“(M)y chiefest obstacles were in myself; if I could master myself, all other obstacles would vanish.”
Rutherford B. Hayes, 19th President of the United States
I’m not sure what my fascination is for the Gilded Age presidents is about, but I do find them interesting. And as with my recent blog on The Shadow, I also like the quote above and will use it to drive this blog post.
First, who was Rutherford B. Hayes? As stated above, he was the 19th U.S. President. He grew up without his father, who died of a fever before Hayes was born. Hayes grew up to be a lawyer and his skills were noticed by many. He hoped for a quiet peaceful life. These hopes were dashed when the Civil War broke out (1861-1865). Yet because of his leadership skills, Hayes was quickly promoted to brigadier general, even though he was wounded five times. While serving, he was also elected to Congress, but did not serve in this capacity until the war’s end. He then became Governor of Ohio and was elected three times.
During the campaign of 1876, Hayes name was put forth as a Republican presidential candidate, against Democrat Samuel Tilden. Hayes won, but it was the most cantankerous and highly disputed election in American History until the election of George W. Bush in 2000. In fact, there were many similarities between the two elections including accusations of voter fraud and the state of Florida being the deciding factor.
Coming into office under a cloud, Hayes eventually managed to win the respect of the people. He used his office to fight racism against African-Americans and Chinese immigrants. He stood strongly against corporate interests and against immoral political practices. In fact, he fired a future president, Chester Alan Arthur from his post in the New York Customhouse for turning a blind eye to the illegal practices in that office. At the end of his term, Hayes kept his promise to not run again and retired to private life. There he worked to improve education for African-American children, and on prison reform.
So why is Hayes, who by all standards of integrity and hard work, considered to be one of the lesser-known presidents? I believe the answer came from Hayes himself who said, “I never had an overweening fondness for political life. My periods of public employment were merely episodes – parentheses – in my private life, my citizen’s life.” Hayes was not considered one of the great presidents because he did not want to be. His chief purposes lie in his home life and in the humanitarian work he could do privately.
The lesson I draw from this is that one’s life can direct him or her away from Purpose, but he or she can still excel in what life brings. Perhaps Hayes’s activities were his Purpose while he was doing them, but perhaps he also knew that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life there. He had greater things to do than be President of the United States.
I have sometimes missed being in the best place in life because I was in a good place. Sometimes I wasn’t even in a good place, but it felt like a safe place because I was afraid that the better places wouldn’t meet my financial needs. So I stayed, at best feeling uncertain and at worst feeling miserable.
Last night I attended a meeting where one of the group members was saying his farewells. He said that he had recognized two years previously that, for logistical reasons, it was time to move on. It was hard though, because the place he was in was good for him and he was able to do good there. But he also recognized that he wasn’t valuing himself or his own Purpose. He was missing what was best for him.
Mastery of self is, above all else, mastery of our thought life. I don’t mean just the most commonly talked-about thoughts, such as lust or hatred. I mean fear – fear of change, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of disapproval, or fear of the unknown. We master our fears by taking action. So far I have found no other substitute. Sometimes the action is to ask for prayer or counsel. Other times it is making a change. Other times it means having a crucial conversation. Sometimes it means leaving and sometimes it means staying. There is no one answer, but there is always at least one way to arrive at the answer, to get control of the thought life.
When I have control of my thought life and when I take action, I become determined. Then I am able to Get Started and Keep Going.