Chapter X

Selecting a Calling

In reading the lives of great men, one is struck with a very important fact: that their success has been won in callings for which in early manhood they had no particular liking. Necessity or chance has, in many cases, decided what their life-work should be. But even where the employment was at first uncongenial, a strict sense of duty and a strong determination to master the difficult and to like the disagreeable, conquered in the end.

In these days of fierce competition, no matter how ardent the desire for fame, he is a dreamer who loses sight of the monetary returns of his life-efforts.

There have been a few men whose wants were simple, and these wants guarded against by a certain official income, who could afford to ignore gain and to work for the truths of science or the good of humanity. The great English chemist Faraday was of this class. Once asked by a friend why he did not use his great abilities and advantages to accumulate a fortune, he said: "My dear fellow, I haven't time to give to money making."

It is, perhaps, to be regretted that in nearly every case the efforts of to-day, whether in commerce, trade, or science, have for their purpose the making of fortunes. Nor should this spirit be condemned, for fortune in the hands of the right men is a blessing to the world and particularly to those who are more improvident.

Peter Cooper, Stephen Girard, George Peabody, and many other eminent Americans who made their way to great wealth from comparative poverty, used that wealth to enable young men, starting life as they did, to achieve the same success without having to encounter the same obstacles.

It is a well-known fact that boys who live near the sea have an intense yearning to become sailors. Every healthy boy has a longing to be a soldier, and he takes the greatest delight in toy military weapons.

Our ideals for living, particularly when they are the creations of a youthful imagination, are but seldom safe guides for our mature years. The fairy stories that delighted our childhood and the romances that fired our youth, are found but poor guides to success, when the great life-battle is on us.

It is a mistake for parents to say that this boy or that girl shall follow out this or that life-calling, without any regard to the tastes, or any consideration of the natural capacity. It is equally an error, because the boy or girl may like this or that branch of study more than another, to infer that this indicates a talent for that subject. Arithmetic is but seldom as popular with young people as history, simply because the latter requires less mental effort to master it. The world is full of professional incompetents--creatures of circumstances very often, but more frequently their life-failure is due to the whims of ambitious parents.

While the child and even the young man are but seldom the best judges of what a life-calling should be, yet the observant parent and teacher can discover the natural inclination, and by encouragement, develop this inclination.

As the wrecks on sandy beaches and by rock-bound shores, warn the careful mariner from the same fate, so the countless wrecks which the young man sees on every hand, increasing as he goes through life, should warn him from the same dangers.

It is stated, on what seems good authority, that ninety-five percent of the men who go into business for themselves, fail at some time. It would be an error, however, to infer from this that the failures were due to a mistaken life-calling. They have been due rather to unforeseen circumstances, over-confidence, or the desire to succeed too rapidly. Benefiting by these reverses, a large percent of the failures have entered on the life-struggle again and won.

In the early days of the world's history, the callings or fields of effort were necessarily limited to the chase, herding or agriculture. In those times, the toiler had not only to work for the support of himself and family, but he had also to be a warrior, trained to the use of arms, and ready to defend the products of his labor from the theft of robber neighbors.

In this later and broader day, civilization has opened up thousands of avenues of effort that were unknown to our less fortunate ancestors.

While the world is filled with human misfits, round pegs in square holes and square pegs in round holes, the choice of callings has so spread with the growth of civilization, that every young man who reasons for himself and studies his own powers, can with more or less certainty find out his calling, and pursue it with a success entirely dependent on his own fitness and energy.

In a general way, the great fields of human effort, at this time, may be divided into three classes. First, the so-called "learned professions"--journalism, theology, medicine and law. Second, the callings pertaining to public life, such as politics, military, science, and education. Third, those vocations that pertain to production, like agriculture, manufactures, and commerce.

But apart from the callings selected, it should be kept carefully in mind that, no matter the business, success is dependent entirely on the man.

Business is the salt of life, which not only gives a grateful smack to it, but dries up those crudities that would offend, preserves from putrefaction, and drives off all those blowing flies that would corrupt it. Let a man be sure to drive his business rather than let it drive him. When a man is but once brought to be driven, he becomes a vassal to his affairs. Reason and right give the quickest dispatch. All the entanglements that we meet with arise from the irrationality of ourselves or others. With a wise and honest man a business is soon ended, but with a fool and knave there is no conclusion, and seldom even a beginning.

Having decided on a calling, bear ever in mind that faith and trustfulness lie at the foundation of trade and commercial intercourse, and business transactions of every kind. A community of known swindlers and knaves would try in vain to avail themselves of the advantages of traffic, or to gain access to those circles where honor and honesty are indispensable passports. Hence the value which is attached, by all right-minded men, to purity of purpose and integrity of character.

A man may be unfortunate, he may be poor and penniless; but if he is known to possess unbending integrity, an unwavering purpose to do what is honest and just, he will have friends and patrons whatever may be the embarrassments and exigencies into which he is thrown. The poor man may thus possess a capital of which none of the misfortunes and calamities of life can deprive him. We have known men who have been suddenly reduced from affluence to penury by misfortunes, which they could neither foresee nor prevent. A fire has swept away the accumulations of years; misplaced confidence, a flood, or some of the thousand casualties to which commercial men are exposed, have stripped them of their possessions. To-day they have been prosperous, to-morrow every prospect is blighted, and everything in its aspect is dark and dismal. Their business is gone, their property is gone, and they feel that all is gone; but they have a rich treasure which the fire cannot consume, which the flood cannot carry away. They have integrity of character, and this gives them influence, raises up friends, and furnishes them with means to start afresh in the world once more.

Young men, especially, should be deeply impressed with the vast importance of cherishing those principles, and of cultivating those habits, which will secure for them the confidence and esteem of the wise and good. Let it be borne in mind that no brilliancy of genius, no tact or talent in business, and no amount of success, will compensate for duplicity, shuffling, and trickery. There may be apparent advantage in the art and practice of dissimulation, and in violating those great principles which lie at the foundation of truth and duty; but it will at length be seen that a dollar was lost where a cent was gained; that present successes are outweighed, a thousand-fold, by the pains and penalties which result from loss of confidence and loss of reputation. It cannot be too strongly impressed upon the minds of young men to abstain from every course, from every act, which shocks their moral sensibilities, wounds their conscience, and has a tendency to weaken their sense of honor and integrity.

A Review of "How to Get On in Life"

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Success - Choosing a Calling
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