Manvotional: Activity Is Not Always Energy

by Brett & Kate McKay on February 14, 2010 · 20 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

To Monday’s post on hustle, I’d like to add just one more thing: It’s not enough to just be busy all the time. You have to direct and focus your energy on a clear goal! This Manvotional sums this point up nicely.

“Activity Is Not Always Energy”

from Readings for Young Men, Merchants and Men of Business, 1866

There are some men, whose failure to succeed in life is a problem to others, as well as themselves. They are industrious, prudent, and economical; yet, after a long life of striving, old age finds them still poor. They complain of ill-luck. They say fate is always against them. But the fact is, they miscarry because they have mistaken mere activity for energy. Confounding two things essentially different, they have supposed that, if they were always busy, they would be certain to be advancing their fortunes.

They have forgotten that misdirected labour is but a waste of activity. The person who would succeed in life, is like a marksman firing at a target; if his shots miss the mark, they are a waste of powder: to be of any service at all, they must tell in the bull’s eye, or near. So, in the great game of life, what a man does must be made to count, or it had almost as well been left undone.

The idle warrior, cut from a shingle, who fights the air on the top of a weathercock, instead of being made to turn some machine commensurate with his strength, is not more worthless than the merely active man, who, though busy from sunrise to sunset, dissipates his labour on trifles, when he ought skilfully to concentrate it on some great end.

Everybody knows someone in his circle of acquaintance, who, though always active, has this want of energy. The distemper, if we may call it such, exhibits itself in various ways. In some cases, the man has merely an executive faculty when he should have a directive one: in other language, he makes a capital clerk for himself, when he ought to do the thinking of the business. In other cases, what is done is either not done at the right time, or in the right way. Sometimes there is no distinction made between objects of different magnitudes, but as much labour is bestowed in a trivial affair as on a matter of vast moment.

Energy, correctly understood, is activity proportioned to the end. Napoleon would often, when in a campaign, remain for days without taking off his clothes, now galloping from point to point, now dictating dispatches, now studying maps. But his periods of repose, when the crisis was over, were generally as protracted as his exertions had been. He has been known to sleep for eighteen hours on a stretch. Second-rate men, your slaves of tape and routine, while they would fall short of the superhuman exertions of the great Emperor, would have thought themselves lost, beyond hope, if they imitated what they call his indolence. They are capital illustrations of activity, keeping up their monotonous jog-trot forever; while Napoleon, with his gigantic industry, alternating with such apparent idleness, is as striking an example of energy.

We do not mean to imply that chronic indolence, if relieved occasionally by spasmodic fits of industry, is to be recommended. Men who have this character run into the opposite extreme of that which we have been stigmatizing, and fail as invariably of winning success in life…Real energy, is persevering, steady, disciplined. It never either loses sight of the object to be accomplished, nor intermits its exertions while there is a possibility of success. Napoleon, in the plains of Champagne, sometimes fighting two battles in one day, first defeating the Russians, and then turning on the Austrians, is an illustration of this energy. The Duke of Brunswick, dawdling away precious time when he invaded France at the outbreak of the first revolution, is an example to the contrary. Activity beats about a cover like an untrained dog, never lighting on the covey. Energy goes straight to the bird.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pavlo Zahozhenko February 14, 2010 at 7:13 am

Good article!
By the way, I’ve just thought about another analogy: Napoleon won most of his battles by concentrating forces on critical sectors of the battlefield. Just like in life it works better to concentrate energy in critical moments than to steadily spend it in a daily activity routine.

2 Justin G. Wollmann February 14, 2010 at 8:24 am

This article could not have been made at a more related time in my life! I’m an 18 year old high school student working a full-time job with goals to be a doctor, and at least once to three times a week I have this strange dying dread that comes over me, either from the lack of energy or just the curiosity of what life would be like for me if I simply went the easy route.

I found that I was losing my energy by expending it on other people, I was too passive, or passive aggressive with friends and co-workers and was not focusing on myself; being a full time worker and student living with my parents, I have a lot of expendable income. I’m a true believer is self-fortune and I am hoping to save some Vegas money to make that goal with stocks once I go to college and take some financial courses. My savings account makes up 50-60% of my annual income, sometimes even 70%.

You might say my dread came from not spending time and money on me, but the dread came primarily from the times where I spent time and money that I had very little to spend on others when I could have easily found it to spend on myself as well, while at the same time, working toward a life of rich fortune and easy retirement!

So, I made the decision that my valentines after my ten hour work shift will be better studying, working on a business portfolio, and sleeping for twelve hours. :-)

3 Graham Hutson February 14, 2010 at 8:37 am

These articles are always a source of inspiration to me, although I feel I am chanelling my energies towards a goal. My fear is whether the goal is the right one, and if I am doing the right things to achieve it.

