A Message to Garcia by author Elbert Hubbard: Procrastination is the Worst Enemy!


Remember the last time you were given a challenging task at work and weren’t provided with clear instructions on how to complete it? It was probably frustrating and made you wish your boss had just told you exactly what to do instead of leaving you to figure it out alone. Well, Elbert Hubbard’s classic 1899 essay A Message to Garcia addresses this exact scenario and provides insight into why taking personal initiative and independent action are so critical in life and business.

A Message to Garcia by author Elbert Hubbard

You can find A Message to Garcia by author Elbert Hubbard on your favorite bookstore, including Amazon.com and Amazon UK.

About author Elbert Hubbard

Author Elbert Hubbard

Elbert Hubbard was a famed American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher who founded the Roycroft artisan community in East Aurora, New York. He was born in Bloomington, Illinois in 1856 and died aboard the RMS Lusitania in 1915.

Hubbard first achieved notoriety as a salesman and business manager for the Larkin Soap Company before leaving to pursue his own artistic and philosophical ventures. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, Hubbard founded Roycroft in 1895 as a community for printers, blacksmiths, and other artisans aimed at promoting craftsmanship and preserving knowledge.

However, Hubbard gained his most widespread fame as a writer who promoted individualism and entrepreneurship. His 1899 pamphlet A Message to Garcia came to embody American values of self-reliance, initiative, and perseverance during a period of growth following the Spanish-American War.

A Message to Garcia was written as an inspirational piece praising Rowan, an American soldier who heroically delivered a message to Cuban rebel leader General Garcia during the war. The short story extolled the virtues of diligent work ethic and loyalty. It instantly became a nationwide success, praised by leaders in business and politics alike.

Hubbard followed up this initial burst of fame with several other widely distributed works focused on morality, ethics, self-improvement, and positive thinking. Some of his most popular titles include A Creed of the Work, The Philosophy of Elbert Hubbard, and A Fra Elbertus Book. He also founded the Roycroft Press and published his own essays and writings.

Throughout his lifetime, the always energetic and prolific Elbert Hubbard contributed an immense range of artistic, intellectual, and philosophical works centered on virtue, self-reliance, and craftsmanship. His unique Roycroft community gained fame as a haven for craft workers that predated the Arts and Crafts movement.

Although his controversial views on marriage and religion caused some criticism, Hubbard became one of the most well-known American thinkers and writers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His advocacy of industry, perseverance, and initiative exemplified the American values of that era.

The immense popularity of works such as A Message to Garcia has cemented Elbert Hubbard’s legacy as an influential voice promoting self-determination and diligence. His unique perspective and body of work continue to inspire readers over a century later.

Overcoming Obstacles with Self-Reliance

The essay tells the story of Andrew Rowan, an Army officer who was tasked with delivering a critical message from President McKinley to Cuban rebel leader General Garcia during the Spanish-American War in 1898. McKinley needed to connect with Garcia to gain his support against Spain, but Garcia’s location deep in the Cuban jungle made this extremely difficult. The fact that Rowan successfully tracked down Garcia and delivered the message, despite all the challenges, made him a hero in Hubbard’s eyes.

Hubbard uses Rowan’s story to argue that the ability to carry out orders without needing constant hand-holding is an incredibly valuable trait. He criticizes those who require detailed instructions for every task, writing, “You can give him the job, and leave him alone.” Instead, Hubbard praises self-reliance, resourcefulness and taking initiative. These qualities allow people like Rowan to overcome any obstacle to get the job done, without excuses.

Valuing Action Over Procrastination

A key message in Hubbard’s essay is that diligently taking action is far more important than simply possessing knowledge. He argues there are too many people who are educated and skilled but fail to accomplish anything meaningful because they get bogged down overthinking and procrastinating. Hubbard writes, “There are people who are willing to work for you; there are still more anxious to have you work for them. But there are a few who… will put their hands to the plow and ask for no one to stand at their back.”

The character of Rowan represents this willingness to immediately get to work on a task without delay. Hubbard praises Rowan’s energetic action and contrasts it with those who require constant motivation and supervision rather than taking initiative themselves. The essay emphasizes that knowledge means nothing unless it is paired with the grit to apply that knowledge to a concrete goal.

Taking Pride in Responsibility and Quality Work

While Hubbard certainly stresses personal initiative, he makes it clear this does not mean recklessly acting without proper responsibility. Rather, he writes that true effectiveness requires carefully thinking through how to complete a task correctly the first time around. He believes in the value of taking pride in your work and not cutting corners.

Hubbard states that the message Rowan carried was “wrapped and sealed” reflecting the great care he took with his responsibility. Rowan saw the task through to the end and ensured the message was delivered properly, rather than hastily completing it and moving on. The essay highlights that quality work often requires patience, attention to detail and calm diligence in addition to self-motivation.

Embracing Failure as a Path to Growth

Importantly, Hubbard acknowledges that exercising independent initiative will inevitably lead to some failures. However, he argues that experiencing failure is essential for personal growth. Rather than allowing failures to discourage further action, Hubbard advises viewing them as learning opportunities to cultivate wisdom.

