How to Be Successful in Any Career | Motivational Podcasts

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of wearable inspiration for a better world. Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from How to Get On by Bernard Feeney, 1891.

If you were about to get a house built, you would naturally go to an architect, tell them in a general way what kind of house you required, and then inform them how much money you intended to spend on it. The architect would probably take some time to consider how your ideas and wishes were to be carried out. They would spoil some sheets of paper in sketching plans, each coming nearer and nearer to include and reconcile all your conditions. At last they would strike on one requiring no more corrections.

“Here is the ground-plan of your house; here the front, side, rear elevations. Here is your drawing-room, there your dining-room. Here your office, your kitchen and pantry; there, on the upper stories, your bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.” And the cost of the whole is kept within the amount you specified. The plan is complete, you are delighted with it, and you give orders for the immediate execution of the work.

Suppose, however, you determined to economize expenses by declining the services of an architect, and you employ a bricklayer to run up four walls with a certain number of holes in them for doors and windows. You then get a roof put on, and you find, when you look at the whole, that you have spent your money on an ugly, misshapen mass of brick and mortar.

Now, character is a kind of house that everyone has to build up around themselves. You must do it. Good or bad, refined or coarse, pleasant or unpleasant, character is always being built up, as an essential part of the work of life, ending only when we cease to live.

Some pull down in an hour the labor of years; and then they have to begin afresh from the foundation. Some get disgusted with the collapse of their work, and build in defiance of every principle of taste and beauty. Others, however, take courage from failure, and learn by it to prevent or avoid its causes. These are chiefly the successful builders, whose work is not only a joy and pride to themselves, but a beautiful model to others.

A good character is not only pleasant to the owner and their friends, but today it is also worth (in real financial terms) more than many university diplomas. This is due to the exclusive cultivation of the intellect in our public schools and colleges — in other words, of the unnatural separation of character and education. I do not, however, intend to go into this branch of the subject today. I merely wish to state an undeniable fact, that to get on in life, character must be built up carefully and patiently, with judgment and forethought.

Just as we must have a detailed plan of any building we intend to erect. So, too, we must have a plan of the moral structure called character, which we build around us, if we wish that structure to be worthy of us. This plan is called an ideal. Everyone has, consciously or unconsciously, some kind of ideal before their mind; but very few, unfortunately, aspire to realize it.

We are generally too indolent, too material-minded, to make much effort to become like what we admire as beautiful and good. And so we let ourselves drift down the current, receding daily farther and farther from the bright vision that beckons us to return.

There is but one prize worth all the energy of a human soul; and that is a prize which does not depend on the world’s favor, and which death cannot snatch from us. The ideal life to which we ought to aspire is one that must make our homes bright and cheerful; it must make everyone depending on it as happy as lies in its power to do. It must therefore leave glum looks, business cares, and outside annoyances in general, at the hall-door or, better still, locked up in the office. It must not be the slave of money-getting, or of pleasure-seeking, or even of any overmastering ambition.

It should be orderly and self-possessed, trusted for its integrity and fidelity, respected for its genuine nobility, loved for the beautiful harmony and completeness by which it is distinguished. Above all, an abiding sense of soul, sincere and unaffected, should be its very life-blood — transfusing, energizing, spiritualizing it from its simplest to its most vital action.

Everyone should have some such ideal before them, if you wish to get on in life. It will be a safeguard to you against failure. It will be a stimulus to exertion when other motives cease to influence you. It will be the source of much happiness to you and all around you; for, I am convinced, no one has more real enjoyment in living than those who live for a noble object, and no example can be more cheerful and inspiring to everyone who comes in contact with you.

So, if you have not done so already, form a high ideal, suited to your position, to which you may aspire. Keep it always before you, and resolve to do nothing unworthy of it. Let it, however, be not altogether of the earth. Have in it every human element you wish; but let its spirit be divine. No other ideal can purify and elevate life. None else satisfies the soul.

An ideal without the spiritual may seem to work while we are plunged in the maddening whirlpool of worldly excitement and pleasure. But in our quiet, solitary moments it disappoints us. In old age, it disappoints us still more. And at the approach of death, it crumbles into dust like a mummy exposed to light and air. Then it disappoints us most of all.

I must guard you, however, against making one serious mistake in this matter. Do not lose courage if you find you cannot realize your ideal in a week or a month. Keep on with a strong, cheerful, indomitable will; and be assured you are making progress (although you may not perceive it), as long as you do not give up the struggle.

