Excerpts from

  "He Can Who Thinks He Can"
Orison Swett Marden

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Book Contents
1908. Getting aroused; Education by absorption; Freedom at any cost; What the world owes to dreamers; Spirit in which you work; Responsibility develops power; An overmastering purpose; Has your vocation your unqualified approval? Stand for something; Happy, if not, why not? Originality; Had money, but lost it; Sizing up people; Does the world owe you a living? What has luck done for you? Success with a flaw; Getting away from poverty.


He Can Who Thinks He Can

I PROMISED my God I would do it." In September, 1862,  when Lincoln issued his preliminary emancipation proclamation, the sublimest act of the nineteenth century, he made this entry in his diary — "I promised my God I would do it." Does anyone doubt that such a mighty resolution added power to this marvelous man; or that it nerved him to accomplish what he had undertaken? Neither ridicule nor caricature — neither dread of enemies nor desertion of friends, — could shake his indomitable faith in his ability to lead the nation through the greatest struggle in its history.

Napoleon, Bismarck, and all other great achievers had colossal faith in themselves. It doubled, trebled, even quadrupled the ordinary power of these men. In no other way can we account for the achievements of Luther, Wesley, or Savonarola. Without this sublime faith, this confidence in her mission, how could the simple country maiden, Jeanne d'Arc, have led and controlled the French army? This divine self-confidence multiplied her power a thousandfold, until even the king obeyed her, and she led his stalwart troops as if they were children.

After William Pitt was dismissed from office, he said to the Duke of Devonshire, "I am sure I can save this country, and that nobody else can." "For eleven weeks," says Bancroft, "England was without a minister. At length the king and the aristocracy recognized Pitt's ascendancy and yielded to him the reins."

It was his unbounded confidence in his ability that compelled the recognition and led to the supremacy in England of Benjamin Disraeli, the once despised Jew. He did not quail or lose heart when the hisses and jeers of the British parliament rang in his ears. He sat down amid the jeering members, saying, "You will yet hear me." He felt within him then the confidence of power that made him prime minister of England, and turned sneers and hisses into admiration and applause.

Much of President Roosevelt's success has been due to his colossal self-confidence. He believes in Roosevelt, as Napoleon believed in Napoleon. There is nothing timid or half-hearted about our great president. He goes at everything with that gigantic assurance, with that tremendous confidence, which half wins the battle before he begins. It is astonishing how the world makes way for a resolute soul, and how obstacles get out of the path of a determined man who believes in himself. There is no philosophy by which a man can do a thing when he thinks he can't. What can defeat a strong man who believes in himself and cannot be ridiculed down, talked down, or written down? Poverty cannot dishearten him, misfortune deter him, or hardship turn him a hair's breadth from his course. Whatever comes, he keeps his eye on the goal and pushes ahead.

What would you think of a young man, ambitious to become a lawyer, who should surround himself with a medical atmosphere and spend his time reading medical books? Do you think he would ever become a great lawyer by following such a course? No, he must put himself in a law atmosphere, go where he can absorb it and be steeped in it until he is attuned to the legal note. He must be so grafted upon the legal tree that he can feel its sap circulating through him.

How long will it take a young man to become successful who puts himself in an atmosphere of failure and remains in it until he is soaked, saturated, with the idea? How long will it take a man who depreciates himself, talks failure, thinks failure, walks like a failure and dresses like a failure; who is always complaining of the insurmountable difficulties in his way, and whose every step is on the road to failure — how long will it take him to arrive at the success goal? Will anyone believe in him or expect him to win?

The majority of failures began to deteriorate by doubting or depreciating themselves, or by losing confidence in their own ability. The moment you harbor doubt and begin to lose faith in yourself, you capitulate to the enemy. Every time you acknowledge weakness, inefficiency, or lack of ability, you weaken your self-confidence, and that is to undermine the very foundation of all achievement.

So long as you carry around a failure atmosphere, and radiate doubt and discouragement, you will be a failure. Turn about face; cut off all the currents of failure thoughts, of discouraged thoughts. Boldly face your goal with a stout heart and a determined endeavor and you will find that things will change for you; but you must see a new world before you can live in it. It is to what you see, to what you believe, to what you struggle incessantly to attain, that you will approximate.

"Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string."

I know people who have been hunting for months for a situation, because they go into an office with a confession of weakness in their very manner; they show their lack of self-confidence. Their prophecy of failure in their face, in their bearing. They surrender before the battle begins. They are living witnesses against themselves.

