It is ever to be kept in mind that a good name is in all cases the fruit of personal exertion. It is not inherited from parents; it is not created by external advantages: it is no necessary appendage of birth or wealth or talents or station, but the result of one’s own endeavors, the fruit and reward of good principles, manifested in a course of virtuous and honorable action. The attainment of a good name, whatever be the external circumstances, is wholly within the young man’s power. However humble his birth, or obscure his condition, he has only to fix his eye on the prize and press toward it, in a course of useful and virtuous conduct, and it is his. How many of our worthiest and best citizens have risen to honor and usefulness by dint of their own persevering exertions’
In the formation of character, personal exertion is the first, the second, and the third virtue. A good name will not come without its being sought. All the virtues of which it is composed are the result of untiring application and industry. Nothing can be more fatal to the acquirement of a good character than a treacherous confidence in external advantages. These, if not seconded by your own exertions, will drop you, mid-way: or perhaps you will not have started, while the diligent traveller will have won the race.
It is of the highest importance that you have a commanding object in view, and that your aim in life be elevated. It is an old proverb, that “he who aims at the sun, to be sure, will not reach it, but his arrow will fly higher than if he aimed at an object on the level with himself.” Just so in the formation of character. Set your standard high, and you cannot fail to rise higher than if you aimed at some inferior excellence. Young men are not, in general, conscious of what they are capable of doing. They do not task their faculties, nor improve their powers, nor attempt, as they ought, to rise to superior excellence. The consequence is that their efforts are few and feeble; they are not waked up to anything great or distinguished, and therefore fail to acquire a character of decided worth.
You may be whatever you resolve to be! Resolution is omnipotent! Aim at excellence, and excellence will be attained. “I cannot do it,” never accomplished anything; “I will try,” has wrought wonders. A young man who sets out in life with a determination to excel, can hardly fail of his purpose. There is, in his steadiness of aim, a concentration of feeling and effort, which bear him onward to his object with irresistible energy, and render success in whatever he undertakes, certain.
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.