Personal Development in America: Propelling the Greatest Achievers for More Than a Century

By Emmert, J. M. | Success, April-May 2008 | Go to article overview

Personal Development in America: Propelling the Greatest Achievers for More Than a Century


Emmert, J. M., Success


For Denis Waitley, world-renowned author, speaker and poet, the definition of personal development comes easily: It is the conviction that there is value in your dreams.

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"Personal development is the belief that you are worth the effort, time and energy needed to develop yourseil,'" Waitley says. It gives you permission to invest in yourself so you can develop your own potential."

Developing, potential and helping millions of men and women achieve success is what the personal.development movement has offered for more than a century. Its rich history is full of timeless works that, have allowed us to honestly assess our persona! and professional lives, and gain better understanding o! who we arc and who we would like to be.

On its simplest level, it is a story written by the philosophers, educators and teachers who have streamed new ways of thinking into our consciousness.

Progressive Thinking

In the 1870s, the 'Industrial Revolution that had been sweeping across Europe washed upon American shores, in large part brought along by the unprecedented numbers of immigrants who brought new ideas that would make the United States the world leader in manufacturing by the end of the century.

As productivity and technical efficiency grew dramatically through increased mechanization, so did the purses of such men as Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbih, J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller. The Gilded Age arrived with all its opulence and self-indulgence, and the American Dream of wealth and success, illustrated in the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches stories of the day, abounded in this new melting pot of opportunity.

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It was during this time that a young orphan from New Hampshire stumbled across a book that forever changed his world and became I be impetus for the success movement in the United States.

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Orison Swett Marden had toiled under abusive employers for a decade, resigned to his fate in the farmlands of New England. His serendipitous discovery of Self-Help by the Scottish reformer Samuel Smiles awakened the ambition to change his life and led to a new career devoted to inspiring and encouraging others to reach their potential.

Marden ran away and worked his way through, school, earning degrees from Boston University and Harvard. Inspired by the writings of Benjamin;Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and others, he compiled the quintessential portrait of American success, outlining his belief that the potential within was man's greatest untapped resource.

When the Panic of 1.893 ended the Gilded Age, a period of reform began in America. The Progressive Era was marked by the belief that man had the ability to improve the conditions of his life. Marden became a leading figure in the New Thought Movement of the time, espousing the ideals of "right thinking" and "personal power" that would lay the foundation of the personal development movement.

When a fire destroyed his work, the undaunted Marden began writing it anew. The result, in 1894, was his influential and best-selling book, Pushing to the Front, a compilation of stories describing the extraordinary achievements that had been made under the most extreme difficulties by everyday people. The book formed the basic philosophy of Marden's next venture, SUCCESS magazine.

Marden's goal with the magazine was "to inspire, to uplift, to teach and to uphold models of success." SUCCESS magazine was a source of inspiration, encouragement and self-help to millions, showcasing the achievements of men such as Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.

"The launch of SUCCESS magazine was one of the defining moments in personal development," says Jeffrey Gitomer, one of today's leading personal development gurus and a Marden historian. …

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