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P.T. Barnum’s Secrets of Success

Posted by on December 13, 2011

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In between the Feejee mermaid, General Tom Thumb and teaming up with Bailey and the Ringling Bros for a circus or two, 19th century show biz giant Phineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. to you and me) had time to write a little about success. Here is a brief excerpt from his 1880 classic, The Art of Money Getting. (The link takes you to the free kindle version; ironic considering the book’s title.)

Persevere

When a man is in the right path, he must persevere. I speak of this because there are some persons who are “born tired;” naturally lazy and possessing no self-reliance and no perseverance. But they can cultivate these qualities, as Davy Crockett said:

“This thing remember, when I am dead, Be sure you are right, then go ahead.”

It is this go-aheaditiveness, this determination not to let the “horrors” or the “blues” take possession of you, so as to make you relax your energies in the struggle for independence, which you must cultivate. How many have almost reached the goal of their ambition, but, losing faith in themselves, have relaxed their energies, and the golden prize has been lost forever.

It is, no doubt, often true, as Shakespeare says:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

If you hesitate, some bolder hand will stretch out before you and get the prize. Remember the proverb of Solomon: “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.”

Perseverance is sometimes but another word for self-reliance. Many persons naturally look on the dark side of life, and borrow trouble. They are born so. Then they ask for advice, and they will be governed by one wind and blown by another, and cannot rely upon themselves. Until you can get so that you can rely upon yourself, you need not expect to succeed. I have known men, personally, who have met with pecuniary reverses, and absolutely committed suicide, because they thought they could never overcome their misfortune. But I have known others who have met more serious financial difficulties, and have bridged them over by simple perseverance, aided by a firm belief that they were doing justly, and that Providence would “overcome evil with good.” You will see this illustrated in any sphere of life.

Take two generals; both understand military tactics, both educated at West Point, if you please, both equally gifted; yet one, having this principle of perseverance, and the other lacking it, the former will succeed in his profession, while the latter will fail. One may hear the cry, “the enemy are coming, and they have got cannon.”

“Got cannon?” says the hesitating general.

“Yes.”

“Then halt every man.”

He wants time to reflect; his hesitation is his ruin; the enemy passes unmolested, or overwhelms him; while on the other hand, the general of pluck, perseverance and self-reliance, goes into battle with a will, and, amid the clash of arms, the booming of cannon, the shrieks of the wounded, and the moans of the dying, you will see this man persevering, going on, cutting and slashing his way through with unwavering determination, inspiring his soldiers to deeds of fortitude, valor, and triumph.

Whatever You Do, Do It with All Your Might

Work at it, if necessary, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now. The old proverb is full of truth and meaning, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” Many a man acquires a fortune by doing his business thoroughly, while his neighbor remains poor for life, because he only half does it. Ambition, energy, industry, perseverance, are indispensable requisites for success in business.

Fortune always favors the brave, and never helps a man who does not help himself. It won’t do to spend your time like Mr. Micawber, in waiting for something to “turn up.” To such men one of two things usually “turns up:” the poor-house or the jail; for idleness breeds bad habits, and clothes a man in rags. The poor spendthrift vagabond says to a rich man:

“I have discovered there is enough money in the world for all of us, if it was equally divided; this must be done, and we shall all be happy together.”

“But,” was the response, “if everybody was like you, it would be spent in two months, and what would you do then?”

“Oh! Divide again; keep dividing, of course!”

I was recently reading in a London paper an account of a like philosophic pauper who was kicked out of a cheap boarding-house because he could not pay his bill, but he had a roll of papers sticking out of his coat pocket, which, upon examination, proved to be his plan for paying off the national debt of England without the aid of a penny. People have got to do as Cromwell said: “not only trust in Providence, but keep the powder dry.” Do your part of the work, or you cannot succeed. Mahomet, one night, while encamping in the desert, overheard one of his fatigued followers remark: “I will loose my camel, and trust it to God!” “No, no, not so,” said the prophet, “tie thy camel, and trust it to God!” Do all you can for yourselves, and then trust to Providence, or luck, or whatever you please to call it, for the rest.