When you ask a man to give you a position, and he reads this language in your face and manner, "Please give me a position; do not kick me out; fate is against me; I am an unlucky dog; I am disheartened; I have lost confidence in myself," he will only have contempt for you; he will say to himself that you are not a strong enough individual, to start with, and he will get rid of you as soon as he can.

If you expect to get a position, you must go into an office with the air of a conqueror; you must fling out confidence from yourself before you can convince an employer that you are the person he is looking for. You must show by your very presence that you are an individual of force, a person who can do things with vigor, cheerfulness, and enthusiasm.

Self-reliance which carries great, vigorous self-faith has ever been the best substitute for friends, pedigree, influence, and money. It is the best capital in the world; it has mastered more obstacles, overcome more difficulties, and carried through more enterprises than any other human quality.

I have interviewed many timid people as to why they let opportunities pass by them that were eagerly seized by others with much less ability, and the answer was invariably a confession like the following: "I have not courage," said one; "I lack confidence in myself," said another; "I shrink from trying for fear I shall make a mistake and have the mortification of being turned down," said a third; "It would look so cheeky for me to have the nerve to put myself forward," said a fourth; "Oh, I do not think it would be right to seek a place so far above me," said another; "I think I ought to wait until the place seeks me, or I am better prepared." So they run through the whole gamut of self-distrust. This shrinking, this timidity or self-effacement, often proves a worse enemy to success than actual incompetence. Take the lantern in the hand, and you will always have light enough for your next step, no matter how dark, for the light will move along with you. Do not try to see a long way ahead. "One step is enough for me."

A physical trainer in one of our girls' colleges says that his first step is to establish the girls in self-confidence; to lead them to think only of the ends to be attained and not of the means. He shows them that the greater power lies behind the muscles, in the mind, and points to the fact so frequently demonstrated, that a person in a supreme crisis, as in a fire or other catastrophe, can exert strength out of all proportion to their muscle. He thus helps them to get rid of fear and timidity, the great handicaps to achievement.

I believe if we had a larger conception of our possibilities, a larger faith in ourselves, we could accomplish infinitely more. And if we only better understood our divinity we would have this larger faith. We are crippled by the old orthodox idea of man's inferiority. There is no inferiority about the man that God made. The only inferiority in us is what we put into ourselves. What God made is perfect. The trouble is that most of us are but a burlesque of the man or woman God patterned and intended.

A Harvard graduate, who has been out of college a number of years, writes that because of his lack of self-confidence he has never earned more than twelve dollars a week. A graduate of Princeton tells us that, except for a brief period, he has never been able to earn more than a dollar a day. These men do not dare to assume responsibility. Their timidity and want of faith in themselves destroy their efficiency. The great trouble with many of us is that we do not believe enough in ourselves. We do not realize our power. Man was made to hold up his head and carry himself like a conqueror, not like a slave, — as a success, not as a failure, — to assert his God-given birthright.

Self-deprecation is a crime.

If you would be superior, you must hold the thought of superiority constantly in the mind. A singularly modest man of so retiring a disposition that at one time he did not show half of his great ability, whose shrinking nature and real talent for self-abasement had actually given him an inferior appearance, told me one day how he had counteracted this tendency toward self-deprecation. Among other things, he said he had derived great benefit from the practice he had formed of going about the streets, especially where he was not known, with an air of great importance, as though imagining himself the mayor of the city, the governor of the state, or even the President of the United States. By merely looking as though he expected everybody to recognize that he must be a person of note, he changed not only his appearance, but also his convictions. It raised him immeasurably in his own estimation. It had a marked effect upon his whole character. Where he once walked through the streets shrinking from the gaze of others and dreading their scrutiny, he now boldly invites, even demands, attention by his evident superiority, for he has the appearance of one whom people would like to know. In other words, he has caught a glimpse of his divinity; he really feels his superiority, and his self-respecting manner reflects it.

Be sure that your success will never rise higher than your confidence in yourself. The greatest artist in the world could not paint the face of a madonna with a model of depravity in their mind. You cannot succeed while doubting yourself or thinking thoughts of failure. Cling to success thoughts. Fill your mind with cheerful, optimistic pictures, — pictures of achievement. This will scatter the spectres of doubt and fear and send a power through you which will transform you into an achiever. No matter how poor or how hemmed in you may be, stoutly deny the power of adversity or poverty to keep you down. Constantly assert your superiority to environment. Believe in yourself; feel that you are to dominate your surroundings. Resolve that you will be the master and not the slave of circumstances. This very assertion of superiority; this assumption of power; this affirmation of your ability to succeed, — the attitude that claims success as an inalienable birthright, — will strengthen the whole man and give great added power to the combination of faculties which doubt, fear and lack of confidence undermine.