Consider the young child who is just learning to walk. If the child is shown some candy or a rocking-horse, it will at once try to toddle towards it, even at the risk of several falls along the way. But if you merely hold out your empty hand to them and beckon them to come, the same child will most probably shake their little head and give you plainly to understand that they see no sufficient reason to make the effort.

Simple as this fact is, it goes far to explain why and how the successful go about succeeding in life. They keep the end always in view. Their minds constantly dwell on its advantages, its utility — the pleasure or happiness it will bring. Every circumstance that can enhance its attractiveness is turned over and over, until they are prepared to make any sacrifice to attain it.

Part of the striving towards your ideal involves your choice of career. It requires long and prudent reflection to choose a career in life. The reasons for it and against it should be carefully weighed. But when once chosen, the soul should stretch out towards it with all the strength and intensity of its nature.

In many cases, no thought of change should ever be allowed to enter the mind. A false start is generally fatal to success; because the energy wasted in turning round, and the time lost in beginning afresh, as well as the discouragement of failure, are all elements of weakness. However, better a thousand times a new beginning, when it is possible, than dragging through life the galling chain of an unsuitable vocation or career. I know no slavery more cruel than this; no misery more pitiable. It sours the joys of life, turns hope into despair, and makes earth a sort of incipient hell.

Supposing, then, that you have already decided and entered on a career, profession, or calling of any kind, which for some reason you cannot give up, I advise you strongly, if you value your peace of mind and wish to save your life from failure, to seek out all possible reasons for loving that career and becoming attached to it. Drive away all craving for what may not be. Turn your mind from it, as from a deadly temptation.

Every beginning is hard. You will, no doubt, chafe and fume for a little at the thought that you are bound for life to something sickening and hateful. But we soon adapt ourselves to the inevitable, no matter how disagreeable it be. Habit reconciles us to it, and companionship after a time disposes us in its favor. There is good in everything, even in a career unwisely chosen. But this good has to be found out; it does not always present itself at first view.

A piece of quartz is a dull, heavy, unshapen lump of earth. Yet when people came to know its value, they dug deep into the earth, and cut their way through rocks, and endangered their lives to obtain it. So, too, with a career. It may be humble, ill-paid, and laborious; it may seem to have no future before it; it may be commonplace and unromantic, as the realities of life generally are. But it is, at least, honest and independent. It does us well to develop steadiness, love of duty, trustworthiness — all of which helps us to keep our homes bright and cheerful.

Were your social position higher and your occupation require little effort, you would never enjoy the luxury of rest in the bosom of your family after a hard day’s honest work. In the world of fashion, there is no home-life, no domestic happiness. That whirl of party-going and dissipation among the wealthy, which outsiders envy so keenly, is a circle revolving round much unhealthiness and depression. Were you to know all, you would thank God that your lot is not cast in high places.

The more you keep looking at the bright side of your place in life, the brighter it will become, and the lighter and easier will seem the duties it imposes. But there is one consideration which, more than all others (outside of supernatural motives), will reconcile you to your position. It is the intrinsic dignity of labor, no matter of what kind it be.

Labor is the necessary complement, the culminating perfection of our nature. Its kind is a matter of absolute indifference. It may be skilled or unskilled, mental or bodily, respectable or vile (in the world’s estimation); these distinctions are of no account whatever, provided the labor be honest and honestly performed.

We all must thus cultivate a high idea of our work in life, no matter how humble that work may be, and to throw ourselves into it with energy and resolute will, determined to succeed.

Let us now see what success consistsof, and what should be the characteristics of the determination with which we should strive for it.

Success in life does not depend on the world’s estimate of your calling or profession. It depends solely on the knowledge or skill you bring to it, on the energy with which you work at it, on the whole-souled devotion with which you are absorbed in it. By these means you build up a character for yourself that becomes daily more and more esteemed and respected by those who come in contact with you.

“Your word is good as a bond.” Your steadiness, fidelity, reliability, is never called into question. You are looked up to within your own sphere (by some with envy, by others with admiration), but all agree in regarding you as one who has deservedly attained the highest possible success.

Start today. Make your success (unqualified and absolute) a leading feature of the ideal you keep before you. Aim at the small and frequent, rather than great advances. Remember the lines of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “We have not wings, we cannot soar; but we have feet to scale and climb, by slow degrees, by more and more, the lofty summit of our time.”

In this way our determination to succeed will be easy and practical, not spasmodic and exhausting; and its results will become visible much sooner than we expect.

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