I don’t usually go in for sweeping generalizations, motivational speeches, or how-tos. In fact, impersonal writing advice, especially from the have-it-mades to the have-nots, always feels a little presumptive to me, but I found this list of 9 Rules for Success by British Novelist Amelia E. Barr, 1901 very reassuring, especially since it was written over a century ago and yet still feels fresh and true.
Plus, I’m in the mood for a little pep-talk.
- Men and women succeed because they take pains to succeed. Industry and patience are almost genius; and successful people are often more distinguished for resolution and perseverance than for unusual gifts. They make determination and unity of purpose supply the place of ability.
- Success is the reward of those who “spurn delights and live laborious days.” We learn to do things by doing them. One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.
- No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?
- A fatal mistake is to imagine that success is some stroke of luck. This world is run with far too tight a rein for luck to interfere. Fortune sells her wares; she never gives them. In some form or other, we pay for her favors; or we go empty away.
- We have been told, for centuries, to watch for opportunities, and to strike while the iron is hot. Very good; but I think better of Oliver Cromwell’s amendment — “make the iron hot by striking it.”
- Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.
- Be orderly. Slatternly work is never good work. It is either affectation, or there is some radical defect in the intellect. I would distrust even the spiritual life of one whose methods and work were dirty, untidy, and without clearness and order.
- Never be above your profession. I have had many letters from people who wanted all the emoluments and honors of literature, and who yet said, “Literature is the accident of my life; I am a lawyer, or a doctor, or a lady, or a gentleman.” Literature is no accident. She is a mistress who demands the whole heart, the whole intellect, and the whole time of a devotee.
- Don’t fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery. Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing. Apparent success may be reached by sheer impudence, in defiance of offensive demerit. But men who get what they are manifestly unfit for, are made to feel what people think of them. Charlatanry may flourish; but when its bay tree is greenest, it is held far lower than genuine effort. The world is just; it may, it does, patronize quacks; but it never puts them on a level with true men. It is better to have the opportunity of victory, than to be spared the struggle; for success comes but as the result of arduous experience. The foundations of my success were laid before I can well remember; it was after at least forty-five years of conscious labor that I reached the object of my hope. Many a time my head failed me, my hands failed me, my feet failed me, but, thank God, my heart never failed me.
Job-search update: With the spirit of Amelia Barr in mind, I have graduated from searching for ads for jobs I’d like to applying for jobs that don’t exist. By that I mean I’m handing cover letters and resumes out to all the places I’d like to work, regardless of the fact they aren’t hiring. I’ll “make the iron hot by striking it.” Perhaps someone will call this gumption and hire me.
I’d like to see a show of hands: if you are not currently working for a paycheck, please say “aye.”