Self-confidence marshals all one's faculties and twists their united strength into one mighty achievement cable. It carries conviction. It makes other people believe in us. What has not been accomplished through its miraculous power! What triumphs in invention, in art, and in discovery have been wrought through its magic! What does not civilization owe to the invincible self-faith of its inventors, its discoverers, its railroad builders, its mine developers and city builders! It has won a thousand victories in science and in war which were deemed impossible by faint-hearted doubters.

The fact that you believe implicitly that you can do what may seem impossible or very difficult to others, shows that there is something within you that has gotten a glimpse of power sufficient to do the thing.

Many men and women who have achieved great things cannot account for their faith. They cannot tell why they had the implicit confidence that they could do what they undertook, but the result was evidence that something within them had gotten a glimpse of latent resourcefulness, reserve power, and possibilities which would warrant that faith; and they have gone ahead — often when they could not see a ray of light — with implicit confidence that they would come out all right, because this faith told them so. It told them so because it had been in communication with something within them that was divine that which had passed the bounds of the limited and had entered the domain of the limitless.

When we begin to exercise the faculties of self-faith, self-confidence, we are stimulating and increasing the strength of the very faculties which enable us to do the thing we have set our heart on. The very exercise of faith helps us to do what we undertake, because our greater concentration develops that portion of the brain which enables us to accomplish it.

Men and women who have left their mark on the world have often been implicit followers of their faith when they could see no light, and their faith has led them through the wilderness of doubt and hardship into the promised land. Our faith often tells us that we may proceed safely even in the dark, when we see no light ahead. Faith is a divine leader which never misdirects us. We must only be sure that it is faith, and not merely egotism or selfish desire.

Our faith puts us in touch with the infinite; opens the way to unbounded possibilities, limitless power. It is the one thing that we can be sure will not mislead us.

An unwavering belief in oneself destroys the greatest enemies of achievement, — fear, doubt, and vacillation. It removes the thousand and one obstacles which impede the progress of the weak and irresolute. Faith in one's mission — in the conviction that the Creator has given us power to realize our life call, as it is written in our blood and stamped on our brain cells, — is the secret of all power.

Poverty and failure are self-invited. The disasters people dread often come to them. Worry and anxiety enfeeble their force of mind and so blunt their creative and productive faculties that they are unable to exercise them properly. Fear of failure, or lack of faith in one's ability, is one of the most potent causes of failure. Many people of splendid powers have attained only mediocre success, and some are total failures, because they set bounds to their achievement, beyond which they did not allow themselves to think that they could pass. They put limitations to their ability; they cast stumbling blocks in their way by aiming only at mediocrity or predicting failure for themselves, talking their wares down instead of up, disparaging their business, and belittling their powers.

Thoughts are forces, and the constant affirmation of one's inherent right and power to succeed will change inhospitable conditions and unkind environments to favorable ones. If you resolve upon success with energy, you will very soon create a success atmosphere and things will come your way.

You can make yourself a success magnet.

"If things would only change!" you cry. What is it that changes things? Wishing, or hustling? — dreaming, or working? Can you expect them to change while you merely sit down and wish them to change. How long would it take you to build a house sitting on the foundation and wishing that it would go up? Wishing does not amount to anything unless it is backed by endeavor, determination, and grit.

Webster's father was much chagrined and pained when Daniel refused a fifteen-hundred-dollar clerkship in the Court of common pleas in New Hampshire, which he had worked hard to secure for him after he left college. "Daniel," he said, "don't you mean to take that office?" "No, indeed, father; I hope I can do much better than that. I mean to use my tongue in the courts, not my pen. I mean to be an actor, not a register of other men's acts." Sublime self-faith was characteristic of this giant's career.

Every child should be taught to expect success, and to believe that he or she was born to achieve, as the acorn is destined to become an oak. It is cruel for parents and teachers to tell children that they are dull or stupid, or that they are not like others of their age. They should inspire them, instead, with hope and confidence and belief in their success birthright. A child should be trained to expect great things, and should believe firmly in their God-given power to accomplish something worthwhile in the world.