Depend Upon Your Own Personal Exertions

The eye of the employer is often worth more than the hands of a dozen employees. In the nature of things, an agent cannot be so faithful to his employer as to himself. Many who are employers will call to mind instances where the best employees have overlooked important points which could not have escaped their own observation as a proprietor. No man has a right to expect to succeed in life unless he understands his business, and nobody can understand his business thoroughly unless he learns it by personal application and experience. A man may be a manufacturer; he has got to learn the many details of his business personally; he will learn something every day, and he will find he will make mistakes nearly every day. And these very mistakes are helps to him in the way of experiences if he but heeds them. He will be like the Yankee tin-peddler, who, having been cheated as to quality in the purchase of his merchandise, said: “All right, there’s a little information to be gained every day; I will never be cheated in that way again.” Thus a man buys his experience, and it is the best kind if not purchased at too dear a rate.

I hold that every man should, like Cuvier, the French naturalist, thoroughly know his business. So proficient was he in the study of natural history, that you might bring to him the bone, or even a section of a bone of an animal which he had never seen described, and, reasoning from analogy, he would be able to draw a picture of the object from which the bone had been taken. On one occasion his students attempted to deceive him. They rolled one of their number in a cow skin and put him under the professor’s table as a new specimen. When the philosopher came into the room, some of the students asked him what animal it was. Suddenly the animal said “I am the devil and I am going to eat you.” It was but natural that Cuvier should desire to classify this creature, and examining it intently, he said:

“Divided hoof; graminivorous! it cannot be done.”

He knew that an animal with a split hoof must live upon grass and grain, or other kind of vegetation, and would not be inclined to eat flesh, dead or alive, so he considered himself perfectly safe. The possession of a perfect knowledge of your business is an absolute necessity in order to insure success.

Among the maxims of the elder Rothschild was one, an apparent paradox: “Be cautions and bold.” This seems to he a contradiction in terms, but it is not, and there is great wisdom in the maxim. It is, in fact, a condensed statement of what I have already said. It is to say, “you must exercise your caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out.” A man who is all caution, will never dare to take hold and be successful; and a man who is all boldness, is merely reckless, an  must eventually fail. A man may go on “‘change” and make fifty or one hundred thousand dollars in speculating in stocks, at a single operation. But if he has simple boldness without caution, it is mere chance, and what he gains today he will lose to-morrow. You must have both the caution and the boldness, to insure success.

The Rothschilds have another maxim: “Never have anything to do with an unlucky man or place.” That is to say, never have anything to do with a man or place which never succeeds, because, although a man may appear to be honest and intelligent, yet if he tries this or that thing and always fails, it is on account of some fault or infirmity that you may not be able to discover but nevertheless which must exist.

There is no such thing in the world as luck. There never was a man who could go out in the morning and find a purse full of gold in the street to-day, and another to-morrow, and so on, day after day. He may do so once in his life; but so far as mere luck is concerned, he is as liable to lose it as to find it. “Like causes produce like effects.” If a man adopts the proper methods to be successful, “luck” will not prevent him. If he does not succeed, there are reasons for it, although, perhaps, he may not be able to see them.

Use The Best Tools

Men in engaging employees should be careful to get the best. Understand, you cannot have too good tools to work with, and there is no tool you should be so particular about as living tools. If you get a good one, it is better to keep him, than keep changing. He learns something every day, and you are benefited by the experience he acquires. He is worth more to you this year than last, and he is the last man to part with, provided his habits are good, and he continues faithful. If, as he gets more valuable, he demands an exorbitant increase of salary, on the supposition that you can’t do without him, let him go. Whenever I have such an employee, I always discharge him; first, to convince him that his place may be supplied, and second, because he is good for nothing if he thinks he is invaluable and cannot be spared.

But I would keep him, if possible, in order to profit from the result of his experience. An important element in an employee is the brain. You can see bills up, “Hands Wanted,” but “hands” are not worth a great deal without “heads.” Mr. Beecher illustrates this, in this wise:

An employee offers his services by saying, “I have a pair of hands and one of my fingers thinks.” “That is very good,” says the employer. Another man comes along, and says “he has two fingers that think.” “Ah! that is better.” But a third calls in and says that “all his fingers and thumbs think.” That is better still. Finally another steps in and says, “I have a brain that thinks; I think all over; I am a thinking as well as a working man!” “You are the man I want,” says the delighted employer.

Those men who have brains and experience are therefore the most valuable and not to be readily parted with; it is better for them, as well as yourself, to keep them, at reasonable advances in their salaries from time to time.

Keep it Old School, my friend

The Old Man, Chris Dixon

 

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