A Champion of Self-Reliance

UPDATED: May 11, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 29, 2011

Born in 1850, Orison Swett Marden is considered by many to be the father—and an exemplary product—of the self-improvement movement in the United States.

Orphaned at age 7, Marden was placed in the guardianship of a neighbor, who “bound out” the child to families who needed an extra farmhand. Life was extremely cruel, as he suffered whippings at the slightest provocation, near starvation, and subfreezing temperatures wearing threadbare clothes during harsh New Hampshire winters.

But after discovering a copy of Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help in an attic of a family for whom he worked, Marden realized he could make much more of his life. Persuading his guardian to allow him to attend school, he worked and paid for his education, liberating himself from his difficult youth. He ultimately earned degrees in oratory, business, law and medicine. He became an entrepreneur, and in the late 1890s he founded SUCCESS Magazine. Marden’s influence continues to reverberate in these pages as it does in the works of today’s personal-development gurus.

His books—with such rousing titles as An Iron Will, How to Succeed, Making Life a Masterpiece and Pushing to the Front, his 1894 masterpiece—have been translated into dozens of languages and have been on the reading lists of everyone from political leaders to schoolchildren.

In His Voice

Orison Swett Marden was a prolific writer who authored more than 60 books, as well as columns in SUCCESS Magazine, which he founded. His command of language is evident even in letters to potential subscribers.

⇒ Self-reliance is the best capital in the world. Self-depreciation is a crime.

⇒ The greatest enemies of achievement are fear, doubt and vacillation.

⇒ Every child should be taught to expect success.

⇒ The man who has learned the art of seeing things looks with his brain.

⇒ The best educated people are those who are always learning, always absorbing knowledge from every possible source and at every opportunity.

⇒ People do not realize the immense value of utilizing spare minutes.

⇒ Your judgment is your best friend; your common sense is your great life partner.

⇒ Do not stop dreaming.

⇒ Some of the greatest men in history never discovered themselves until they lost everything but their pluck and grit.

⇒ Responsibility is a great power developer.

⇒ Almost anybody can resolve to do a great thing; it is only the strong, determined character that puts the resolve into execution.

⇒ No substitute has ever yet been discovered for honesty.

⇒ Happiness is a condition of mind.

⇒ The world makes way for the man with an idea.

⇒ Poverty is of no value except as a vantage ground for a starting point.

⇒ There is no word in the English language more misused and abused than “luck.”

⇒ The idle man is like an idle machine. It destroys itself very quickly.

⇒ Do not imitate. Originality is the best substitute for advertising.

⇒ Many people are imprisoned by ignorance.

⇒ To eliminate every thing that can possibly retard us is the first preparation for a successful career.

⇒ Get freedom at any cost.

⇒ ‘It can not be done’ cries the man without imagination. ‘It can be done, it shall be done’ cries the dreamer.

⇒ No man can be happy when he harbors thoughts of revenge, jealousy, envy or hatred.

⇒ No matter how humble your work may seem, do it in the spirit of an artist, of a master.

⇒ Do not be afraid to trust yourself. Have faith in your own ability to think along original lines. If there is anything in you, self-reliance will bring it out.

⇒ The very essence of happiness is honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness.

For more on Orison Swett Marden, check out SUCCESS.com videos.

Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of The Sales Bible and The Little Red Book of Selling. President of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts Internet training programs on selling and customer service.