WHAT SHALL I DO?
No man ever made an ill-figure who understood his own talents,
nor a good one who mistook them.
Blessed is he who has found his work,–let him ask no other
Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your line
of talent. Be what nature intended you for, and you will
succeed; be anything else, and you will be ten thousand times
worse than nothing. –SYDNEY SMITH.
He who is false to present duty breaks a thread in the loom,
and will find the flaw when he may have forgotten its cause.
I am glad to think
I am not bound to make the world go round;
But only to discover and to do,
With cheerful heart, the work that God appoints.
“Do that which is assigned you,” says Emerson, “and you cannot hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses or Dante, but different from all these.”
“I felt that I was in the world to do something, and thought I must,” said Whittier, thus giving the secret of his great power. It is the man who must enter law, literature, medicine, the ministry, or any other of the overstocked professions, who will succeed. His certain call–that is, his love for it, and his fidelity to it–are the imperious factors of his career. If a man enters a profession simply because his grandfather made a great name in it, or his mother wants him to, with no love or adaptability for it, it were far better for him to be a day laborer. In the humbler work, his intelligence may make him a leader; in the other career he might do as much harm as a boulder rolled from its place upon a railroad track, a menace to the next express.
Lowell said: “It is the vain endeavor to make ourselves what we are not, that has strewn history with so many broken purposes, and lives left in the rough.”
“The age has no aversion to preaching as such,” said Phillips Brooks, “it may not listen to your preaching.” But though it may not listen to your preaching, it will wear your boots, or buy your flour, or see stars through your telescope. It has a use for every person, and it is his business to find out what that use is.
The following advertisement appeared several times in a paper without bringing a letter:
“WANTED.–Situation by a Practical Printer, who is competent to
take charge of any department in a printing and publishing
house. Would accept a professorship in any of the academies.
Has no objection to teach ornamental painting and penmanship,
geometry, trigonometry, and many other sciences. Has had some
experience as a lay preacher. Would have no objection to form a
small class of young ladies and gentlemen to instruct them in
the higher branches. To a dentist or chiropodist he would be
invaluable; or he would cheerfully accept a position as bass or
tenor singer in a choir.”
At length there appeared this addition to the notice:
“P.S. Will accept an offer to saw and split wood at less than
the usual rates.”
This secured a situation at once, and the advertisement was seen no more.
Don’t wait for a higher position or a larger salary. Enlarge the position you already occupy; put originality of method into it. Fill it as it never was filled before. Be more prompt, more energetic, more thorough, more polite than your predecessor or fellow-workmen. Study your business, devise new modes of operation, be able to give your employer points. The art lies not in giving satisfaction merely, not in simply filling your place, but in doing better than was expected, in surprising your employer; and the reward will be a better place and a larger salary.
“He that hath a trade,” says Franklin, “hath an estate; and he that hath a calling hath a place of profit and honor. A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees.”
_Follow your bent._ You cannot long fight successfully against your aspirations. Parents, friends, or misfortune may stifle and suppress the longings of the heart, by compelling you to perform unwelcome tasks; but, like a volcano, the inner fire will burst the crusts which confine it and pour forth its pent-up genius in eloquence, in song, in art, or in some favorite industry. Beware of “a talent which you cannot hope to practice in perfection.” Nature hates all botched and half-finished work, and will pronounce her curse upon it.
Your talent is your _call_. Your legitimate destiny speaks in your character.
If you have found your place, your occupation has the consent of every faculty of your being.
If possible, choose that occupation which focuses the largest amount of your experience and tastes. You will then not only have a congenial vocation, but will utilize largely your skill and business knowledge, which is your true capital.
There is no doubt that every person has a special adaptation for his own peculiar part in life. A very few–the geniuses, we call them–have this marked in an unusual degree, and very early in life.
A man’s business does more to make him than anything else. It hardens his muscles, strengthens his body, quickens his blood, sharpens his mind, corrects his judgment, wakes up his inventive genius, puts his wits to work, starts him on the race of life, arouses his ambition, makes him feel that he is a man and must fill a man’s shoes, do a man’s work, bear a man’s part in life, and show himself a man in that part. No man feels himself a man who is not doing a man’s business. A man without employment is not a man. He does not prove by his works that he is a man. A hundred and fifty pounds of bone and muscle do not make a man. A good cranium full of brains is not a man. The bone and muscle and brain must know how to do a man’s work, think a man’s thoughts, mark out a man’s path, and bear a man’s weight of character and duty before they constitute a man.