If Marshall Field had remained as clerk in Deacon Davis's store in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he got his first job, he could never have become one of the world's merchant princes.
But he went to Chicago and saw the marvelous example around him of poor boys who had won success, it aroused his ambition and fired him with the determination to be a great merchant himself. "If others can do such wonderful things," he asked himself, "why can’t I?"
Of course, there was the making of a great merchant in Mr. Field from the start; but circumstances, an ambition-arousing environment, had a great deal to do with stimulating his latent energy and bringing out his reserve force.
Everybody felt that there were great possibilities there.
Many people seem to think that ambition is a quality born within us; that it is not susceptible to improvement; that it is something thrust upon us which will take care of itself. But it is a passion that responds very quickly to cultivation, and it requires constant care and education, just as the faculty for music or art does, or it will atrophy.
If we do not try to realize our ambition, it will not keep sharp and defined. Our faculties become dull and soon lose their power if they are not exercised. How can we expect our ambition to remain fresh and vigorous through years of inactivity, indolence, or indifference?
If we constantly allow opportunities to slip by us without making any attempt to grasp them, our inclination will grow duller and weaker.
"What I most need," as Emerson says, "is somebody to make me do what I can." To do what I can, that is my problem; not what a Napoleon or a Lincoln could do, but what I can do.
Everywhere we see people who have reached middle life or later without being aroused. They have developed only a small percentage of their success possibilities. They are still in a dormant state.
Some time ago there appeared in the newspapers an account of a girl who had reached the age of fifteen years, and yet had only attained the mental development of a small child.
It will make all the difference in the world to you whether you are with people who are watching for ability in you, people who believe in, encourage, and praise you, or whether you are with those who are forever breaking your idols, blasting your hopes, and throwing cold water on your aspirations.
The chief probation officer of the children's court in New York, in his report for 1905, says: "Removing a boy or girl from improper environment is the first step in his or her reclamation."
The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, after thirty years of investigation of cases involving the social and moral welfare of over half a million of children, has also come to the conclusion that environment is stronger than heredity.
Even the strongest of us are not beyond the reach of our environment. No matter how independent, strong willed, and determined our nature, we are constantly being modified by our surroundings.
It does not take much to determine the lives of most of us. We naturally follow the examples about us, and, as a rule, we rise or fall according to the strongest current in which we live.
Some years ago a party of Russian workmen were sent to this country by a Russian firm of shipbuilders, in order that they might acquire American methods and catch the American spirit.