The Inspiration of Possibility | Motivational Podcasts

Podcast Transcript: Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by Book of Zen, makers of inspirational fashion and gift ideas. Visit them online at Today’s podcast has been edited and adapted from The Power of Purpose by William George Jordan, published in 1910.

Some people like to wander in the cemetery of their past errors, to reread the old epitaphs and spend hours in mourning over the grave of a wrong. This new mistake does not antidote the old one. The remorse that paralyzes hope, corrodes purpose, and deadens energy is not moral health; it is an indigestion of the soul that cannot assimilate an act.

It is a selfish, cowardly surrender to the dominance of the past. It is lost motion in morals; it does no good to the individual, to the injured, to others, or to the world. If the past be unworthy, live it down; if it be worthy, live up to it and — surpass it.

Omnipotence cannot change the past, so why should WE try? Our duty is to compel that past to vitalize our future with new courage and purpose, making it a larger, greater future than would have been possible without the past that has so grieved us. If we can get real, fine dividends from our mistakes, they prove themselves not losses but — wise investments. They seem like old shares of stock, laid aside in the lavender of memory of our optimism and now, by some sudden change in the market of speculation, prove to be of real value.

Realizing mistakes is good; acting on them is better. When a captain finds his vessel is out of the right channel, carried by negligence, by adverse winds, or by blundering through a fog from the true course, he wastes no time in bemoaning his mistake, but at the first sunburst takes new bearings, changes his course, steers bravely towards his harbor with renewed courage to make up the time he has lost.

A mistake means increased care and greater speed. Musing over the dreams of youth, the golden hopes that have not blossomed into deeds, is a dangerous mental dissipation. In very small doses it may stimulate; in large ones, it weakens effort. It overemphasizes the past at the expense of the present; it adds weights, not wings, to purpose. “It might have been” is the lullaby of regret with which we often put to sleep the mighty courage and confidence that should inspire us.

We do not need narcotics in life, so much as we need tonics. We may try sometimes, sadly and speculatively, to reconstruct our life from some date in the past when we might have taken a different course. We go back in memory to some fork of the road in life, and think what would have happened and how wondrously better it would have been had we taken the other turning of the road.

We say to ourselves, “If I had only married the other one”; “If I had only taken a different major in college”; “If I had only spent certain money in some other way” — and so we run uselessly our empty train of thought over these slippery and dead “ifs”.

Even if these courses might have been wiser (and we don’t really know if they would have been), it is now as impossible to change back to them, as for the human race to go back to the Garden of Eden. The past does not belong to us to change or to modify; it is only the golden present that is ours to make as we would wish.

The present is raw material, the past is finished product — finished forever for good or ill. No regret will ever enable us to relive it. The other road always looks attractive; distant sails are always white; far-off hills always green. It may perhaps have been the poorer road after all, could our imagination, through some magic, see with perfect vision the finality of its possibility.

The other road might have meant wealth but less happiness. Fame might have charmed our ears with the sweet music of praise, but the little hand of love that rests so trustingly in ours might have been denied us. Death itself might have come earlier to us or his touch stilled the beatings of a heart we hold dearer than our own. What the other road might have meant, no eternity of conjecture can ever reveal, no omnipotence can enable us now to walk therein, even if we wished.

We cannot relive our old mistakes — but we can make them the means of future immunity from the folly that caused them. If we were impatient yesterday, it should inspire us to be patient today. Yesterday’s anger may be the seed of today’s cheerfulness. Today’s kindness should be the form assumed by our regret at yesterday’s cruelty.

Our unfairness to one may open our eyes to the possibility of greater fairness to hundreds. It is a greater mistake to err in purpose, in aim, in principle, than in our method of attaining them. The method may readily be modified; but to change the purpose may upset the whole plan of our life.

It is easier in mid-ocean to vary the course of the ship than to change the cargo. Right principles are vital and primary. They bring the maximum of profit from mistakes, reduce the loss to a minimum. False pride perpetuates our mistakes, deters us from confessing them, debars us from repairing them and ceasing them.

Our attitude toward our mistakes is various and peculiar. Some people do not see them; some will not see them; some see without changing; some see and deplore, but keep on; some make the same mistakes over and over again, in principle not in form; some blame others for their own mistakes; some condemn others for mistakes, seemingly unconscious that they themselves are committing similar ones; some excuse their mistakes by saying that others do the same things, as though a disease were less dangerous when it becomes epidemic in a community.

