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Laura Ingalls Wilder On Success

Little House in the Big Woods original cover
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I fully understand the negative impact a teacher can have on a student. When I was in second and third grade I studied under a new, very young (I now realize) teacher who was quite insecure and sometimes seemed to enjoy the corporal punishment she inflicted on us. I didn’t like her. Especially when she tried to convince the class that cannon is pronounced canyon (she was vigorous in her insistence) and that Jesus sinned when he “lost his temper” throwing out the moneychangers.

Did I say that I didn’t like her?Therefore, I didn’t like things I associated with her. Like, for example, Laura Ingalls Wilder – in particular, Little House in the Big Woods.

It’s funny, because my children taught me to love the books, though my first association remains negative. How fitting, then, that I should come across this in a less known book by Mrs. Wilder called A Family Collection.

A difficulty raiseth the spirit of the great man. He hath a mind to wrestle with it and give it a fall. A man’s mind must be very low if the difficulty doth not make part of his pleasure.” By the text of these words of Lord Halifax, there are a number of great persons in the world today.

After all, what is a difficulty but a direct challenge? “Here I am in your way,” it says, “you cannot get around me nor overcome me! I have blocked your path!” Anyone of spirit will accept the challenge and find some way to get around or over, or thru that obstacle. Yes! And find pleasure in the difficulty for the sheer joy of surmounting it as well as because there has been an opportunity once more to prove one’s strength and cunning and by the very use of the qualities cause an increase in them.

I love her optimism. Would she think there were many great persons in the world today, I wonder. I like her reference to “Anyone of spirit.” This is the man with a chest she is referring to, the man of honor and self-respect.

She continues with what would be considered by some today to be naive counsel, I am sure. For myself, the older I get the more convinced I am that she has provided the wisdom needed for 98% of our troubles:

The overcoming of one difficulty makes easier the conquering of the next until finally we are almost invincible. Success actually becomes a habit thru determined overcoming of obstacles as we meet them one by one.

If we are not being successful, if we are more or less on the road toward failure, a change in our fortunes can be brought about by making a start, however small, in the right direction and then following it up. We can form the habit of success by beginning with some project and putting it thru to a successful conclusion however long and hard we must fight to do so; by “wrestling with” one difficulty and “giving it a fall.” The next time will be easier.

For some reason, of course according to some universal law, we gather momentum as we proceed in whatever way we go, and just as by overcoming a small difficulty we are more able to conquer the next, tho greater, so if we allow ourselves to fail it is easier to fail the next time and failure becomes a habit until we are unable to look a difficulty fairly in the face, but turn and run from it.

There is no elation equal to the rise of the spirit to meet and overcome a difficulty, not with a foolish over-confidence but keeping things in their proper relations by praying, now and then, the prayer of a good fighter whom I used to know. “Lord make me sufficient to mine own occasion.”

Now, I understand that Mrs. Wilder lived in a much simpler time and therefore never had to deal with the extreme difficulties we face today, but still – anybody who can say, “There is no elation equal to the rise of the spirit to meet and overcome a difficulty,” is my kind of girl!

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