Decide right now, "I'm going to do it!" The first 30 seconds are the hardest. Even the great had to make up their minds to succeed
DONALD A. LAIRD
CAN YOU remember the first olive you tasted? You probably spat it out, or had to use your will power to swallow it. There are many other foods which people have learned to like by forcing themselves to eat them despite initial feelings of revulsion.
An American exporter, interned in a prison camp when the Japanese captured Manila, told me his life was saved because he forced himself to eat disgusting food.
He was losing weight daily on the limited rations the Japanese provided. For months he
struggled to force himself to eat something else, while his weight dropped more than 100 pounds. It was six months before he could make himself chop up banana stalks and stew them with alley cats to supplement his diet.
“In a few days,” he said, “an old tomcat tasted better than spring chicken. I would probably be dead if I had not, in desperation, made myself eat the first one.”
Contemplation had been worse than realization. It is that way with many things we should do. The more we think about the thing the harder it seems. When we roll up our sleeves and wade in we forget the imagined difficulties.
The first 30 years are not the hardest—it is the first 30 seconds.
if we don’t decide to do it during the first 30 seconds we are wavering, and it is going to take more and more will power to push us into action. It took the prisoner six months. It took George Bernard Shaw's father all his life, and then he had not even started.
George Carr Shaw was an easy-going man whom everyone liked. He was easy to get along with, whether drunk or sober, and he was drunk most of the time. Children iuughed at an amusing squint in one of his eyes, a squint which a bungling operation had worsened. George Carr did not mind; he clung to the whisky bottle and left a kind providence to watch over his family. But his drinking and improvidence kept the family on the brink of disintegration and disgrace.
At 15 his son, George Bernard, had to find a job, and landed in a Dublin real-estate office as a livery boy at $4.50 a month. Perhaps that was all he was worth, for he demoralized work by organizing quartettes with the other junior clerks as soon as the boss left the office.
At 20 George Bernard went to London, sporting a downy beard, but with no job in view. He floundered for months, and would have starved but for his mother, who was giving music lessons to earn money.
One foggy evening he attended a debating society meeting, became so aroused that he tried to take part in the debate. But he made a com-
plete fool of himself, and was heartily ashamed of his tongue-tied incoherence.
This failure woke up the tall youth. He had been following his father’s easy-going example. George Bernard now swore he would make himself speak in public. He immediately joined debating societies, and attended all meetings that were open for public discussions.
He forced himself to stand up, moisten his dry, quivering lips, ignore his heart thumpings, and speak.
He made a nuisance of himself at first—his speechmaking attempts wrere a bane to the entire audience. But he soon succeeded in making himself speak, and improved so much that he was actually invited to be principal speaker at a gathering. For a dozen years thereafter he was in demand at meetings.
He applied to writing the newly discovered power of making himself do things. He wanted to write, but had his father’s easy-going example to overcome. Now he made himself write five pages every day, whether he felt like it or not. In four years he earned a total of $30 from his writing -discouraging, but he continued to make himself turn out five pages daily.
He wrote five long novels, which 60 publishers rejected.
Enough discouragement to make one quit writing. But hadn’t he been equally discouraged when he first tried to speak in public? So he continued to make himself do things, to turn out that daily quota. And he became one of the bestknown and best-paid writers in the world.
His squint-eyed father did not make himself do things—he was the black sheep of the family. The twinkling-eyed son made himself one of the world’s leading intellectuals by forcing himself to get things done.
The trick is to release the will for action—and that trick is astonishingly simple . . . make yourself do it.
Force Yourself To Do It—-Now
Roger Babson’s merchant father was not enthusiastic about colleges; he thought they were playgrounds for rich men’s sons. If his son insisted on going to college he would get no financial help unless he chose Massachusetts Institute of Technology the students had to work there.
So Roger left the happy days of Gloucester high school, and, since he wanted to go to college, abided by his father’s ultimatum. But the slender boy had no interest in technology, and simply took the first course listed—civil engineering. Not the course, one would imagine, to train a man who was to become a leading investment authority.
He disliked all of his engineering courses, and
all were difficult for him. He graduated by the skin of his teeth—and the indulgence of a professor.
Yet Roger Babson says he learned something of great importance to him in those dreary courses. He learned to make himself do things he didn’t like to do.
That lesson—you can Continued on page 30
Continued on page 30
Continued from page 6
make yourself do it—was the master key to his success as a leader in a new business field.
It took him through a setback with tuberculosis at 25. Though shy one lung, his brain functioned 100%, and he forced his brain to work. Bundled against New England winters, he rested in the raw open air while he made his brain work. Writing with mittens on his hands, he began to compile investment statistics which he sold to banks for $12.50 a month—the outdoor beginning of the Babson
Roger Babson got things done
because he had learned how to make
himself do things in his detested
People can force themselves to do most anything, to like most anything. Neurotics humor themselves along, increasing their dislikes rather than forcing themselves to overcome them.
Thin little Nina Wilcox Putnam was huddled beside the radiator in their New Rochelle home, wondering, as children often do on stormy days, why God had allowed so many ugly things in the world. Snakes, decaying meat, soot, and the hideous brown color her mother made her wear. In her nineyear-old fashion she concluded that, since God made such things, they must be beautiful, and she was at fault for not seeing their beauty.