Failure does not necessarily imply a mistake. If we have held our standard high, bravely fought a good fight for the right, held our part courageously against heavy opposition and have finally seen the citadel of our great hope taken by superior force, by overwhelming conditions, or sapped and undermined by jealousy, envy, or treachery, we have met with failure, it is true, BUT — we have not made a mistake.

The world may condemn us for this lack of success. But what does the silly, babbling, unthinking world that has not seen our heroic efforts know about it? What does it matter what the world thinks, or says, if we know we have done our best?

Sometimes individuals fail nobly because they have the courage to forego triumph at the cost of character, honor, truth, and justice. Let us never accept mistakes as final; let us organize victory out of the broken ranks of failure and, despite all odds, fight on calmly, courageously, unflinchingly, serenely confident that, in the end, right living and right doing — must triumph.

The world needs the clarion call of a great inspiration on the unmeasured possibilities of the individual. No person that ever lived exhausted their possibilities. The greatest that ever shed the glory of their presence on this earth of ours have given but at most a few-sided showing of the lines upon which they concentrated. None ever lived the full, rounded, perfect flowering of their whole nature — the vastness of their possibility remained in the silence and secrecy of the unexpressed.

Life is too short for the full story. The feeling of the incompleteness of this life, its unsatisfiedness, is a strong base for belief in immortality. Let us throw overboard that benumbing philosophy of the words “Remember your limitations,” and preach ever: “Remember your limitless possibilities”.

With the new dignity added to the individual life, comes a finer realization of the power of maximum living from day to day — a large, firmer grip on individual problems. We are not put into the world as a music box mechanically set with a certain fixed number of tunes, but as a violin with infinite possibilities. This music no one can bring forth but the individual themselves.

We are placed into life not a finality, but a beginning; not a manufactured article, but raw material; not a statue, but an unpolished stone, ready alike for the firm chisel of defined purpose or the subtle attrition of circumstances and conditions. It is only what you make of yourself that really counts.

You must disinfect your mind from that weakening thought that you have an absolutely predetermined capacity, like a freight-car with its weight and tonnage painted on the side. You are growing, expansive, unlimited: self-adjusting to increased responsibility, progressively able for large duties and higher possibilities as you realize them and live up to them. You should feel this sense of the limitless — physically, mentally, morally, spiritually.

There is none so obscure that they cannot make the lives of those around them marvelously changed, brightened, and inspired, if they would merely progressively live up to their expanding possibilities in the way of kindness, thoughtfulness, cheer, good-will, influence, and optimism.

Better by far is it for the individual to be a live piece of coal, radiating light and heat for a day, than to be an icicle for a century. It is better to be an oasis of freshness and inspiration, even if the oasis be no larger than a table-cloth, than be a desert of dreariness larger than the Sahara. We can all be intensive, even if we cannot yet be extensive; deep, if we cannot be wide; concentrated, if we cannot be diffused.

The smallest pool of water can mirror the sun; it does not require an ocean. Let us live up to our possibilities for a single day, and we will not have to die to get to heaven. We will be making heaven for ourselves and for others right here — today on this little spinning globe we call the earth.

What you are at any moment of life does not fix what you may become. It is not necessarily a destination, it may merely be a station, a chapter, not the complete story. Progress is but the continuous revelation of possibilities transformed into realities. We see the running, but not the goal. It is not results that are the true test of living (for they may lie outside the individual’s power to control), but it is ever the moral and mental qualities you put into the struggle.

The world’s standard of judging is not in accord with the higher ethics of the soul. It is not getting the best, but proving worthy of the best, that is the revelation of true character. The person who talks airily of the things they would do, if only they had time, unconscious of the golden hours of wasted opportunity frittering idly through their fingers, had better wake up.

Every hour is a new chariot of time’s possibilities that might be laden with rich treasure. The roll of the great leaders in human thought and effort have not been those who had the best opportunities, but those who made the best use of them. It is not easy to make many of life’s hidden treasures manifest; but the treasure of individual possibility that lives within your heart, mind, and life, you can bring out, if you but only try.

Self-confidence is a virtue that should never live a single life; it should be wedded to tireless energy. There come high-tide moments in all lives when our ears are filled with the triumphal music of a great thought; when the vitalizing words of some great thinker or teacher reach our soul with a message of illumination.

We then see our life in new perspective. We are shamed out of our self-complacency and seem to see wondrous visions of our possibilities, glimpses of what we might become.

It is a coming face to face with our higher self, which may re-create our lives for all the years come. Let us seize our progressive possibilities, make them real, vital, growing. Realizing possibilities is the soul of optimism, and optimism is the soul of living.

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