Hubbard writes that a “great deal of talent is lost in the world for want of a little courage.” Fear of failure too often holds people back from accomplishing great things by paralyzing them before they even try. But Hubbard views failure as the unavoidable result of taking bold risks and relentlessly seeking to grow and improve oneself. The essay inspires readers to embrace failure in pursuit of greater goals.

Inspiring Readers to Achieve Their Potential

While the essay was published over 120 years ago, its message remains extremely relevant in today’s world. Like Hubbard, most modern business leaders want employees who demonstrate initiative to solve problems independently without constant supervision. And in our personal lives we are often faced with challenging situations that require self-motivation and perseverance to overcome.

Hubbard’s essay is inspiring because it makes us realize that we are all capable of achieving far more than we think possible if we put pride in our work and avoid procrastination through energetic action. Rowan’s story reminds us to embrace fearlessness in the face of obstacles and view failures as learning experiences rather than reasons for self-doubt.

Hubbard’s Timeless Message of Self-Reliance

A Message to Garcia continues to resonate with modern audiences by tapping into fundamental human desires for independence, responsibility and accomplishment. The essay brings to life the satisfaction of propelling yourself forward through self-discipline to meet any challenge head-on.

Hubbard’s criticism of those who take less initiative feels uncomfortably relevant to the modern worker, student or parent. We all sometimes slip into complacency and take the easy way out by putting in minimal effort. This essay inspires us to break free of that mindset through the timeless message that true growth comes from exercising personal responsibility.

While society has obviously changed dramatically since 1899, human nature has not. We face the same mental barriers to accomplishing our full potential that readers faced when Hubbard’s famous essay was first published. A Message to Garcia remains an inspiring and powerful call to avoid procrastination and excuses by taking immediate action.

Elbert Hubbard’s Biography

From Salesman to Philosopher

Before becoming a famous writer, Elbert Hubbard had an entirely different career as a successful traveling soap salesman. But his life took a dramatic turn after he read a copy of the English Arts and Crafts philosopher William Morris’ book News from Nowhere. Inspired by the book, Hubbard decided to abandon business and establish an experimental artistic community of craftsmen, writers and intellectuals called the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, New York in 1895.

Leading the Roycroft Arts Community

Hubbard soon emerged as the leader of the Roycroft community which produced artisan furniture, books and metalwork objects and became very profitable. Hubbard wrote essays about philosophy, culture and morality which promoted the Roycroft ethos valuing simplicity, functionality and craftsmanship in contrast to over-commercialization and mass production. His essay A Message to Garcia would become his most famous work.

A Message to Garcia was first published as a short magazine article in 1899, but its immense popularity led Hubbard to quickly expand it into a booklet. The essay’s celebration of self-reliance and initiative strongly resonated with the public. It sold over 40 million copies worldwide during Hubbard’s lifetime, a truly astonishing figure.

Tragic Death Aboard the Lusitania

On May 7, 1915, Elbert and his wife Alice were traveling back to the United States aboard the British cruise ship RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German submarine. They were both among the 1,198 passengers killed in the sinking, which helped propel America’s eventual entry into World War I. Hubbard’s death at age 59 cut short a life that profoundly impacted American culture and philosophy.

Critical Reception: Praise and Some Controversy

A Message to Garcia was met with near-universal praise upon its initial release and for decades after. Reviewers and intellectuals applauded the essay for promoting self-reliance and character virtues such as initiative, responsibility and perseverance. President William McKinley reportedly even called the essay a valuable lesson in individual excellence.

However, some also noted the essay has an underlying tone of over-obedience to authority figures. Critics argued readers should not emulate the essay’s message of blindly following orders without evaluating their ethical validity. Hubbard glosses over moral considerations in his zealous praise of determined action.

In the 1960s and 70s, the essay was criticized from a civil rights perspective as endorsing an overly conformist worldview. Critics alleged its focus on dutiful obedience promoted allowing injustice to go unchallenged. These dissenting views ultimately had little impact on the essay’s legacy and popularity, however.

While valid ethical critiques can be made, the essay remains inspirational to most readers. A Message to Garcia upholds taking pride in one’s work, embracing self-reliance and persevering through challenges as worthy personal goals, even if the reader rejects aspects of Hubbard’s political views.

Why A Message to Garcia Remains Impactful Today

Appreciating the Virtue of Independent Effort

Modern society continues to grapple with a lack of self-motivation, initiative and work ethic. Hubbard’s essay feels highly relevant in reminding us to avoid complacency by putting care into our responsibilities without looking for handouts. His praise of determined effort and perseverance through adversity provides a lesson of personal growth we all need to hear.

Overcoming a Culture of Passivity

Many who read A Message to Garcia today feel it pushes back against a culture promoting passivity and entitlement over personal responsibility. The essay’s call for energetic action is refreshing to readers frustrated with those seeking rewards without effort or initiative. Hubbard’s disdain for excuse-making strikes a chord in the modern workplace.

