Jack London is one of the seminal figures in American literature, carving out a niche in the rough-and-tumble American West in the Gold Rush Era of the late-19th and early-20th century. By and large, London was a hoss; at age 13, tired of working 12-18 hour days, he scraped together money to buy a small sloop and became an oyster “pirate.”
Later, at age 17, London got a job aboard a sealing ship off the coast of Japan. And at 21 he left for the Alaskan Klondike, and a hopeful fortune. While he didn’t get rich mining gold, this experience provided him with the material for scores of stories and novels.
One of his short stories, In a Far Country, features some of the richest expository prose one could hope to read. Inspiring. Motivational. Powerful. All London’s travel and working around the globe gave him the unique perspective to posit on the impacts of such personal locomotion.
“When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and often times he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped. To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand. This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes. It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.
The man who turns his back upon the comforts of an elder civilization, to face the savage youth, the primordial simplicity of the North, may estimate success at an inverse ratio to the quantity and quality of his hopelessly fixed habits. He will soon discover, if he be a fit candidate, that the material habits are the less important. The exchange of such things as a dainty menu for rough fare, of the stiff leather shoe for the soft, shapeless moccasin, of the feather bed for a couch in the snow, is after all a very easy matter. But his pinch will come in learning properly to shape his mind’s attitude toward all things, and especially toward his fellow man. For the courtesies of ordinary life, he must substitute unselfishness, forbearance, and tolerance. Thus, and thus only, can he gain that pearl of great price, — true comradeship. He must not say “Thank you;” he must mean it without opening his mouth, and prove it by responding in kind. In short, he must substitute the deed for the word, the spirit for the letter.”
If you want to read the rest of the story, click here. But London sets the tone of the story with the opening two paragraphs, imploring men to open-mindedly embrace new settings and situations.
A true hoss, London knew the importance of challenging himself. And more importantly, he knew men of indolence and laziness were not fit to test their physical and mental limits, and essentially, encouraged these non-hosses to stay doing what makes them comfortable. But only stepping outside our comfort zones do we have the capacity for self-improvement and the ability to truly test our mental fortitude. So treat yo self to some great fiction, with a preamble that should become your life’s manifesto, even if you never move far away, or become a gold miner in the extreme north.