Opportunities Where You Are by Orison Swett Marden
"We look too high For things close by."
A Baltimore lady lost a valuable diamond bracelet at a ball, and supposed that it was stolen from the pocket of her cloak. Years afterward she washed the steps of the Peabody Institute, pondering how to get money to buy food. She cut up an old, worn-out, ragged cloak to make a hood, when lo! in the lining of the cloak she discovered the diamond bracelet. During all her poverty she was worth $3500, but did not know it.
Many of us who think we are poor are rich in opportunities, if we could only see them, in possibilities all about us, in faculties worth more than diamond bracelets. In our large Eastern cities it has been found that at least ninety-four out of every hundred found their first fortune at home, or near at hand, and in meeting common every-day wants. It is a sorry day for a young man who cannot see any opportunities where he is, but thinks he can do better somewhere else. Some Brazilian shepherds organized a party to go to California to dig gold, and took along a handful of translucent pebbles to play checkers with on the voyage. After arriving in San Francisco, and after they had thrown most of the pebbles away, they discovered that they were diamonds. They hastened back to Brazil, only to find that the mines from which the pebbles had been gathered had been taken up by others and sold to the government.
The richest gold and silver mine in Nevada was sold for $42 by the owner to get money to pay his passage to other mines, where he thought he could get rich. Professor Agassiz told the Harvard students of a farmer who owned a farm of hundreds of acres of unprofitable woods and rocks, and concluded to sell out and get into a more profitable business. He decided to go into the coal-oil business; he studied coal measures and coal-oil deposits, and experimented for a long time. He sold his farm for $200, and engaged in his new business two hundred miles away. Only a short time after the man who bought his farm discovered upon it a great flood of coal-oil, which the farmer had previously ignorantly tried to drain off.
Hundreds of years ago there lived near the shore of the river Indus a Persian by the name of Ali Hafed. He lived in a cottage on the river bank, from which he could get a grand view of the beautiful country stretching away to the sea. He had a wife and children, an extensive farm, fields of grain, gardens of flowers, orchards of fruit, and miles of forest. He had a plenty of money and everything that heart could wish. He was contented and happy. One evening a priest of Buddha visited him, and, sitting before the fire, explained to him how the world was made, and how the first beams of sunlight condensed on the earth's surface into diamonds. The old priest told that a drop of sunlight the size of his thumb was worth more than large mines of copper, silver, or gold; that with one of them he could buy many farms like his; that with a handful he could buy a province, and with a mine of diamonds he could purchase a kingdom. Ali Hafed listened, and was no longer a rich man. He had been touched with discontent, and with that all wealth vanishes. Early the next morning he woke the priest who had been the cause of his unhappiness, and anxiously asked him where he could find a mine of diamonds. "What do you want of diamonds?" asked the astonished priest. "I want to be rich and place my children on thrones." "All you have to do is to go and search until you find them," said the priest. "But where shall I go?" asked the poor farmer. "Go anywhere, north, south, east, or west." "How shall I know when I have found the place?" "When you find a river running over white sands between high mountain ranges, in those white sands you will find diamonds," answered the priest.
The discontented man sold the farm for what he could get, left his family with a neighbor, took the money he had at interest, and went to search for the coveted treasure. Over the mountains of Arabia, through Palestine and Egypt, he wandered for years, but found no diamonds. When his money was all gone and starvation stared him in the face, ashamed of his folly and of his rags, poor Ali Hafed threw himself into the tide and was drowned. The man who bought his farm was a contented man, who made the most of his surroundings, and did not believe in going away from home to hunt for diamonds or success. While his camel was drinking in the garden one day, he noticed a flash of light from the white sands of the brook. He picked up a pebble, and pleased with its brilliant hues took it into the house, put it on the shelf near the fireplace, and forgot all about it. The old priest of Buddha who had filled Ali Hafed with the fatal discontent called one day upon the new owner of the farm. He had no sooner entered the room than his eye caught that flash of light from the stone. "Here's a diamond! here's a diamond!" the old priest shouted in great excitement. "Has Ali Hafed returned?" said the priest. "No," said the farmer, "nor is that a diamond. That is but a stone." They went into the garden and stirred up the white sand with their fingers, and behold, other diamonds more beautiful than the first gleamed out of it. So the famous diamond beds of Golconda were discovered. Had Ali Hafed been content to remain at home, had he dug in his own garden, instead of going abroad in search for wealth, and reaping poverty, hardships, starvation, and death, he would have been one of the richest men in the world, for the entire farm abounded in the richest of gems.
You have your own special place and work. Find it, fill it. Scarcely a boy or girl will read these lines but has much better opportunity to win success than Garfield, Wilson, Franklin, Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Frances Willard, and thousands of others. But to succeed you must be prepared to seize and improve the opportunity when it comes. Remember that four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.