Embracing Failure on the Path of Growth

Hubbard’s encouragement to view failure as an essential step towards success also resonates strongly with the current self-help ethos around personal growth and fulfillment. His advice to persist through failure by viewing it as a learning experience rather than a source of discouragement is empowering and liberating.

Appreciating Self-Reliance Over Reliance on Others

Finally, in a highly polarized era many are inspired by Hubbard’s emphasize on relying on one’s own initiative rather than demanding orders and assistance. His praise of self-discipline feels both nostalgic and highly relevant. A Message to Garcia inspires taking personal responsibility rather than blaming external factors.

Conclusion: A Testament to Determined Action

A Message to Garcia has undoubtedly earned its status as an enduring classic of American literature. The essay’s inspiring call for embracing bold initiative and persevering through obstacles with pride in one’s work still resonates powerfully over a century later. While some critiques of its unquestioning conformity to authority are valid, the essay’s core message continues to motivate readers of all backgrounds to break free of complacency and accomplish their full potential through determined effort. A Message to Garcia remains a timeless testament to the power of self-reliance.


What is the main message of the book A Message to Garcia?

The main message of A Message to Garcia is about taking initiative and responsibility. The book tells the story of a soldier named Rowan who was tasked with delivering a message to the Cuban General Garcia during the Spanish-American War. Despite facing many obstacles, Rowan persevered and successfully delivered the message without needing direction. He exemplified self-reliance, determination, and resourcefulness. The book promotes the virtues of hard work, loyalty, and diligence in completing tasks without waiting to be led.

What time period is covered in A Message to Garcia?

A Message to Garcia takes place during the Spanish-American War in the late 19th century. Specifically, the events center around Rowan’s mission to deliver a message to General Garcia in Cuba in 1898. This was a pivotal time period that saw the United States gain territory and influence after defeating the Spanish Empire. The time period covered allows Hubbard to promote his values of individualism and hard work during a age of American expansionism.

Why is initiative an important theme in A Message to Garcia?

Initiative is a critical theme in A Message to Garcia because it represents the virtues Hubbard sought to promote. Rowan’s ability to reliably and resourcefully carry out his mission without direct supervision highlights the importance of taking responsibility and showing initiative. Hubbard wants to inspire these qualities in his readers during a period of growth for America. The story promotes individualism over blind obedience to authority. Overall, the theme reinforces the idea that relying on one’s own initiative is crucial for success.

How did A Message to Garcia first gain a wide audience?

A Message to Garcia first gained a wide audience after being published as a short pamphlet in 1899. It captured national interest for praising individualism and determination at a time when America was emerging as a global power. The material was widely distributed and requested by industry leaders who wanted to promote the values of self-reliance. It gained additional boosts in exposure after being mandated reading by some business schools and the military. The story’s simple but resonant message helped make it popular across the country.

What writing style is used in A Message to Garcia?

The writing style used in A Message to Garcia is direct, concise, and accessible. Hubbard uses clear, plain language to tell Rowan’s story in an engaging way. The narrative style helps the moral lessons stand out since they are not obscured by complex language. There is some use of rhetorical flourish but mainly relies on straightforward, everyday vocabulary. Overall, this pragmatic style centered around a compelling story of individualism helped drive home the key messages.

How is Rowan portrayed in the book?

Rowan is portrayed as the ideal dutiful soldier in A Message to Garcia. He embodies diligence, self-reliance, and perseverance. Rowan encounters obstacles but presses forward undaunted to complete his mission without direct orders. His actions represent the virtues Hubbard believed in – hard work, loyalty, and initiative. Rowan is ultimately portrayed as an exemplary model citizen willing to take responsibility in service of his country.

What obstacles does Rowan face in delivering his message?

Rowan faces numerous obstacles delivering his message to Garcia. He has to traverse difficult terrain, withstand challenges of hunger and exposure, sneak past enemy camps, and more. Rowan does not know exactly where Garcia is and has to rely on his wits to find him. Despite all these impediments, he perseveres through self-motivation. His ability to overcome adversity shows his determination and resourcefulness.

How did A Message to Garcia reflect the time period it was written in?

A Message to Garcia reflected America’s growth in the late 19th century as an emerging power. Hubbard’s themes of valuing hard work, individualism, and determination aligned with wider American ideals during this period. His praise of Rowan’s reliable service to deliver an important message also connects to expansionist foreign policy goals at the time. The story’s popularity is tied to how it promoted values perceived as crucial for America’s rising status globally.

Why do you think A Message to Garcia continues to be read and discussed today?

A Message to Garcia likely continues to be read today because its themes remain relevant. The virtues of taking initiative, embracing responsibility, and persevering in the face of adversity still resonate. Rowan’s grit and self-reliance are still seen as admirable qualities. The book’s straightforward message and narrative style also lend themselves well to modern readers. While written over a hundred years ago, A Message to Garcia offers timeless lessons on individualism and motivation.

Leave a Reply