Successward: His Social Life and Amusements (Chapter 4)

Successward is the 1895 book written by Edward Bok.

The social life of a young man has a direct and important bearing upon his success, and he cannot be too careful of what forms of amusement he allows to come into his hours of leisure.

From a business standpoint it is all-important that he keep a careful watch on his social habits. For it is not enough for any young man that he should only take care of himself during his working-hours. To social dissipations at night can be traced the downfall of hundreds upon hundreds of young men. The idea that an employer has no control over a young man’s time away from the office is a dangerous fallacy. An employer has every right to ask that those into whose hands he intrusts responsibilities shall follow social habits which will not endanger his interests upon the morrow. So far as social life is concerned, young men generally run to extremes. Either they do not go out at all, which is stagnating, or they go out too much, which is deadly. Only here and there is found one who knows the happy medium; a certain amount of social diversion is essential to everybody—boy, man, girl, or woman; and particularly so to a young man with a career to make. To come into contact with the social side of people is broadening; it is educative. “To know people,” says a writer, “you must see them at play.” Social life can be made a study at the same time that it is made a pleasure. To know the wants of people, to learn their softer side, you must come into contact with their social natures. No young man can afford to deny himself certain pleasures, or a reasonable amount of contact with people in the outer world. It is to his advantage that people should know he exists; it is important to the wise shaping of his aims and aspirations. It is well for him to keep himself honorably in the eyes of people. His evening diversions should be as widely different from his occupations during the day as possible. The mind needs a change of thought as well as does the body a change of raiment. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” contains a vast amount of truth.

At the same time, nothing is more injurious to the chances of a young man in business than an over-indulgence in the pleasures of what, for the want of a better word, we call “society.” It is a rough but a true saying that “a man cannot drink whisky and be in business.” Perhaps a softer and more refined translation of this is that a man cannot be in society and be in business. This is impossible, and nothing that a young man can bear in mind will stand him to such good account as this fact. No mind can be fresh in the morning that has been kept at a tension the night before by late hours, or been befogged by indulgence in late suppers. We need more sleep at twenty or twenty-five than we do at fifty; and the young man who grants himself less than eight hours’ sleep every night just robs himself of so much vitality. So far as the required amount of sleeping is concerned, I hold to this inexorable rule: sleep eight hours every night and an extra hour whenever possible. The most successful men have repeatedly acknowledged that to a regularity in hours of retiring they can trace a large part of their ability to compass the questions which enter into a successful career.

One rule should be positive with every young man: the midnight hours should be passed in sleep; and by these hours I mean eleven and twelve o’clock. If a young man makes it a rule to be asleep by eleven and up by seven, he chooses the course which hundreds of the most successful men of the day have chosen. The loss of vitality brought by less than eight hours’ sleep may not be felt or noticed at present, but the process of sleeping is only nature’s banking system of principal and interest. A mind capable of the fulfilment of its highest duties should be receptive to ideas, quick to comprehend, instantaneous in its conception of a point. With a fresh mind and a clear brain a young man has two of the greatest levers of success. These cannot be retained under social indulgences. The dissipation of a night has its invariable influence upon the work of the morrow. I do not preach total abstinence of any habits to which human nature is prone. Every man ought to know what is good for him and what is injurious to his best interests. But an excess of anything is injurious, and a young man on the threshold of a business career cannot afford to be excessive in a single direction. He should husband his resources. He will need them all. For no success is easily made in these days. Appearances are tremendously deceptive in this respect. We see men making what we choose to regard and what are known as quick successes, because at a comparatively early age they acquire position or means. But one needs only to study the conditions of the business life of to-day to see how impossible it is to achieve any success except by the severest patience and by the very hardest work. No young man need approach a business career with the idea that its achievement is easy. The histories of successful men tell us all too clearly the lessons of the patience and efforts of years. Some men compass a successful career in less time than others. And if the methods employed are necessarily different, the requirements are precisely the same. It is a story of hard work in every case, of close application, and of a patient mastery of the problem in hand. Advantages of education will come in at times and push one man ahead of another. But a practical business knowledge is apt to be a greater possession.

“But,” says some young fellow, “what are the social pleasures and indulgences which injuriously affect a young man’s success?” Only one general answer can be given, and it is this: any social pleasure or indulgence which affects a young man’s health affects his success. Good health is the foundation of all possible success in life; affect the one and you affect the other.

