How to Achieve Greatness | Motivational Leadership Podcast

Welcome to the Inspirational Living Podcast. Today’s reading has been edited and adapted from the book Getting On, by Orison Swett Marden, one of the authors who is featured prominently in our book Evergreen: 50 Inspirational Life Lessons. To learn more about our hardcover book of classic motivational essays, please visit Now, on to our reading.

The leaders of the world (be it in business, science, or the arts) have ever been precedent breakers. Timid people, no matter how able, never make leaders. Fearlessness and originality are characteristic of all leaders of progress. They have no reverence for the old simply because it is old; with them it is always a question of pushing forward, of improving on the past, instead of slavishly copying it.

Men and women who have blazed new paths for civilization have always been precedent breakers. It is ever the individual who believes in their own idea; who can think and act without a crowd to back them; who is not afraid to stand alone; who is bold, original, resourceful; who has the courage to go where others have never been, to do what others have never done, that accomplishes things, that leaves their mark on their times.

Do not be afraid of being original. Do not be a copy of your father, your mother, your grandparents; which would be as foolish as it would be for the violet to try to be a rose. Every person is born to do a certain work. If you try to do some other person’s work, you will be a failure.

Great men and women never copy one another. A master mind cannot be made to fit a pattern or conform to set routine. Every strong person’s achievement is an outgrowth of their individual ideas. What you manufacture or sell, the conduct of your business, the book you write, the picture you paint, the sermon you preach — this is the expression to the world of what was wrapped up inside you, not in someone else.

The imitator ruins their capacity for initiative; they lose their creative power. Their inventiveness and resourcefulness are never developed. Their executive ability — the ability to originate, to do things — is seriously crippled, if not utterly destroyed, by an effort to copy someone else. No human being ever yet made a success in trying to be somebody else, no matter how great or successful that person might be.

Success cannot be successfully copied. It is original; it is self-expression. We are a failure just in proportion as we move away from ourselves. It is not the artist who can faithfully copy Raphael or Monet that will become famous, but the one who can paint a picture that was never before put on canvas. The artist who can express their ideal in their own tints and colors, who can create something entirely new, is the one that will become a master.

Millions of people remain unsuccessful all their lives because they never dare be themselves. They are afraid to take the initiative. They ruin their judgment by not using it, by depending upon others, running to them for advice, and always following the track marked out by someone else. They are mere echoes, trailers. There are ten thousand who can follow to one who can lead. It is the one who can step out of the crowd and do the unusual, the original, the individual thing, that wins.

The person who would succeed today in any marked way must be bold, self-reliant, inventive, original. The world makes way for those with a brilliant idea. They are wanted everywhere. There is little room for leaners, taggers, trailers. The world is Iooking, as never before, for the men and women with original force, who leave the beaten track and push into new fields.

The future that is going to carry you to your goal is coiled up inside of you, in your energy, your pluck, your grit, your determination, your originality, your character. It does not exist in another, but lies within you, at your command. The sooner you become disillusioned as to getting any great assistance outside of yourself, and fall back upon your own inherent force, the better.

It is a pitiable thing to go through the world borrowing other people’s ideas, plans, methods; other people’s judgment — running to this person and that for advice — never developing your own power, independence, self-reliance. Everywhere may be seen businesses weighed down with antiquated methods, ponderous record-keeping, out-of-date technology, because their owners cling to the old with fatal tenacity.

The up-to-date business person is constantly breaking up old-time systems which have been handed down from past generations. The progressive entrepreneur knows that the world is new every day, that it requires new treatment. They do not care how many people have done the work before, or in what way they have done it; they do their work in their own way.

The present state of the world’s progress is the result of a constant breaking away from the past, the elimination of outdated machinery, inefficient ideas, foolish superstition, prejudice, and worn-out methods.

The individual who never believes that they can do a thing that never was done before, never will do it. You must eliminate “can’t” from your dictionary, banish “doubt” from your vocabulary. Echoes, copies, imitations never can do anything. It is the aggressive, fearless, assertive, positive character that dares step out from the crowd, make their own program, and carries it out regardless of what others may think or say, who wins.

People who are made of the right kind of stuff do not make excuses; they work. They never whine; they keep forging ahead. They do not wait for somebody to help them; they help themselves. They do not wait for an opportunity; they make it. Those who complain of (quote) “no chance” confess their weakness — their lack of efficiency. They show that they are not equal to the occasion — that they are not greater than the obstacle that confronts them.

