Possibilities In Spare Moments

f1a27d76e2bfb61636a7a6341674331414f6744Editor’s Note:  This excerpt is from Orison Swett Marden’s 1894, Pushing To The Front, but inspired from an amazing AOM post based on the same chapter.

On the floor of the gold-working room, in the United States Mint at Philadelphia, there is a wooden lattice-work which is taken up when the floor is swept, and the fine particles of gold-dust, thousands of dollars’ yearly, are thus saved. So every successful man has a kind of network to catch the raspings and parings of existence, those leavings of days and wee bits of hours’ which most people sweep into the waste of life. He who hoards and turns to account all odd minutes, half hours, unexpected holidays, gaps ‘between times,’ and chasms of waiting for unpunctual persons, achieves results which astonish those who have not mastered this most valuable secret.

The days come to us like friends in disguise, bringing priceless gifts from an unseen hand; but, if we do not use them, they are borne silently away, never to return. Each successive morning new gifts are brought, but if we failed to accept those that were brought yesterday and the day before, we become less and less able to turn them to account, until the ability to appreciate and utilize them is exhausted. Wisely was it said that lost wealth may be regained by industry and economy, lost knowledge by study, lost health by temperance and medicine, but lost time is gone forever.

Oh, it’s only five minutes or ten minutes till mealtime; there’s no time to do anything now,’ is one of the commonest expressions heard in the family. But what monuments have been built up by poor boys with no chance, out of broken fragments of time which many of us throw away! The very hours you have wasted, if improved, might have insured your success.

The author of “Paradise Lost” was a teacher, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Secretary of the Lord Protector, and had to write his sublime poetry whenever he could snatch a few minutes from a busy life. John Stuart Mill did much of his best work as a writer while a clerk in the East India House. Galileo was a surgeon, yet to the improvement of his spare moments the world owes some of its greatest discoveries.

If a genius like Gladstone carried through life a little book in his pocket lest an unexpected spare moment slip from his grasp, what should we of common abilities not resort to, to save the precious moments from oblivion? What a rebuke is such a life to the thousands of young men and women who throw away whole months and even years of that which the “Grand Old Man” hoarded up even to the smallest fragments! Many a great man has snatched his reputation from odd bits of time which others, who wonder at their failure to get on, throw away. In Dante’s time nearly every literary man in Italy was a hard-working merchant, physician, statesman, judge, or soldier.

Oh, the power of ceaseless industry to perform miracles!

Alexander von Humboldt’s days were so occupied with his business that he had to pursue his scientific labors in the night or early morning, while others were asleep.

One hour a day withdrawn from frivolous pursuits and profitably employed would enable any man of ordinary capacity to master a complete science. One hour a day would in ten years make an ignorant man a well-informed man…In an hour a day, a boy or girl could read twenty pages thoughtfully—over seven thousand pages, or eighteen large volumes in a year.

An hour a day might make all the difference between bare existence and useful, happy living. An hour a day might make—nay, has made—an unknown man a famous one, a useless man a benefactor to his race.

Every young man should have a hobby to occupy his leisure hours, something useful to which he can turn with delight. It might be in line with his work or otherwise, only his heart must be in it.

If one chooses wisely, the study, research, and occupation that a hobby confers will broaden character and transform the home.

“He has nothing to prevent him but too much idleness, which, I have observed,” says Burke, “fills up a man’s time much more completely and leaves him less his own master, than any sort of employment whatsoever.”

Some boys will pick up a good education in the odds and ends of time which others carelessly throw away, as one man saves a fortune by small economies which others disdain to practice. What young man is too busy to get an hour a day for self-improvement?

Great men have ever been misers of moments. Cicero said: “What others give to public shows and entertainments, nay, even to mental and bodily rest, I give to the study of philosophy.” Lord Bacon’s fame springs from the work of his leisure hours while Chancellor of England. During an interview with a great monarch, Goethe suddenly excused himself, went into an adjoining room and wrote down a thought for his “Faust,” lest it should be forgotten. Sir Humphry Davy achieved eminence in spare moments in an attic of an apothecary’s shop. Pope would often rise in the night to write out thoughts that would not come during the busy day. Grote wrote his matchless “History of Greece” during the hours of leisure snatched from his duties as a banker.

The present time is the raw material out of which we make whatever we will. Do not brood over the past, or dream of the future, but seize the instant and get your lesson from the hour. The man is yet unborn who rightly measures and fully realizes the value of an hour. As Fénelon says, God never gives but one moment at a time, and does not give a second until he withdraws the first.

Lincoln studied law during his spare hours while surveying, and learned the common branches unaided while tending store. Mrs. Somerville learned botany and astronomy and wrote books while her neighbors were gossiping and idling. At eighty she published “Molecular and Microscopical Science.”

The worst of a lost hour is not so much in the wasted time as in the wasted power. Idleness rusts the nerves and makes the muscles creak. Work has system, laziness has none.

Time is money. We should not be stingy or mean with it, but we should not throw away an hour any more than we would throw away a dollar-bill. Waste of time means waste of energy, waste of vitality, waste of character in dissipation. It means the waste of opportunities which will never come back. Beware how you kill time, for all your future lives in it.

In factories for making cloth a single broken thread ruins a whole web; it is traced back to the girl who made the blunder and the loss is deducted from her wages. But who shall pay for the broken threads in life’s great web? We cannot throw back and forth an empty shuttle; threads of some kind follow every movement as we weave the web of our fate. It may be a shoddy thread of wasted hours or lost opportunities that will mar the fabric and mortify the workman forever; or it may be a golden thread which will add to its beauty and luster.



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