I presume it is safe to say that no single element in social life has injured so many young men as an indulgence in intoxicating liquors, and I shall treat of this first. And in doing so I shall take the matter entirely away from the moral standpoint, and place it simply on its best and wisest basis, that of principle. Many a writer—too many, alas!—has held forth on this subject of wine-drinking and young men, and pointed out its moral aspects. This is all very well as far as it goes; but I think that if more writers placed their young-men readers on their honor in this matter it would be infinitely better. It is not a question of whether it is right or wrong for a young man to indulge in spirituous drinks, so far as his success is concerned. It simply amounts to one thing: he absolutely cannot do it. And I can say this to every young fellow from my own experience and observation as a young man who, when he started out, did not know exactly what position to take.

I was about sixteen years old, if I remember rightly, when I began attending public dinners and assemblages in the capacity of a newspaper reporter. Wines were then more freely used at dinners than now, and I soon saw that I must make up my mind whether at these gatherings I should partake of wines or decline them. I had been trained to the belief that it was always best to err on the safe side, and as I sat down to my first public dinner—a New England dinner in Brooklyn—I shielded the wine-glasses set before me as the waiters came to my plate, and this practice I have followed ever since.

At first my principle never to touch liquor or spirits of any kind directed to me the chaffings of my friends. I was told it looked “babyish”; that I could not expect to go out much and keep to my principle; that I would often find it considered discourteous to refuse a simple glass of wine tendered by my hostess. But I made up my mind that there was no use of having a principle unless one stuck to it. And I soon saw that people respected me the more for it. And just let me say right here to all young men: I never lost one friend by my refusals, but I made scores of friendships—of men, from one who has occupied the presidential chair down; of women, among whom are the best and most famous in our land to-day.

I honestly believe that a young man who starts out in life with a fixed principle—whether it be that he will not drink, or smoke, or indulge in anything which in his heart he feels is not good for him, or in which he does not conscientiously believe—and adheres to that principle, no matter under what circumstances he may be placed, holds in his hand one of the most powerful elements of success in the world to-day. There is a great deal of common sense abroad in this world of ours, and a young man with a good principle is always safe to depend upon it. The men and women whose friendships are worth having are the men and women who have principles themselves, and respect them in others, especially when they find them in a young man.

Another thing which led me to make up my mind never to touch liquor was the damage which I saw wrought by it upon some of the finest minds with which it was ever my privilege to come in contact; and I concluded that what had resulted injuriously to others might prove so to me. I have seen, even in my few years of professional life, some of the smartest—yea, brilliant—literary men dethroned from splendid positions owing to nothing else but their indulgence in wine. I have known men with salaries of thousands of dollars per year, occupying positions which hundreds would strive a lifetime to attain, come to beggary from drink. Only recently there applied to me, for any position I could offer him, one of the most brilliant editorial writers in the newspaper profession—a man who, two years ago, easily commanded one hundred dollars for a single article in his special field. That man became so unreliable from drink that editors are now afraid of his articles; and although he can to-day write as forcible editorials as at any time during his life, he sits in a cellar in one of our cities writing newspaper wrappers for one dollar per thousand. And that is only one instance of several I could recite here. I do not hold my friend up as a “terrible example”; he is but a type who convinced me, and may convince others, that a clear mind and liquor do not go together.

I know it is said, when one brings up such an instance as this, “Oh well, that man drank to excess. One glass will hurt no one.” How do these people know that it will not? One drop of kerosene has been known to throw into flame an almost hopeless fire, and one glass of liquor may fan into a flame a smoldering spark hid away where we never thought it existed. The spark may be there and it may not. Why take the risk? Liquor to a healthy young man will never do him the least particle of good; it may do him harm. The man for whom I have absolutely no use is the man who is continually asking a young man to “just have a little; one glass, you know.” A man who will wittingly urge a young man whom he knows has a principle against liquor is a man for whom a halter is too good.

Then, as I looked around and came to know more of people and things, I found the always unanswerable argument in favor of a young man’s abstinence, i.e., that the most successful men in America to-day are those who seldom, if ever, lift a wine-glass to their lips. Becoming interested in this fact, I had the curiosity to personally inquire into it, and of twenty-eight of the leading business men in the country whose names I selected at random, twenty-two were abstainers. I made up my mind that there was some reason for this. If liquor brought safe pleasures, why did these men abstain from it? If, as some say, it is a stimulant to a busy man, why did not these men, directing the largest business interests in this country, resort to it? And when I saw that these were the men whose opinions in great business matters were accepted by the leading concerns of the world, I concluded that their judgment in the use of liquor would satisfy me. If their judgment in business matters could command the respect and attention of the leaders of trade on both sides of the sea, their decision as to the use of liquor was not apt to be wrong. At least, it was good enough for me.

