Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from The Business of Living by Frank Crane. It has been condensed from the original. Published in 1920, it’s a real gem. Enjoy the read.
The voyager entering a new country will listen with attention to the traveler who is just returning from its exploration; and the young warrior buckling on his armor may be benefitted by the experiences of the old warrior who is laying his armor off. I have climbed the Hill of Life, and am past the summit, I suppose, and perhaps it may help those just venturing the first incline to know what I think I would do if I had it to do over.
I have lived an average life. I have had the same kind of follies, fears, and fires my twenty-one-year-old reader has. I have failed often and bitterly. I have loved and hated, lost and won, done some good deeds and many bad ones. I have had some measure of success, and I have made about every kind of mistake there is to make. In other words, I have lived a full, active, human life. And have got thus far safely along.
I am on the shady side of fifty. As people grow old they accumulate two kinds of spiritual supplies: one, a pile of doubts, questionings, and mysteries; and the other, a much smaller pile of positive conclusions. There is great temptation to expatiate upon the former subjects, for negative and critical statements have a seductive appearance of depth and much more of a flavor of wisdom than clear and succinct declarations. But I will endeavor to resist this temptation, and will set down, as concisely as I can, some of the positive convictions I have gained.
For the sake of orderly thought, I will make Ten Points. They might of course just as well be six points or forty, but ten seems to be the number most easily remembered, since we have ten fingers, first and “handiest” of counters.
1. If I Were Twenty-One I Would “Do the Next Thing”
The first duty of a human being in this world is to take himself off other people’s backs. I would go to work at something for which my fellow-men would be willing to pay. I would not wait for an Ideal Job. The only ideal job I ever heard of was the one some other fellow had.
It is quite important to find the best thing to do. It is much more important to find something to do. If I were a young artist, I would paint soap advertisements, if that were all opportunity offered, until I got ahead enough to indulge in the painting of madonnas and landscapes. If I were a young musician, I would rather play in a street band than not at all. If I were a young writer, I would do hack work, if necessary, until I became able to write the Great American Novel.
I would go to work. Nothing in all this world I have found is so good as work.
2. If I Were Twenty-One, I Would Adjust Myself
More people I have known have suffered because they did not know how to adjust themselves than for any other reason. And the happiest hearted people I have met have been those that have the knack of adapting themselves to whatever happens.
I would begin with my relatives. While I might easily conceive a better set of uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, and so on, yet Destiny gave me precisely the relatives I need. I may not want them, but I need them. So of my friends and acquaintances and fellow workmen. Every man’s life is a plan of God. Fate brings to me the very souls out of the unknown that I ought to know. If I cannot get along with them, be happy and appreciated, I could not get along with another set of my own picking. A man who is looking for ideal human beings to make up his circle of acquaintances would as well go at once and jump into the river.
The God of Things as They Ought to Be is a humbug. There is but one God, and He is the God of Things as They Are.
Half of my problem is Me; the other half is Circumstances. My task is to bring results out of the combination of the two.
Life is not like a problem in arithmetic, to be solved by learning the rule; it is more like a puzzle of blocks, or wire rings—you just keep trying one way after another, until finally you succeed, maybe.
In the Game of Life, as in a game of cards, we have to play the cards dealt us; and the good player is not the one who always wins, but the one who plays a poor hand well.
3. If I Were Twenty-One, I Would Take Care of My Body
The comfort and efficiency of my days depend fundamentally upon the condition of this physical machine I am housed in. I would look out for it as carefully as I attend to my automobile, so that it might perform its functions smoothly and with the minimum of trouble.
To this end I would note the four X’s. They are Examination, Excretion, Exercise, and Excess.
Examination: I would have my body thoroughly inspected by intelligent scientists once a year. I do not believe in thinking too much about one’s health, but I believe in finding out the facts, and particularly the weaknesses, of one’s mechanism, before one proceeds to forget it.
Excretion: By far the most important items to attend to in regard to the body is the waste pipes, including the colon, the bladder, and the pores. Most diseases have their origin in the colon. I would see to it that it was thoroughly cleaned every day. In addition I would drink plenty of water, and take some form of exercise every day that would induce perspiration. Most of my sicknesses have come from self-poisoning, and I would make it my main care to eliminate the waste.
Exercise: I would, if I were twenty-one, take up some daily system of exercise that would bring into play all the voluntary muscles of the body, and especially those which from my occupation tend to disuse. I would devote half an hour to an hour to this purpose.
Excess: I would take no stimulant of any kind whatsoever. Whatever whips the body up to excess destroys the efficiency of the organism. Hence, I would not touch alcoholic drinks in any form. If one never begins with alcohol, he can find much more physical pleasure and power without it.
I would drink no tea or coffee, as these are stimulants and not foods. Neither would I use tobacco. The healthy human body will furnish more of the joy of life, if it is not abused, than can be given by any of the artificial tonics which the ignorance and weakness of men have discovered.
If I were twenty-one, all this!
4. If I Were Twenty-One, I Would Train My Mind
I would realize that my eventual success depends mostly upon the quality and power of my brain. Hence, I would train it, so as to get the best out of it.
Most of the failures I have seen, especially in professional life, have been due to mental laziness. I was a preacher for years, and found out that the greatest curse of the ministry was laziness. It is probably the same among lawyers and physicians. It certainly is so among actors and writers. Hence, I would let no day pass without its period of hard, keen mental exertion, so that my mind would be always as a steel spring, or like a well-oiled engine, ready, resilient, and powerful.
And in this connection I would recognize that repetition is better than effort. Mastery, perfection, the doing of difficult things with ease and precision, depend more upon doing things over and over than upon putting forth great effort.
I would especially purge myself as far as possible of intellectual dishonesty. By intellectual dishonesty I mean what is called expediency; that is, forming or adhering to an opinion, not because we are convinced of its truth, but because of the effect it will have. A mind should, at twenty-one, marry Truth, and “cleave only onto her, till death do them part, for better, for worse.”
5. If I Were Twenty-One, I Would Be Happy
By this I imply that anyone can be happy if he will. Happiness does not depend on circumstances, but upon Me.
This is perhaps the greatest truth in the world, and the one most persistently disbelieved.
Happiness, said Carlyle, is as the value of a common fraction, which results from dividing the numerator by the denominator. The numerator, in life, is What We Have. The denominator is What We Think We Ought to Have. Mankind may be divided into two classes: Fools and Wise. The fools are eternally trying to get happiness by multiplying the Numerator; the wise divide the Denominator. They both come to the same—only one you can do and the other is impossible.
If you only have one thousand dollars and you think you ought to have two thousand dollars, the answer is one thousand divided by two thousand, which is one half. Go and get another thousand and you have two thousand divided by two thousand, which is one; you have doubled your contentment. But the trouble is that in human affairs as you multiply your numerator you unconsciously multiple your denominator at the same time and you get nowhere. By the time your supply reaches two thousand dollars your wants have risen to twenty-five hundred dollars.
How much easier simply to reduce your Notion of What You Ought to Have. Get your idea down to one thousand, which you can easily do if you know the art of self-mastery, and you have one thousand divided by one thousand which is one, and a much simpler and more sensible process than that of trying to get another one thousand dollars.
This is the most valuable secret of life. Nothing is of more worth to the youth than to awake to the truth that he can change his wants.
So, if I were twenty-one, I would make up my mind to be happy. You get about what is coming to you, in any event, in this world, and happiness and misery depend on how you take it; why not be happy?