“No chance” has ever been the excuse of those who fail. Interview a great army of failures, and most of them will tell you that they never had an opportunity like others, that there was no one to help them and that no one would give them a boost. They will tell you that the good places were all filled, that every occupation or profession was crowded, that there was no chance for them, that all the good opportunities were gone before they could seize them.

After one of Alexander the Great’s military campaigns he was asked if he intended taking the next city if he had an opportunity. “Opportunity?! ” he exclaimed, ‘’I make my own opportunities.” It is the men and women that make opportunities that are wanted everywhere.

Remember that it is a dangerous thing to wait for opportunities until it becomes a habit. Energy and inclination for hard work ooze out in the waiting. Opportunity becomes invisible to those who are doing nothing, or looking somewhere else for it. It is the great worker, the person who is alert for chances, that sees them.

Some people become so opportunity-blind that they cannot see chances anywhere (they would pass through a gold mine without noticing anything precious) while others will find opportunities in the most barren and out of-the-way places.

While you are saying, “There is no chance for me,” and “l can’t,” thousands of men and women in this country are tearing the words “impossible” and “I can’t” out of their dictionaries. While you are thinking of the great things you would do if you only had a college education and a little money to start with, others much less favored by fortune are annihilating these obstacles and forging ahead.

Many of these men and women are not only starting without friends, money, influence, or any assistance whatever, but are heavily handicapped by others depending upon them, or by some physical disability; yet they are defying the fates which you say are keeping you back.

Probably nine out of ten adults past middle life, if asked how it happens that they are today only barely earning their living, would tell you that they never had a chance; that they were kept back, that circumstances were against them; that they had no opportunities, such as other people around them had, or that they did not have the proper schooling, or else plead some similar excuse.

The probabilities are that opportunity did visit every one of these men and women more than once in their youth or early adulthood, but that they did not see that all good chances consisted in doing everything they undertook cheerfully, promptly, and just as well as it could be done. When young they did not look upon every errand as a chance to be polite, prompt, and energetic — on every lesson in school as a foundation stone in their success-structure.

They did not think that the demoralizing hours of indolence and shiftlessness which they were weaving into the web of their lives would mar the fabric forever, and reproach them through all time. They did not realize that the impudent reply to their employer, the carelessness and indifference which they slipped into their tasks, would come out as ghosts in the future to mar their happiness and success.

Instead, they looked upon every duty shirked, the minutes they cut off from each end of a day, as so much gain. They did not realize that these things, which seemed so innocent, would grow into giant defects which would mar their future success. They did not think that their slipshod methods, their careless attire, and their aggressive manners, would lie as great bars across the path of their future success and keep them back from the goal of their ambitions.

Millions of people are hunting for good chances, and seem to think they have very little to do with the good opportunity themselves except to discover it. But, no matter where you go, no matter who your ancestors were, what school or college you have attended, or who helps you, your best opportunity is within yourself.

The help you get from others is something outside of you, while it is what you are, what you do yourself, that really counts. A habit of depending on oneself, a determination to find one’s resources within one’s self and not without, develops strength.

There is no open door to the temple of success. Every person who enters forges their own key. They cannot effect an entrance for anyone else. Not even their own children can pass where they pass. The key that will unlock your great opportunity to you must be forged by you. No outside power — no help from influential friends or relations — can fashion it.

As a rule, the individual who unlocks the door of opportunity and makes their mark in the world fights their way up to their own achievements. What others do for them does not amount to much in comparison with what they do for themselves.

The pampered person who is brought up in luxury and not obliged to work, whose strength is never called upon, rarely discovers what there is within themselves. However, you cannot keep an unpampered, determined, gritty individual from success. Put stumbling-blocks in their way and they turn them into stepping-stones. Take away their money, and they will make spurs of their poverty.

If you are made of the stuff that wins — it does not matter whether you were born in a hovel or a mansion — you will find your opportunity, or make it. You will not wait around for chance or luck to aid you. You will not think that you must have a complete set of the finest tools before you can attempt to do anything.

The men and women who accomplished great things in the past did not wait for paraphernalia or fine tools. Those who are doing great things today did not wait for somebody or something to smooth the way and remove all difficulties before they began their work. They simply did the thing they set out to do with whatever tools they could get hold of.

No, it is not fine tools or splendid opportunities or influential friends or great riches that make great individuals. The greatness is in them or nowhere. The golden opportunity you are seeking is within yourself. It is not in your environment. It is not in luck, or chance, or the help of others. It is in yourself alone. If it is there, no one can keep you down. If it is not, no one can help you much.

It is there, however, for the Creator has put the opportunity in every human being. But you must find for yourself the key that opens its door.

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