessness in estimating other people becomes the

foundation of an involuntary partiality the moment they are called upon

to judge their own actions.

It is not deliberate self-indulgence that drives them to act in this

way, but their inexperience, which gives rise in them to the desire for

perfection, and this necessarily provokes, simultaneously with the

despair caused by their failure to attain it, a fear of having this

failure remarked or commented upon.

The man who possesses poise is too familiar with the realities of life

not to be aware that the search for such an ideal is a Utopian dream.

But he is also aware that, if actual perfection does not exist, it is

the bounden duty of man to struggle always in pursuit of good and to

show appreciation of it in whatsoever form it may manifest itself.

Sincerity toward himself thus becomes for him an easy matter indeed, and

for the very reason that his poise leaves him absolutely free to form a

correct estimate of others.

Serious self-examination throws a clear light for him upon those merits

of which he has a right to be proud, while revealing to him at the same

time the faults to which he is most likely to yield.

The habit of estimating himself and his own qualities without fear or

favor gives him great facility for gaging the motives of other people.

He thus avoids the pitfalls that a biased viewpoint spreads before the

feet of the foolish, and at the same time represses that feeling of

vanity which might lead him to believe that he is altogether too clever

to fall into them.

He watches himself constantly to avoid getting into the bypaths which he

sees with sorrow that others are following, and does not fail to

estimate accurately the value of the victories he achieves over himself

as well as over the duplicity of most of the people who surround him.

And this superiority is what makes certain his poise. More difficult

perhaps than anything else to acquire is the power to resist the appeals

of one's own self-love.

We will explain this later at greater length. Lack of poise is often due

to nothing so much as an excess of vanity which throws one back upon

oneself from the fear of not being able to shine in the front rank.

Such a person does not say to himself: "I will conquer this place by

sheer merit." He contents himself with envying those who occupy it,

quite neglecting to put forth the efforts which would place him there

beside them.

There is nothing worse than yielding to an exaggerated tenderness toward

ourselves, which, by magnifying our merits in our own eyes, frequently

leads us to make attempts which result in failure and expose us to


This is a most frequent cause of making an inveterate coward of one who

is subject to occasional attacks of timidity.

To know one's limitations exactly and never to allow oneself to exceed

them--this is the part of wisdom, the act of a man who, as the saying

goes, knows what he is about.

There is in every effort a necessary limit that it is not wise to


"Never force your talents," says a very pithy proverb. Never undertake

to do a thing that is beyond your powers.

Never allow yourself to be drawn into a discussion on a subject which is

beyond your intellectual depth. To do so is to take the risk of making

mistakes that will render you ridiculous.

But if you are quite convinced that you can come out victorious, never

hesitate to enter a trial of wits that may serve as an occasion for

demonstrating the fact that you are sure of your subject.

The man who cultivates poise will never let pass such opportunities as

this for exhibiting himself in a favorable light.

Conscious of the soundness of his own judgment, and filled with a real

sincerity toward himself, he will not allow himself to be carried away

by a possible chance of success. Rather will he gather himself together,

collect his forces, and wait until he can achieve a real effect upon the

minds of those whom he wishes to impress.

Similarly the result of unsuccess in such a venture is obvious. It has

the effect of developing a distrust of oneself and of destroying the

superb assurance of those people of whom it is often said: "Oh, he! He

is sailing with the wind at his back!"

People generally fail to add in these cases that such persons have left

nothing undone to accomplish this result and are more than careful not

to weigh anchor when the wind is not favorable.

It is true enough that there can be no actual shelter from a storm, but

the mariner who is prepared is able to ride it out without appreciable

damage, while those who are not prepared generally founder on account of

their poor seamanship.

Disregard of calumny is always the index of a noble spirit.

The man who wastes time over such indignities and who allows himself to

be affected by them is not of the stature that insures victory in the


Minds of large caliber disdain these manifestations of futile jealousy.

People of obscurity are never vilified. Only those whose merits have

placed them in the limelight are the targets for the attacks of envy and

for the slanders of falsehood.