It is one of the paradoxes of civilization that the more opportunities are utilized, the more new ones are thereby created. New openings are as easy to fill as ever to those who do their best; although it is not so easy as formerly to obtain distinction in the old lines, because the standard has advanced so much and competition has so greatly increased. "The world is no longer clay," said Emerson, "but rather iron in the hands of its workers, and men have got to hammer out a place for themselves by steady and rugged blows."
Thousands of men have made fortunes out of trifles which others pass by. As the bee gets honey from the same flower from which the spider gets poison, so some men will get a fortune out of the commonest and meanest things, as scraps of leather, cotton waste, slag, iron filings, from which others get only poverty and failure. There is scarcely a thing which contributes to the welfare and comfort of humanity, not an article of household furniture, a kitchen utensil, an article of clothing or of food, that is not capable of an improvement in which there may be a fortune.
Opportunities? They are all around us. Edison found them in a baggage car. Forces of nature plead to be used in the service of man, as lightning for ages tried to attract his attention to the great force of electricity, which would do his drudgery and leave him to develop the God-given powers within him. There is power lying latent everywhere waiting for the observant eye to discover it.
First find out what the world needs and then supply that want. An invention to make smoke go the wrong way in a chimney might be a very ingenious thing, but it would be of no use to humanity. The patent office at Washington is full of wonderful devices of ingenious mechanism, but not one in hundreds is of use to the inventor or to the world. And yet how many families have been impoverished, and have struggled for years amid want and woe, while the father has been working on useless inventions. A. T. Stewart, as a boy, lost eighty-seven cents when his capital was one dollar and a half in buying buttons and thread which shoppers did not call for. After that he made it a rule never to buy anything which the public did not want, and so prospered.
It is estimated that five out of every seven of the millionaire manufacturers began by making with their own hands the articles which made their fortunes. One of the greatest hindrances to advancement in life is the lack of observation and of the inclination to take pains. An observing man, the eyelets of whose shoes pulled out, but who could not afford to get another pair, said to himself, "I will make a metallic lacing hook, which can be riveted into the leather;" he was so poor that he had to borrow a sickle to cut the grass in front of his hired tenement. Now he is a very rich man.
An observing barber in Newark, N. J., thought he could make an improvement in shears for cutting hair, invented clippers, and became rich. A Maine man was called in from the hayfield to wash clothes for his invalid wife. He had never realized what it was to wash before. Finding the method slow and laborious, he invented the washing-machine, and made a fortune. A man who was suffering terribly with toothache said to himself, there must be some way of filling teeth which will prevent their aching. So he invented the principle of gold filling for teeth.
The great things of the world have not been done by men of large means. Ericsson began the construction of the screw propellers in a bathroom. The cotton-gin was first manufactured in a log cabin. John Harrison, the great inventor of the marine chronometer, began his career in the loft of an old barn. Parts of the first steamboat ever run in America were set up in the vestry of a church in Philadelphia by Fitch. McCormick began to make his famous reaper in a gristmill. The first model dry dock was made in an attic. Clark, the founder of Clark University of Worcester, Mass., began his great fortune by making toy wagons in a horse shed. Farquhar made umbrellas in his sitting-room, with his daughter's help, until he sold enough to hire a loft. Edison began his experiments in a baggage car on the Grand Trunk Railroad when a newsboy.
As soon as the weather would permit, the Jamestown colonists began to stroll about the country digging for gold. In a bank of sand some glittering particles were found, and the whole settlement was in a state of excitement. Fourteen weeks of the precious springtime, which ought to have been given to plowing and planting, were consumed in this stupid nonsense. Even the Indians ridiculed the madness of the men who, for imaginary grains of gold, were wasting their chances for a crop of corn.
Michael Angelo found a piece of discarded Carrara marble among waste rubbish beside a street in Florence, which some unskillful workman had cut, hacked, spoiled, and thrown away. No doubt many artists had noticed the fine quality of the marble, and regretted that it should have been spoiled. But Michael Angelo still saw an angel in the ruin, and with his chisel and mallet he called out from it one of the finest pieces of statuary in Italy, the young David.
The lonely island of Nantucket would not be considered a very favorable place to win success and fame. But Maria Mitchell, on seventy-five dollars a year, as librarian of the Nantucket Athenaeum, found time and opportunity to become a celebrated astronomer. Lucretia Mott, one of America's foremost philanthropists and reformers, who made herself felt over a whole continent, gained much of her reputation as a preacher on Nantucket Island.