As opportunities have come to me to go into homes and public places, I find that I do not occupy a solitary position. The tendency to abstain from liquor is growing more and more among young men of to-day. The brightest young men I know, who are filling positions of power and promise, never touch a drop of beer, wines, or intoxicants of any sort. And the young man who to-day makes up his mind that he will be on the safe side and adhere to strict abstinence will find that he is not alone. He has now the very best element in business and social life in the largest cities of our land with him.

He will not be chided for his principle, but through it will command respect.

It will not retard him in commercial success, but prove his surest help.

It will win him no enemies, but bring him the friendship of upright men and good women.

It will win him surer favor than aught else in eyes which he will sometime in his life think are the sweetest he has ever looked into.

It will insure him the highest commercial esteem and the brightest social position.

And as it molds his character in youth, so will it develop him into a successful man and a good citizen.

I know young men are sometimes inclined to believe that abstinence from wines is apt to prove a barrier to their social success. “It looks unsociable,” it is claimed. But my own experience has demonstrated to me otherwise. I have found that a young man’s best and highest social success is assured just in proportion as he abstains from wines. An indulgence in intoxicants of any sort has never helped a man to any social position worth the having; on the contrary, it has kept many from attaining a position to which by birth and good breeding and all other qualifications they were entitled. No young man will ever find that the principle of abstinence from liquor is a barrier to any success, social, commercial, or otherwise. On the other hand, it is the one principle in his life which will, in the long run, help him more than any other. And touching the point of etiquette on this question, whether it is in better form in drinking wines at dinner to turn down one’s glasses or have them removed, I would say, neither. Simply shield the glasses with the hand as the waiter reaches your place at the table with each course of wine. Turning down one’s wine-glasses or causing them to be removed from the table always seems to me to be an unnecessary and rather a disagreeable way of pronouncing one’s principles.

So far as the habit of smoking is concerned—whether it takes the form of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe—I do not believe in the idea which tells a young man that he must not smoke. I say, rather, he will be wisest if he does not smoke. His health will be the better for it and his pocket-book the fatter. If the physical or mental injury to be derived from smoking is an open question, the good it does is not. Smoking does absolutely no good to any one; it is simply a question of the extent of harm that it does. But if a young fellow is inclined to smoke, if he has a taste for it that he feels he must indulge, then I say, smoke moderately. The greatest danger in smoking is in the imperceptible growth of the habit; and this is particularly true of cigarette-smoking, now so prevalent among young men. Unless a young man has himself well in hand, and can govern his passions, he will find that cigarette-smoking has a nasty way of growing upon one. He may at first smoke only two or three cigarettes per day. After a while he adds a fourth. In a year it will be five per day; and so it goes on multiplying, but never diminishing, until the habit gets a hold which many find it impossible to shake off. Then follow irritability, nervousness, loss of memory and of appetite, and all kindred complaints, which are killing to a young fellow’s health, and necessarily to his success and happiness. This, to my mind, is the danger which lurks in tobacco; the actual harm is not in its use, but in its abuse. And use easily leads to abuse in the vast majority of cases. An excuse is always at hand to make an extra cigarette or cigar permissible on a special occasion. But after a bit special occasions multiply. I believe that if young men would not smoke until they attained their thirtieth year, it would be the wisest solution of this whole question. One thing is certain: the young man who does not smoke is far better off than he who does; and I think any one addicted to tobacco will agree with this statement.

It is only natural that no young man desires to remain at home every evening of the week; and the question naturally arises, What are the best amusements for a young fellow? And on this point opinions must necessarily differ.

For example, there is the question of attendance at the theater. There are people—and delightful, good, and conscientious people they are, too—who sincerely disapprove of the theater. To their minds the playhouse is simply a trick of the devil to lure young men to destruction. And, as plays go nowadays, I must confess that they are not far from the right. Our theaters are unquestionably suffering from a deluge of plays most of which are morally bad and some of which are artistically worthless. But the dramatic history of every country has waves of this sort.