Her large eager eyes searched for something on which to practice this theory. The overripe garbage can! She started to hold her nose when she first looked in, but no! she was going to make herself like that smell.
And she forced herself to keep looking at the random harvest in that garbage can until the remains of lettuce and tomatoes seemed a beautiful pattern in greens and reds to her. The broken egg shells hashed up with coffee grounds became an Oriental mosaic. She really made herself see beauty in that garbage can of ugliness.
“From that day to this,” she said
years later, “I have always been able to see beauty first in anything. When I was nine I discovered this source of strength within myself, upon which, needless to say, I have had to call many times since.”
Let others coddle you now and then —but never coddle yourself.
Don’t Wait for an Emergency
Sometimes it takes an emergency to show people how much they have been coddling themselves. They suddenly discover how much more they could do if they simply made themselves do it.
Two emergencies, years apart, opened Sarah Bernhardt’s eyes to her own capacities. The first was when she was two years old. The anaemic freckled, and illegitimate child was practically deserted by her butterfly mother. A peasant family in Brittany was raising the hot-tempered baby.
She was least bother when strapped in her high chair beside a table waere she could handle pieces of colored paper. One day the housewife neglected to buckle the strap. Sarah tumbled from the chair into the wide Breton fireplace full of burning logs.
The screaming child was plunged, red hair and all, into a churn of milk. It was three months before she recovered from the burns, and she bore the scars on her body all her life.
From that day she had an intense fear of fire.
Twenty years later Sarah Bernhardt, the new actress, had all Paris raving over her dramatic performances. She was living near the Opera in an apartment filled with bowlegged Louis XV furniture Her hobbling old grandmother was living with her, to care for her infant son, Maurice, while the divine Sarah rehearsed and starred in her plays.
One night, as Sarah was returning home, she found her street crowded with excited spectators. Her apartment was on fire.
This woman who fainted at. the sight of fire apparatus, who could not tolerate an open fire, ran breathlessly to a
Continued on page 32
Continued from page 30
fireman. No, they had not taken a baby from the apartment, didn’t know there was one in it. She shrieked and dashed up the stairway—the firemen could not restrain her.
Groping through the smoke she found Maurice, still sleeping. She threw a blanket around him, carried him to the street, and fainted at the fireman’s feet.
In the emergency she disregarded her horror of fire and made herself dash recklessly into the smoke-filled apartment.
War times, business depressions, and othert emergencies show people’, how much more they can do than they ever imagined—if they only force themselves to do it.
You can get much more done if you have to.
William James, the jovial, scholarly granddaddy of American psychology, used to say will power could be developed by keeping the faculty of effort alive. In other words, keep doing things, keep making yourself do them.
Edith Wharton could do things, but there were so many interesting detours in Paris, London, Newport, New York, and Lenox that she was not doing them. This redhead could write, and had all the time in the world for it. But she had not made herself sit down and put the stories on paper. It was much easier to attend teas and balls.
It was Edward Burlingame, editor of Scribner’s Magazine, who at last challenged her to force herself to do things. He needed a novel for his magazine, to be published a few chapters in each issue. And he wanted the first chapters right away because another author had failed him.
For months Mrs. Wharton, between teas, had been toying with the idea of a novel about frivolous New York society, and how its frivolity destroyed the heroine, Lily Bart. She had the story all ready to tell—but did not start the telling. She thought she might start it in a couple of years—perhaps.
Then editor Burlingame came along and insisted on some chapters at once. These were printed before she had the
rest of the book under way. Now her dainty hands had the bear by the tail and she had to write for dear life to keep ahead of the printer. Travel, gardening, pink teas, had to be pushed to one side.
Being forced to meet the deadlines of each month’s magazine turned her from a drifting amateur of real talent into a professional with real accomplishments. “Of all the friendly turns that Mr. Burlingame ever did me,” she commented, “his exacting this effort was undoubtedly the most helpful.”
That is how she wrote “The House of Mirth,” reluctantly making herself do it to help a friend who was in difficulties. The greater help, however, was to herself—she learned the usefulness of forcing oneself, of exercising the faculty of effort.
Thirty-two full-length books followed this, finished books by a professional who had learned to make herself do it, no longer the society dilettante who would spin stories when she felt like it. She won a Pulitzer prize and the gold medal of the National Institute of Arts and Sciences.
There’s Still Room for Daring
The hard job we hesitate to start may be a blessing in disguise, provided we exert the will power to tackle it without buck passing.
Aristide Maillol was designing and weaving tapestries in a little French fishing village. He became blind for six months when he was 40. He slowly recovered his vision, but he could not return to his fine tapestry work.
So, in middle life, he started anew, as a sculptor, working on large statues in the Greek tradition. In the pink stucco house in which he was born, using neighboring peasant and fisherwomen as models, he carved a new and bigger reputation as a sculptor.
Plaster, stone, and terra cotta took on new forms under his strong blows. And he prefers to work in stone—hard, resistant stone.
“The harder the stone, the pleasanter the work,” he tells you, “because you can strike with all your might.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.