in: Career & Wealth, Featured, Leadership

• Last updated: August 16, 2022

The 10 Commandments of Success

A vintage formal dressed man walking in the street with one hand in pocket.

Editor’s note: The following excerpt on the “The Ten Commandments of Success” is taken from The Business of Life (1916) by Frank Crane. It has been condensed from the original. 

It is the purpose of this piece of writing to give a glimpse of the fundamentals of success. I would indicate, not all the elements, but what kind of elements they are that enter into a triumphant existence.

I do not have in mind success in your particular calling. I have nothing to say concerning some things in which you are much interested, to wit; how you can sell more goods in your grocery, how you can acquire prominence as an actor, how you can be elected to office, or get rich or play the fiddle, or write a best seller. But I shall speak of things that will result in such goods as your own self-respect, the love and esteem of those who know you, a settled feeling of courage toward destiny, of hope in the future and of satisfaction with the past – in other words, life success instead of vocational success.

Vocational training is necessary. But life training is more necessary. You ought to serve a thorough apprenticeship to become an expert mechanic, baker, or lawyer, and receive a business training to become a good secretary, but all that is not the prime business of school. For the first goal of education should be to make you a wholesome, efficient, and cheerful man.

There are two kinds of success: success of distinction and success of satisfaction.

Success of distinction means getting rich, or famous, or in some way marked out among your fellows.

There is no doubt that this kind of success tastes good and appeals to us all. We love the spotlight, like to see our names in the newspaper and our pictures in the magazine. We should be properly proud to have our names go down in history.

But this point should not be overlooked: that in this sort of success Chance plays a great part.

Distinction is always mixed with luck. Napoleon, Grant, Roosevelt, and Dickens undoubtedly were men of sound qualifications, yet there have been many with abilities quite as great who never got such prominence. Good fortune has not all to do with making a prominent person, but it always has something to do with it.

On the contrary with the success of satisfaction opportunity has nothing whatever to do. You can be happy, strong, efficient, lovable, not ashamed to look at your face in the glass, to draw your wages and to stand before the judgment seat; you can make your life a glad and not a sad affair, and you can do this despite all the gods on Olympus, despite all ill luck, sickness, and calamity, and in face of all the imps of perdition.

You can have the success of satisfaction as certainly as two and two make four. All you have to do is find the cosmic laws of the spirit and keep them. They are just as accurate as the laws of mathematics.

We shall therefore set down some hints toward success, and call them Ten Commandments. For they are very old, very obvious, and for all that very essential.

For success is not some novel thing, to be come at by a trick or new discovery, but by the well-worn path of wisdom, the road of sages from Moses to Maeterlinck, and our children’s children must perforce study the same map and observe the same landmarks that were known of our fathers’ fathers.

The first and great commandment is: Control Your Thoughts.

First of all you must believe this, or there can possibly be no hope for you, and sometime, somewhere, failure and tragedy will claim you. You must believe this: that you can control your thoughts, and that your thoughts do not of necessity control you.

Thoughts seem to come and go without your volition. This or that thing pops into your head, you know not how. You say you cannot help what you think. So when black thoughts come you are gloomy, and when sunny thoughts come you are happy. Thus you are an autumn leaf blown about by the fitful winds, you are the football of fate, the plaything of unseen forces over which you have no rule.

Now the first secret of strength is to realize that this notion is false. You can control your thoughts, not always directly, but always indirectly. You can do this by your power of turning your attention to other things.

Therefore, refuse to entertain all destructive, enervating, and depressing thoughts. Resist and flee every thought of Fear, for Fear is the arch-enemy of Success.

Never harbor a Premonition, a Superstition, nor allow yourself to be afraid of what is mysterious or unknown. By such bugaboos are the weak and ignorant driven.

A depressing thought may come to you without your invitation, but it cannot stay with you if you do not wish. It may knock at your mind’s door, but you do not have to invite it in to sit and sup.

The second commandment is: Be Courageous.

Courage is the fundamental virtue.

There has never been any tribe discovered that did not look up to a brave man.

Many of the other virtues they do not value, some of them they never heard of, but always and everywhere men and women have esteemed courage.

Do not fear the dark, the night, the future, nor the unknown. To fear goblins is to create them.