4 Japhy February 14, 2010 at 11:51 am

I have read posts on this site and feel that this is the worst article ever on AOM. The end result to finding happiness is a goal of money and winning? I know people who have very high dolaars attached to their name as well as those who gave up material want. My point…their lives were focused on being happy and enjoying their trip around the sun as the primary goal. Not to just be what society deems “successful”…keep watching television if you want that perspective. Random acts of unknown kindness for others are far more valuable than having a goal to earn.

5 Rober Black February 14, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I realize that in our present age statements of faith and references to a relationship with God are not popular. I would like to share some Biblical principles that apply. 1- he that does not work does not eat. 2- six days we are to work and the seventh is for rest 3- whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might

6 Brucifer February 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

“dissipates his labour on trifles” This reminds me that there are so many modern ‘men’ these days who will fritter away countless hours following their favorite sports teams and memorizing all the game scores. Yet, many of those same ‘men’ would be hard-pressed to tell you who their elected representatives are, nor what are the pressing issues in our fragile Republic. Getting off the TV-watching couch and undertaking physical activity themselves, instead of vicariously, would be a step. Getting their noses out of the newspaper “sports pages” and into the editorial section would be another. I know the rabid sports-fans among you chaps will probably take issue, but to me, a man who dissipates his labor on trifles, is a trifle man.

7 Luke February 14, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Well done Rober Black! Do not worry about scorn from others concerning the Word. It is alive and active, sharper than any double edged sword, the Truth will shine forth from it and only the fools with discount Its Wisdom. As for the earthly pleasures that are used as examples within this article, they are not the end all must have. What I took from the article is that one should simply do what was said in post #5. That goal that is being worked towards is just as able to be serving God and/or helping the orphans and widows of the world as much as it is able to be acquiring wealth.
Blessings Brothers,

8 Jon February 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I loved your article on the Hustle. This is an even superb follow up because focuses hustle is that much more powerful. I’ve reflected numerous times on the hustle article since it was posted. Thanks for sharing.

9 Steve B. February 14, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I agree with Robert Black and Luke whole-heartedly. Thanks for representing us Christians!

10 Brian D. February 15, 2010 at 12:51 am

I enjoyed the article overall. Maybe I need to brush up on my word knowledge, but this read a lot like academic writing. The “hustle” article was simpler but I felt like it drove the point across a bit better. Like I said though, maybe it’s me who needs to raise my reading comprehension skills a bit.

11 mutuelle February 15, 2010 at 5:57 am

Great articles! Thanks for the knowledges

12 DJ Wetzel February 15, 2010 at 8:46 am

Once again, a great follow up to the article about “hustling”. I have recommended that article to practically all of my coworkers and I’ll be honest, I have gotten a great response. I can see a marked difference in some of them who have really taken the article to heart and are being proactive about making positive changes in their lives rather than sulking and complaining.

Keep the good content flowing!

13 Adventure-Some Matthew February 15, 2010 at 9:05 am

I agree with Robert Black and Luke as well!

I have recently been considering this idea of activity vs. energy. I often feel that I do much, but do not get much done. I will be experimenting with minimalism soon, and one of the areas that I plan to focus on is where I spend my energy/time. I want to choose some select goals and focus on them. I can’t wait to see how much progress I make with this conscious focusing!
(and no, my goals aren’t all winning and money)

14 Brandon E February 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

What I took from the article was not to just go about life doing “things.” But having something to focus on. So I don’t agree with Japhy, I don’t think it was the point of the article. I don’t believe success is found in money or things. I do believe that living day in day out with no purpose or goal is lifeless. That having a focus is good. We just need to make sure our focus is centered on the right things! :)

15 Dan @ Anxiety Support Network February 15, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Good post that says you have to be conscious of what you are doing in life, not just doing random things. It seems, however, that people who do random things do end up succeeding in life, but the biggest successes are those who can direct their energy in the most impactful ways. Impact is self-defined. For example, some people will choose certain goals and then must take certain actions to achieve those goals. Mindless activity will achieve goals, but it may not be the goals the person had set out upon.

16 Alex Gallimore February 16, 2010 at 10:22 am

“find something you love doing and live within the means that it provides”
Best advice I have ever received…

17 Ashley Wollam February 20, 2010 at 12:43 pm


18 nate February 21, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Japhy, while I’m sure your comment was meant in good spirit, I believe that you have missed the objective of the article and humbly recommend that you give it another reading.

My take on the text is that activity and success are not synonymous. Clearly, the article has a commercial bias. However, “industry” in the original sense of the word does not necessarily mean the accrual of money. Many modern time management books, articles, blogs, and magazines reiterate the same need for discipline and concentration of limited resources (particularly your time) on the most profitable (meaning best outcome) tasks at hand. See for instance, “Eat that Frog!” by B. Tracy, and others. If your objective is to enjoy your life as you wish, then set your sights appropriately and work toward this goal not with fruitless activities but rather those activities which are most likely to advance your goal the most.

19 Tyler Logan February 22, 2010 at 9:27 am

Nice post. I tend to live by what I love – excellent advice to give.

20 Trent April 27, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Good article. It’s not just a matter of workin hard but working right. Read the Richest Man in Babylon.

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