The last two essays have dealt with the more depressing sides of practical life— the sudden tempest which sweeps down on the business man, or the long period of depression which is the necessary prelude to the times in which optimism is justified. But it is on the note of optimism, and not of pessimism, that I would conclude, and after the storm comes the calm. What is calm to the man of experience in affairs? It is the end to which turbulent and ambitious youth should devote itself in order that it may attain to happiness in that period of middle-age which still gives to assured success its real flavour. Youth is the time of hope; old age is the time for looking back on the pleasures and achievements of the past— when success or failure may seem matters of comparative unimportance.
Successful middle-age stands between the two. Its calm is not the result either of senility or failure. It represents that solid success which enables a man to adventure into fresh spheres without any perturbation. New fields call to him— Art, or Letters, or Public Service. Success is already his, and it will be his own fault if he does not achieve happiness as well.
Successful middle-age appears to me to be the ideal of practical men. I have tried to indicate the method by which it can be attained by any young man who is sufficiently resolute in his purpose. Finance, Commerce, and Industry are, under modern conditions, spheres open to the talent of any individual. The lack of education in the formal sense is no bar to advancement. Every young man has his chance. But will he practise industry, economy, and moderation, avoid arrogance and panic, and know how to face depression with a stout heart? Even if he is a genius, will he know how not to soar with duly restrained wings? The secret of power is the method by which the fire of youth is translated into the knowledge of experience. In these essays I have suggested a short cut to that knowledge. I once had youth, and now I have experience, and I believe that youth can do anything if its desire for success is sufficiently strong to curb all other desires. I also believe that a few words of experience can teach youth how to avoid the pitfalls of finance which wait for the most audacious spirits. I write out of the conviction of my own experience.
But, above all, stands the attainment of happiness as the final form of struggle.
Happiness can only be attained as the result of a prolonged effort. It is the result of material surroundings and yet a state of the inner mind. It is, therefore, in some form or another at once the consequence of achievement and a sense of calm. The flavour is achievement, but the fruit should be the assured sense of happiness.
"One or another In money or guns may surpass his brother.
But whoever shall know, As the long days go.
That to live is happy, has found his heaven." It is in ignoring this doctrine of the poet that so many men go wrong. They practise the doctrines of success: they attain it, and then they lose happiness because they cannot stop. The flower is brilliant, but the fruit has a sour taste.
The final crown in the career of success is to know when to retire.
"Call no man happy," says the ancient sage, "until he is dead," drawing his moral from the cruel death of a great King. I would say, call no man successful until he has left business with enough money to live the kind of life that pleases him. The man who holds on beyond this limit is laying up trouble for himself and disappointment for others.
Success in the financial world is the prerogative of young men. A man who has not succeeded in the field before middle-age comes upon him, will never succeed in the fundamental sense of the term. An honourable and prosperous career may, indeed, lie before him, but he will never reach the heights. He will just go on from year to year, making rather more or rather less money, by a toil to which only death or old age will put a term. And I have not written this book for the middle-aged, but for the young. To them my advice would be, "Succeed young, and retire as young as you can." The fate of the successful who hold on long after they have amassed a great, or at least an adequate, fortune, is written broad across the face of financial history.
The young man who has arrived has formed the habit and acquired the technique of business. The habit has become part of his being. How hard it is to give it up! His technique has become almost universally successful. If he has made £50,000 by it, why not go on and make half a million; if he has made a million, why not go on and make three? All that you have to do, says the subtle tempter, is to reproduce the process of success indefinitely. The riches and the powers of the world are to be had in increasing abundance by the mere exercise of qualities which, though they have been painfully acquired, have now become the very habit of pleasure. How dull life would seem if the process of making money was abandoned; how impossible for a man of ripe experience to fail where the mere stripling had succeeded? The temptation is subtle, but the logic is wrong.
Success is not a process which can reproduce itself indefinitely in the same field.
The dominant mind loses its elasticity: it fails to appreciate real values under changed conditions. Victory has become to it not so much a struggle as a habit.
Then follows the decline. The judgment begins to waver or go astray out of a kind of self-worship, which makes the satisfaction of self, and not the realisation of what is possible, the dominant object in every transaction. There will be plenty of money to back this delusion for a time, and plenty of flatterers and sycophants to play up to and encourage the delusion. The history of Napoleon has not been written in vain. Here we see a first-class intellect going through this process of mental corruption, which leads from overwhelming success in early youth, to absolute disaster in middle-age. The only hope for the Napoleon of Finance is to retire before his delusions overtake him.
But what is the man who retires early from business to do? Some form of activity must fill the void. The answer to the question is to be found in a change of occupation. To some, recreation, and the pursuit of some art or science or study may bring satisfaction, but these will be the exceptions. Some kind of public service will beckon to the majority. And it is natural that this should be the case. Politics, journalism, the management of Commissions or charitable organisations, all require much the same kind of aptitudes and draw on the same kind of experiences which are acquired by the successful man of affairs. The difference is that they are not so arduous, because they are rarely a matter of life and death to any man—and certainly can never be so to a man with an assured income.
On the other hand, from the point of view of society, it is a great advantage to a nation that it should have at its disposal the services of men of this kind of capacity and experience. What public life needs above all things is the presence in it of men who have a knowledge of reality. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the landowning classes supplied this kind of direction to the State as the fruit of their leisure, and, despite some narrowness and selfishness, they undoubtedly did their work well. But they were disappearing as a class before the war, and the war has practically destroyed them. Nor are the world-wide industrial, commercial, and economic problems of the twentieth century particularly suitable to their form of intellect. The policy of Great Britain of today ought to be founded on a knowledge both of markets and production. It is here that the retired man of affairs can help. Simply to go on making money after all personal need for it has passed is, therefore, a form of selfishness, and, in consequence, will not bring happiness, and in the ultimate calculation that life can hardly be called successful which is not happy.
My final message is one of hope to youth. Dare all, yet keep a sense of proportion. Deny yourself all, and yet do not be a prig. Hope all, without arrogance, and you will achieve all without losing the capacity for moderation.
Then the Temple of Success will assuredly be open to you, and you will pass from it into the inner shrine of happiness.
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