Do not fear yourself. Whatever you ought to do you can do. Duty is not measured by ability, but ability is measured by duty. You will get strength as you go on to your task.

Do not fear others. No man can ruin you but yourself. No man can take from you what destiny has marked with your name. Your own will come to you. Be calmly confident, be not afraid.

I never knew of a great soul that was cowardly.

Third: Make a Program And Follow It.

Isn’t it as important to have a prosperous Life as it is to keep a prosperous Grocery? And how long would his store be a money maker if the grocer kept no books, had no record of how much he takes in and how much he pays out? Could you be a successful physician and have no list of the calls you must make, but go just any time you feel like it and visit anybody you please? Could you travel without ever looking at a time-table, explore a strange country without a map, sail the sea without a chart or compass, manage a school and have no discipline, no hours for work and hours for play, or could you be a general and lead your army to victory if your troops were a disorderly mob and you knew nothing of the territory you invade? Then how much less can you expect to make a success of Life without a Plan? Mark out your year. Arrange your interests in the order of their importance. Put first things first. Don’t fritter, and drift, and float.

Arrange your day. Get the twenty-four hours that are yours into companies and classes. It is amazing what you can accomplish in a day if you order your time; it is three hundred and sixty-five times as amazing what you can get done in a year.

Plan your day as well as your work. You have all the more fun when you know you have the time for it. And your hour of recreation is spoiled if you are tormented by the suspicion that you ought to be at work.

Of course, you do not need to adhere rigidly to your schedule. You make a program to use, not be a slave to it. Depart from the routine if necessary. But be sure you have a routine to depart from.

For a foreplanned program is a great saver of worry. It is something to do when you don’t know what to do. You don’t need to be precise and machine-like; just be sensible.

Fourth, Find Out What You Want.

I have talked with a good many discouraged souls, helplessly struggling in the slough of despond like flies caught in sticky flypaper, slaves of habits and victims of circumstances, bad luck and “unjust economic conditions”; and most of them did not want too much, nor want wrong things, but were suffering and impotent simply because they did not know what they wanted.

Take a day off, a few hours at least, examine yourself, look carefully over all the objects which you think would make you happy if you gained them, and select the thing most worth while.

There must be some one goal which, more than all others, you desire to reach. Find out what it is, what the one thing is which is worth sacrificing all else for, and go after it.

Only so can you give unity, purpose, and continuity to your existence. The wretched are the aimless.

And don’t just say you “want to be happy.” Select the thing you think would make you happy, plan for it, prepare for it, set your will toward it; and even if you don’t get it you will get what after all is better – a consistent Life.

For, as Robert Louis Stevenson says, the true pleasure of mortals is not to Arrive but to Travel.

That is, provided they are going somewhere, and not running around like ants.

Fifth, Settle the Sex Problem Intelligently.

Man is a bundle of instincts, and the strongest by far is the sex instinct. It is quite certain that those who do not understand how to keep it in its place, how to make it minister to the beauty and richness of life, and not soil and spoil, will never arrive at any kind of success that means contentment.

The sex drive is not wicked. It is natural. 

The first thing therefore is to find out its meaning. Those who allow their children to grow up in ignorance of this whole matter do them a grievous wrong. And indeed most of the sex tragedies are due to ignorance rather than viciousness.

Sex feeling has its place, and a very wholesome and beautiful place. It means the family life, the dear relationships of wife and husband and children, and without it all the charming field of romantic affection would disappear.

The one part to watch, if we would make it fine, and keep it from being degrading, is to idealize it. We are part Brute and part Angel. To idealize is simply to put the Angel in charge, to govern and compel the Brute. Love, true and loyal love, is the best idealizer.

The young man’s soul is never purer and cleaner than when he honestly falls in love.

It is not repression, self-mortification, religious ecstasy, nor sackcloth and ashes and asceticism that keeps the race as decent as it is; it is True Love. Dante expressed it when he wrote of his Beatrice that there was something in her very presence that seemed to kill all evil and quench all base desire.

Sixth: Pay Attention to Your Money.

To say that money is evil, that you have a soul above money, and that to work for money is low, to save is sordid, and to keep track of your expenses is petty, is merely confused thinking.