A precept that has often been enunciated, and can not be too often

repeated, which should, indeed, be inscribed in letters of gold over the

doors of every institution where men meet together, runs as follows:

"Envy and malice are nothing more than homage rendered to superiority."

Only those who occupy an enviable position can become objects of


Such calumny is always the work of the unworthy, who think to advertise

their own merits by denying those of better men.

Men of resolution under such circumstances simply shrug their shoulders

and pass by.

The rest, those who are enslaved by timidity, become confused.

Their ego, which they cultivated in a fashion at once obscure and

absolute, becomes so profoundly affected that they lack all courage to

openly defend it.

Moreover, that instinctive need of sympathy, which is so marked a

characteristic of the timid, is deeply wounded, while their chronic fear

of disapprobation is strengthened by the criticisms spread abroad.

The illogicality of these sentiments is obvious. The man who is timid

shuns society, yet nevertheless the judgments of this same society are

for him a question of absorbing interest. Timidity is, in effect, a

disease of many forms, every one of which is founded upon illogicality.

It is always a mental weakness. It is sometimes vanity, but never pride,

that reasonable pride that a philosophy now abandoned once numbered as

one of the principal vices, and which, if rightly estimated, can be

considered as the motive power of every noble action.

Pride is a force. It is therefore a virtue which must of necessity be

one of the components of poise, so long as it contains within it no

seeds of vanity. Under such circumstances it is a primal condition of

success in the achievement of poise. Pride must, however, be free from

vanity, otherwise it ceases to be a force and becomes a cause of


As a matter of fact, those who are conceited are always the dupes of

their own desire to bulk largely in the minds of others, and at the mere

thought that they will not shine as they have hoped to do the majority

of them are put entirely out of countenance and are quite at a loss for

means of expression.

The inevitable result of this tendency is to drive them into association

with mediocrity. In such a society alone will the vain find themselves

at their ease. But the very moment that they find themselves in the

presence of those who are their superiors, the fear of not being able to

occupy the front rank throws them into such a state of mental disarray

that they entirely lose their assurance and that appearance of poise by

whose aid they are often able to deceive others.

Finally, one of the most solid elements of poise is, without doubt, a

well-defined ambition, that is to say, one that is divested of the

drawbacks of frivolity and directly winged toward the goal of one's


The man who possesses ambition of this kind is certainly destined to

acquire, if he has not already acquired it, that poise which is

absolutely necessary to him in order to make his way in the world.

He will neither be pretentious nor timorous, exaggerated nor fearful. He

will go forward without hesitation toward the goal which he knows to be

before him, and will make, without any apologies, those detours which

seem to him necessary to the success of his undertaking, without paying

any attention to the fruitless distractions that make victims of the


He will not have to put up with the affront of being refused, for he

will ask aid only of those persons who, for various reasons, he is

practically sure will be of assistance to him. The knowledge of his own

deserts, while keeping him in the position he has attained, will prevent

him from being satisfied in commonplace surroundings, and his will-power

will always maintain him at the level he has reached, permitting him no

latitude save that of exceeding it.

Such is true poise, not that whose spirit one violates by merely

associating it with the incapable, the pretentious, or the extravagant,

but that which is at once the motive power and the inspiration of all

the actions of those who, in their determination to force their way

through the great modern struggle for existence, perseveringly follow a

line of conduct that they have worked out for themselves in advance.

Ignoring such enterprises as they know to be unworthy of their powers,

those who are possest of real poise (and not of that foolish temerity

colloquially known as _bluff_) will devote themselves solely to such

tasks as a well-ordered judgment and an accurate knowledge of their own

potentialities indicate to them to be fitting.

Does this mean that they will succeed in every case?

Unfortunately, no! But such of them as have met with temporary failure,

if they are able to assure themselves that their lack of success has

been due neither to a failure of will-power nor a fear of ridicule, will

return to the charge, once more prepared to make headway against

circumstances which they have the poise to foresee, and which they will

at least render incapable of harming them, even if they lack the

necessary force to dominate them completely to their own advantage.