Sunday Snippet: Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

“To become an able and successful man in any profession, three things are necessary: nature, study and practice.”

What does it take to be successful? We hear about these people who are earning millions of dollars doing Hollywood movies, playing professional sports or running hugely popular companies, but how did they get there? Even on a more modest scale, what does it take to truly exceed in the career of your choosing? A prominent clergyman and abolitionist of the 19th century United States, Henry Ward Beecher believed that there were three key factors that contributed to man’s success in the world of work.

First, it starts with nature. There is a natural, in-born talent in people like Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan. They were born with a knack for what they do, giving them a natural head start against their contemporaries. I like to think that I have a natural predisposition toward writing and that has allowed me to pursue my career in freelancing. Different people are just better suited for different kinds of jobs. However, this predisposition is not enough on its own.

Second, it continues with study. This can be more formal, as is the case with a university education or some other formal training. You must learn about your craft before you are really able to do it. You wouldn’t want someone going around fixing airplanes before they had a fundamental understanding of how that airplane works and how all the parts fit together to make it work. The study can also be on a more informal basis, as would be the case with an apprenticeship or self-guided study via books, manuals, videos and so forth.

The third and perhaps most important factor is practice. It doesn’t matter if you’re born with incredible talent, it doesn’t matter if you read all the books in the world, if you don’t actually go out there and put in the time. You have to get your hands dirty. People like Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky spent countless hours mastering their respective sports and it’s exactly the same with any other profession. You have to practice and you have to learn from that experience.

Indeed, using the example of freelance writing as a profession, one of the best ways to become both better and more efficient is to practice. That’s how I am able to write good articles more quickly. It’s not enough to write good articles, nor is it enough to write quickly; you need both. You can probably find an analogous situation in your own line of work.

I’d argue that there is a fourth factor involved in becoming an “able and successful man in any profession” and that is perseverance. Practice is good, to be sure, but you have to have the motivation and the determination to stick through the difficulties you encounter in your career. Everything isn’t going to be unicorns and rainbows all the time, so the key is fighting through the more challenging times to reap the greater rewards.

And then there is love. Ideally, you want to love what you do, though I suppose that isn’t necessary for you to be “able” and “successful” in your profession. But that’s another argument for another day.

Update (1/11/19): Here’s another great quote from Henry Ward Beecher.

Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.