Money is simply the gauge by which the common sense of mankind measures your usefulness.

In a few instances this measure cannot be properly applied, but these instances are very few.

The very first duty of every human being is to find some part of the world’s work to do for which the world is willing to pay him money. For that means that mankind believes he has an acceptable excuse for being alive, and a right to claim his share of food and clothes.

About seven-eighths of the common or garden misery of men and women is caused by money.

Money is not everything, and there are occasions when we should scorn it, but money means a deal, it means sufficient food, shelter, and physical comfort, it means opportunity for education, advantages of culture, and agencies of self-improvement.

The person who does not earn money, whether a common hobo and loafer or an endowed idler, is a nuisance and an enemy to the social order.

It is every man’s duty therefore to earn money honestly, to save money determinedly, and to spend money intelligently.

Save! Every human being can live on a little less than he does live on. And if we all saved our surplus most of our tragic economic fevers and passions would disappear, for every tub would stand on its own bottom.

Seventh: Adjust Yourself.

The secret of efficiency is adjustment. Those who do things are they that know how to adjust.

The sailor makes his boat go by adjusting the sails to the wind.

The mechanic makes a locomotive or an automobile, a steamboat or an airplane go, by adjusting steel and gases.

The horse is stronger than the man, but the man rides the horse and makes him go or stop at his pleasure, because the man knows enough to put a bit in the horse’s mouth, and the horse does not know enough – or at least is not able – to spit it out.

All your way you will be meeting insuperable obstacles, facing stone walls, finding forces bigger than you. You are surrounded by inevitables.

The inevitable sun rises every morning and sets every night. Events happen entirely beyond your control. You encounter opinions and prejudices in people that you cannot move.

This is life. Accept it, and adjust yourself and your efforts to it. Don’t butt your head against the door; unlock it.

If a thing can be helped, help it. If not, turn to something else. If you haven’t an ax, why bruise your fists against the tree? It is not work that kills, it is worry. And worry is no more nor less than lack of adjustment.

Find the great cosmic forces and work with them. And when you have done your part, leave the issue to them. Don’t scream, and shriek, and be tragic. Do your part, and be calm.

Eighth: Be a Good Sport.

I use this Americanism because it expresses precisely what I mean. To be a good sport means to be a good loser.

The art of arts is the art of losing. The secret of success is how to manage failure.

Walking they say is a succession of falls, and life is a succession of mistakes.

I have made mistakes many a time, says Ed Howe, and how otherwise could I have acquired any common sense? So, whether you shall score a success with your life does not depend upon your ability to win, and your luck in winning, but upon your ability to pick yourself up after you have been knocked down, and to go at the fight again smiling and confident.

Don’t complain, and whine, and be sorry for yourself; your time is too short; get busy.

And don’t try to make other people sorry for you. Did the pity of men ever get you anything?

Ninth: Go On.

Very frequently some young person writes me, and sends me a story or a poem, and asks whether I think he can become a successful writer, whether he has genius.

I never know. For the simple reason that the quality of an author’s first effusions are no test of his powers. Sometimes the cruder they are the more originally his talents may develop.

The nearest I can come to defining genius is that it is some force within a man that makes him Go On. The successful writers are those that cannot help writing, that no discouragement can prevent from writing. Of course one may persist and yet never be anything but mediocre, yet it is certain that nobody can write unless he Will write, in spite of all critics and cynics.

And the same is true in any other field of activity.

Tenth, also last and greatest: Obey Your Conscience.

I speak not now of your getting to Heaven, or saving your soul, but only of Success, any kind of worldly and worth-while Success.

Because Conscience is, simply, the Rules of the General Game. It is adjustment to the universe.

It means you are working in harmony with those great laws, often hidden and seemingly inoperative, yet always in the long run prevailing.

A man who does what he thinks is right may be despised by the world, but he will never despise himself. You can imprison, torture, and kill him, but you cannot take away his inner sense of triumph.

All history moves behind him. The stars in their courses fight for him. He is linked with the sun.

The man who does not obey his Conscience may seem to succeed. Everybody may think so. Everybody but one may be fooled. But he cannot fool himself. At the last he will know he has failed.

And it is not a pleasant thing to rise from the feast of life with the taste of ashes in the mouth.

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