"Why does not America have fine sculptors?" asked a romping girl, of Watertown, Mass., in 1842. Her father, a physician, answered that he supposed "an American could be a stone-cutter, but that is a very different thing from being a sculptor." "I think," said the plucky maiden, "that if no other American tries it I will." She began her studies in Boston, and walked seven miles to and fro daily between her home and the city. The medical schools in Boston would not admit her to study anatomy, so she had to go to St. Louis. Subsequently she went to Rome, and there, during a long residence, and afterward, modeled and carved very beautiful statuary which made the name of Harriet G. Hosmer famous. Begin where you are; work where you are; the hour which you are now wasting, dreaming of some far-off success, may be crowded with grand possibilities.
Patrick Henry was called a lazy boy, a good-for-nothing farmer, and he failed as a merchant. He was always dreaming of some far-off greatness, and never thought he could be a hero among the corn and tobacco and saddlebags of Virginia. He studied law six weeks, when he put out his shingle. People thought he would fail, but in his first case he showed that he had a wonderful power of oratory. It then first dawned upon him that he could be a hero in Virginia. From the time the Stamp Act was passed and Henry was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, and he had introduced his famous resolution against the unjust taxation of the American colonies, he rose steadily until he became one of the brilliant orators of America. In one of his first speeches upon this resolution he uttered these words, which were prophetic of his power and courage: "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third—may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."
The great natural philosopher, Faraday, who was the son of a blacksmith, wrote, when a young man, to Humphry Davy, asking for employment at the Royal Institution. Davy consulted a friend on the matter. "Here is a letter from a young man named Faraday, he has been attending my lectures, and wants me to give him employment at the Royal Institution—what can I do?" "Do? put him to washing bottles; if he is good for anything he will do it directly; if he refuses he is good for nothing." But the boy who could experiment in the attic of an apothecary shop with an old pan and glass vials during every moment he could snatch from his work saw an opportunity in washing bottles, which led to a professorship at the Royal Academy at Woolwich. Tyndall said of this boy with no chance, "He is the greatest experimental philosopher the world has ever seen." He became the wonder of his age in science.
There is a legend of an artist who long sought for a piece of sandal-wood, out of which to carve a Madonna. He was about to give up in despair, leaving the vision of his life unrealized, when in a dream he was bidden to carve his Madonna from a block of oak wood which was destined for the fire. He obeyed, and produced a masterpiece from a log of common firewood. Many of us lose great opportunities in life by waiting to find sandal-wood for our carvings, when they really lie hidden in the common logs that we burn. One man goes through life without seeing chances for doing anything great, while another close beside him snatches from the same circumstances and privileges opportunities for achieving grand results.
Anna Dickinson began life as a school-teacher. Adelaide Neilson was a child's nurse. Charlotte Cushman's parents were poor. The renowned Jeanne d'Arc fed swine. Christine Nilsson was a poor Swedish peasant, and ran barefoot in childhood. Edmonia Lewis, the colored sculptor, overcame the prejudice against her sex and color, and pursued her profession in Italy. Maria Mitchell, the astronomer, was the daughter of a poor man who taught school at two dollars per week. These are but a few of the many who have struggled with fate and risen to distinction through their own personal efforts.
Opportunities? They are everywhere. "America is another name for opportunities. Our whole history appears like a last effort of divine Providence in behalf of the human race." Never before were there such grand openings, such chances, such opportunities. Especially is this true for girls and young women. A new era is dawning for them. Hundreds of occupations and professions, which were closed to them only a few years ago, are now inviting them to enter.
When I hear of a young woman entering the medical profession, or beginning the study of law, or entering school with a view to teaching, I feel like congratulating her for thus asserting her individuality.
We cannot all of us perhaps make great discoveries like Newton, Faraday, Edison, and Thompson. We cannot all of us paint immortal pictures like an Angelo or a Raphael. But we can all of us make our lives sublime, by seizing common occasions and making them great. What chance had the young girl, Grace Darling, to distinguish herself, living on those barren lighthouse rocks alone with her aged parents? But while her brothers and sisters, who moved to the cities to win wealth and fame, are not known to the world, she became more famous than a princess. This poor girl did not need to go to London to see the nobility; they came to the lighthouse to see her. Right at home this young girl had won fame which the regal heirs might envy, and a name which will never perish from the earth. She did not wander away into dreamy distance for fame and fortune, but did her best where duty had placed her.
If you want to get rich, study yourself and your own wants. You will find that millions have the same wants. The safest business is always connected with man's prime necessities. He must have clothing and a dwelling; he must eat. He wants comforts, facilities of all kinds for pleasure, luxuries, education, and culture. Any man who can supply a great want of humanity, improve any methods which men use, supply any demand of comfort, or contribute in any way to their well-being, can make a fortune.
"We cannot doubt," said Edward Everett, "that truths now unknown are in reserve to reward the patience and the labors of future lovers of truth, which will go as far beyond the brilliant discoveries of the last generation as these do beyond all that was known to the ancient world."