Without self-faith and an iron will man is but the plaything of chance, — a puppet of circumstances. With these he is a king, and it is in childhood the seeds must be sown that will make him a conqueror in life.
If you want to reach nobility, you can never do it by holding the thought of inferiority, — the thought that you are not as good as other people; that you are not as able; that you cannot do this; that you cannot do that. "Can't" philosophy never does anything but tear down; it never builds up. If you want to amount to anything in the world, you must hold up your head. Say to yourself continually: "I am no beggar. I am no pauper. I am not a failure. I am a prince. I am a king. Success is my birthright, and nobody shall deprive me of it."

A proper self-esteem is not a vulgar quality. It is a very sacred one. To esteem oneself justly is to get a glimpse of the Infinite's plan in us. It is to get the perfect image which the Creator had in mind when He formed us, — the complete man or woman, not the dwarfed, pinched one which lack of self-esteem or of self-confidence sees. When we get a glimpse of our immortal selves, we shall see possibilities of which we never before dreamed. A sense of wholeness, — of power and self-confidence, — will come into our lives which will transform them. When we rate ourselves properly we shall be in tune with the Infinite; our faculties will be connected with an electric wire which carries unlimited power; and we shall no longer stumble in darkness, doubt and weakness. We shall be invincible.

CHAPTER 2 - Getting Aroused

HOW'S the boy gittin' on, Davis?" asked Farmer John Field, as he watched his son, Marshall, waiting upon a customer. "Well, John, you and I are old friends," replied Deacon Davis, as he took an apple from a barrel and handed it to Marshall's father as a peace offering; "we are old friends, and I don't want to hurt your feelin's; but I'm a blunt man, and am goin' to tell you the truth. Marshall is a good steady boy, all right, but he wouldn't make a merchant if he stayed in my store a thousand years. He weren't cut out for a merchant. Take him back to the farm, John, and teach him how to milk cows!"

If Marshall Field had remained as clerk in Deacon Davis's store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he got his first position, he could never have become one of the world's merchant princes. But he went to Chicago and saw the marvelous example around him of poor boys who had won success, it aroused his ambition and fired him with the determination to be a great merchant himself. "If others can do such wonderful things," he asked himself, "why cannot I?"

Of course, there was the making of a great merchant in Mr. Field from the start; but circumstances, an ambition-arousing environment, had a great deal to do with stimulating his latent energy and bringing out his reserve force. It is doubtful if he would have climbed so rapidly in any other place than Chicago. In 1850, when young Field went there, this marvelous city was just starting on its unparalleled career. It had then only about eighty-five thousand inhabitants. A few years before it had been a mere Indian trading village. But the city grew by leaps and bounds, and always beat the predictions of its most sanguine inhabitants. Success was in the air. Everybody felt that there were great possibilities there.

Many people seem to think that ambition is a quality born within us; that it is not susceptible to improvement; that it is something thrust upon us which will take care of itself. But it is a passion that responds very quickly to cultivation, and it requires constant care and education, just as the faculty for music or art does, or it will atrophy.

If we do not try to realize our ambition, it will not keep sharp and defined. Our faculties become dull and soon lose their power if they are not exercised. How can we expect our ambition to remain fresh and vigorous through years of inactivity, indolence, or indifference? If we constantly allow opportunities to slip by us without making any attempt to grasp them, our inclination will grow duller and weaker.

"What I most need," as Emerson says, "is somebody to make me do what I can." To do what I can, that is my problem; not what a Napoleon or a Lincoln could do, but what I can do. It makes all the difference in the world to me whether I bring out the best thing in me or the worst, — whether I utilize ten, fifteen, twenty-five or ninety percent of my ability.

Everywhere we see people who have reached middle life or later without being aroused. They have developed only a small percentage of their success possibilities. They are still in a dormant state. The best thing in them lies so deep that it has never been awakened. When we meet these people we feel conscious that they have a great deal of latent power that has never been exercised. Great possibilities of usefulness and of achievement are, all unconsciously, going to waste within them.
Some time ago there appeared in the newspapers an account of a girl who had reached the age of fifteen years, and yet had only attained the mental development of a small child. Only a few things interested her. She was dreamy, inactive, and indifferent to everything around her most of the time until, one day, while listening to a hand organ on the street, she suddenly awakened to full consciousness. She came to herself; her faculties were aroused; and in a few days she leaped forward years in her development. Almost in a day she passed from childhood to budding womanhood. Most of us have an enormous amount of power, of latent force, slumbering within us, as it slumbered in this girl, which could do marvels if we would only awaken it.