To condemn the theater as an institution, however, and say to young men indiscriminately that they must keep away from it, is, to my mind, wrong. Because there are bad plays it does not necessarily follow that there are no good plays. There are—not in plenty, I confess, but nevertheless they exist. I believe in the theater in moderation, so long as good actors and good plays are selected. Then I hold that the theater is a source of education to a young man. It will bring before him the lessons of life in a more effective way than is possible by any method of reading or studying. But no general rule can be followed in this form, or, for that matter, in any other form of amusement. To some young men the theater is an absolute harm, and has an injurious effect. If he is of susceptible mind and of weak character, he will be influenced by the life he sees on the stage, believe it to be real, and, ofttimes as not, he will fashion his own life and desires by it. This is where the theater does positive injury, and such a young man should never attend it. If, however, he is strong of character, and goes to the theater in the right spirit, I believe it is good for him. A good play is a wonderful stimulant, a powerful rejuvenant of spirits. It pleases the senses as nothing else can do; it takes the mind away from every-day affairs in a way that no factor in life, save, perhaps, a good book, does. And a good play is as beneficial as a good book. As I have said before, it is unfortunate that we have so few really good plays on the boards of our theaters; but they are there, and we can find them if we will only look out for them. And with care in our selection, it does us all good to go to the theater and enjoy a hearty laugh, or to see the mirror held up to nature. Young men are often puzzled, too, as to the right position to assume as regards dancing. So far as this form of amusement is concerned, I have always liked to believe that dancing, like going to the theater, is good when enjoyed in moderation. Its unhealthy possibilities in a moral sense no young fellow of the right sort ever thinks of or considers. It is only when they are discussed—as, unfortunately, they are all too often in print—that they suggest themselves. Dancing, to my mind, when it is not indulged in promiscuously, but with friends and acquaintances of the opposite sex, is one of the highest forms of enjoyment, and one that gives to a young fellow what we all should possess, grace and the ability to carry ourselves well. But, like all good things, dancing can be abused, and then the injurious effects come in. If a young fellow goes to a dance, and dances all evening without any regard to his physical abilities, he exhausts himself and is unfit for his regular duties on the morrow. When the practice is followed in this wise, and a late supper—which generally means cold or iced foods on a heated stomach—is indulged in, then one of the most graceful and enjoyable of pleasures is taken out of its proper place and becomes an injury.

There is one thing, however, which a young man carving his own career in the world soon finds out for himself, and it is that dances, as a rule, are very exhausting pleasures and generally mean late hours. And after a while he feels that they interfere with his business duties on the following day. Then it is that he must make a choice, and, of course, dancing must suffer and “go by the board,” so to speak. As I have said a few paragraphs back, any social pleasure which interferes with a young fellow’s best business interests is bad. What one young man can stand another cannot, and hence every one must decide for himself. He need only keep his health in mind. If he finds that any pleasure—whether it be attendance at the theater, dancing, or what not—makes him wish next day that he had not indulged in it, it should be perfectly clear to him that that particular social pleasure is not for him, and he should give it up.

Card-playing has never had any special attraction for me, and so I can say very little for it. A good game of whist, euchre, cribbage, or hearts is enjoyable; but I have always felt that playing at whist, particularly with experts, is more or less of a mental strain, and should not be indulged in by those who are required to use their mental faculties during the day. To some, however, it is a relaxation, a recreation, and to these it is good. I am inclined to believe, however, that the game of “poker” is one which a young man will be wisest if he does not learn, since it is almost invariably associated with gambling. And gambling at cards, or gambling or betting of any sort whatever, is a practice in which no self-respecting young fellow can indulge. It is generally the first step downward; and whether it tends in that way or not, it always, without exception, has its evil effects. Therefore it is wisest to shun it, and shun it absolutely.

The growth of outdoor sports in this country has made thousands of young men interested in wheeling, tennis, base-ball, foot-ball, and kindred sports; and no national sign is more encouraging. The deeper the interest which every young man evinces in manly sports the better it is not only for him in every possible way, but for the generation succeeding him. It betokens a clean, healthy mind when a young fellow takes an honest, sincere interest in outdoor sports. But the great danger is in overdoing this. Sports are splendid in their place and at their time, but too many of our young men allow them to interfere with their business interests. A young man in business cannot allow his interest in base-ball, or any other sport, to become so absorbing as to take first place in his mind. There is no earthly reason why an interest in foot-ball, base-ball, or any other sport, confined within proper bounds and at the proper time, should not be good. But when a young fellow finds that he knows the standing of the base-ball clubs in the various leagues, or the names of the players, or their batting average, better than he knows the names of the customers of his employer, or the prices of the goods he is paid to sell, or the discounts of his house, then I say his interest is directed against his own good. Base-ball, or any other kind of ball, is a splendid thing—in its place. Nor is an interest in any legitimate sport or game harmful so long as it is kept within bounds and not allowed to occupy the mind to the detriment of business interests. What are called “base-ball cranks” or “bicycle fiends” or “foot-ball enthusiasts” are never good business men, and their standing in the community is on a par with their overwrought interest.

A young man’s social life and his indulgences must, in other words, be tempered with reason and common sense. He should have a social side to his nature, but that side must not dominate him. If it does, it affects his business interests; and a young man whose thoughts during business hours are fixed upon a pleasure of the evening before, or upon a sport of the morrow, soon finds himself outdistanced in the race for success by others who keep such things in their proper places. A little common sense here counts for much. It counts for everything, in fact.

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