I was a little kid noticing that the way to get recognized favorably in this world is to do something - not just talk about it.
Some guys measure success in terms of dollars. I concentrate on what I have managed to accomplish.
About the time that Lindbergh flew cross the Atlantic, Admiral Byrd spent a year alone at the South Pole, Bill Tilden was beating everybody at tennis, Bobby Jones was world golf champion, and Babe Ruth was the “sultan of swat.” These guys were among the “accomplishers” of their day.
I was a little kid noticing that the way to get recognized favorably in this world is to do something — not just talk about it. I was taught that my own accomplishments were all that would ever bring me credit. As a result, I look back over some 92 years at things I managed to get done come hell or high water, and my charitable memory allows me to forget a multitude of my flops and near-misses.
One glaring truth rises to the surface: I never did anything worthwhile without the help of someone else, and worthwhile things are usually difficult projects. If you’re honest and looking to build self-esteem, don’t kid yourself by thinking you can do it with things that are “snaps,” and that just anybody can do all by himself.
I didn’t expect to fly to the moon or to break the 100-yard dash record, but early on I was shooting for successes that lay quite far beyond the end of my nose. I found out rather soon that the best oranges were at the top of the tree, not down low where pickers had already been busy, and where no climbing was required.
In athletics, the sports that made one think better of himself had to involve competition with other guys of at least the same age and size. In the classroom, one had to vie successfully with that homely gal who always made straight A’s. To be good in both directions, one had to “Render unto Caesar those things which are Caesar’s, and unto God those things that are God’s.”
The ultimate terrible human competition is war, whose results are life and death. Such realizations make one try rather hard and put out everything he has before admitting that he is a loser—wiped out, that is. War is a game invented by old men who put young men in the position of “kill or be killed,” a very simple formula that works only because young men have a strong will to survive. To fight someone who is trying to kill you does not necessitate that your ideology be the opposite of his. However opposite convictions are often the cases between deadly competitors.
Competition is historically the spark of the most worthy human accomplishments. The need creates the invention, doesn’t it? Would Edison have come up with the electric light bulb if he had been living alone on a desert island? Why did the first automobile makers put the engine in the front? That’s where the horse was in the horse and wagon, wasn’t it?
Traditional change calls for need plus imagination, and opportunity, and the human animal has always had a goodly supply of these. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In the human mind, “wanting” and “needing” often meld into one identical inventive compulsion.
Years ago I made a movie in France of the opera “Faust” whose title role I sang many times in France and America. The ancient Faust legend concerns a brilliant scientist, who in his old age trades his soul to the Devil for a return to the youth and romance of his early years. Faust’s mad desire to employ alchemy—the changing of base metal into gold — has consumed his life and brought him to the verge of suicide, but the appearance of the Devil in a puff of smoke holds the promise of Faust’s regaining his youth temporarily. Faust trades his eternal soul to the Devil.
Are many people today driven by the craving for the acquisition of power? A recent world-visitor, Adolf Hitler, is enough proof that power can be attained evilly. And Jack Kennedy was quick to remind us, “Life is not fair.” But, then again, “All’s fair in love and war,” isn’t it?