The judge of the municipal court in a flourishing western city, one of the most highly esteemed jurists in his state, was in middle life, before his latent power was aroused, an illiterate blacksmith. He is now sixty, the owner of the finest library in his city, with the reputation of being its best-read man, and one whose highest endeavor is to help his fellow man. What caused the revolution in his life? The hearing of a single lecture on the value of education. This was what stirred the slumbering power within him, awakened his ambition, and set his feet in the path of self-development.

I have known several people who never realized their possibilities until they reached middle life. Then they were suddenly aroused, as if from a long sleep, by reading some inspiring, stimulating book, by listening to a sermon or a lecture, or by meeting some friend, — someone with high ideals, — who understood, believed in, and encouraged them.

It will make all the difference in the world to you whether you are with people who are watching for ability in you, people who believe in, encourage, and praise you, or whether you are with those who are forever breaking your idols, blasting your hopes, and throwing cold water on your aspirations.

The chief probation officer of the children's court in New York, in his report for 1905, says: "Removing a boy or girl from improper environment is the first step in his or her reclamation." The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, after thirty years of investigation of cases involving the social and moral welfare of over half a million of children, has also come to the conclusion that environment is stronger than heredity.

Even the strongest of us are not beyond the reach of our environment. No matter how independent, strong willed, and determined our nature, we are constantly being modified by our surroundings. Take the bestborn child, with the greatest inherited advantages, and let it be reared by savages, and how many of its inherited tendencies will remain? If brought up from infancy in a barbarous, brutal atmosphere, it will, of course, become brutal. The story is told of a wellborn child who, being lost or abandoned as an infant, was suckled by a wolf with her own young ones, and who actually took on all the characteristics of the wolf, — walked on all fours, howled like a wolf, and ate like one.

It does not take much to determine the lives of most of us. We naturally follow the examples about us, and, as a rule, we rise or fall according to the strongest current in which we live. The poet's "I am a part of all that I have met" is not a mere poetic flight of fancy; it is an absolute truth. Everything — every sermon or lecture or conversation you have heard, every person who has touched your life — has left an impress upon your character, and you are never quite the same person after the association or experience. You are a little different, — modified somewhat from what you were before, — just as Beecher was never the same man after reading Ruskin.

Some years ago a party of Russian workmen were sent to the USA by a Russian firm of shipbuilders, in order that they might acquire American methods and catch the American spirit. Within six months the Russians had become almost the equals of the American artisans among whom they worked. They had developed ambition, individuality, personal initiative, and a marked degree of excellence in their work. A year after their return to their own country, the deadening, non-progressive atmosphere about them had done its work. The men had lost the desire to improve; they were again plodders, with no goal beyond the day's work. The ambition aroused by stimulating environment had sunk to sleep again.

Our Indian schools sometimes publish, side by side, photographs of the Indian youths as they come from the reservation and as they look when they are graduated — well dressed, intelligent, with the fire of ambition in their eyes. We predict great things for them; but the majority of those who go back to their tribes, after struggling a while to keep up their new standards, gradually drop back to their old manner of living. There are, of course, many notable exceptions, but these are strong characters, able to resist the downward-dragging tendencies about them.

If you interview the great army of failures, you will find that multitudes have failed because they never got into a stimulating, encouraging environment, because their ambition was never aroused, or because they were not strong enough to rally under depressing, discouraging, or vicious surroundings. Most of the people we find in prisons and poor-houses are pitiable examples of the influence of an environment which appealed to the worst instead of to the best in them.

Whatever you do in life, make any sacrifice necessary to keep in an ambition-arousing atmosphere, an environment that will stimulate you to self-development. Keep close to people who understand you, who believe in you, who will help you to discover yourself and encourage you to make the most of yourself. This may make all the difference to you between a grand success and a mediocre existence. Stick to those who are trying to do something and to be somebody in the world, — people of high aims, lofty ambition. Keep close to those who are dead-in-earnest. Ambition is contagious. You will catch the spirit that dominates in your environment. The success of those about you who are trying to climb upward will encourage and stimulate you to struggle harder if you have not done quite so well yourself.

There is a great power in a battery of individuals who are struggling for the achievement of high aims, a great magnetic force which will help you to attract the object of your ambition. It is very stimulating to be with people whose aspirations run parallel with your own. If you lack energy, if you are naturally lazy, indolent, or inclined to take it easy, you will be urged forward by the constant prodding of the more ambitious.

"He Can Who Thinks He Can"
Orison Swett Marden

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