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 e
se, and you will be ten thousand times
worse than nothing.
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
"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 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
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
"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
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.
Whatever you do in life, be greater than your calling. Most people look
upon an occupation or calling as a mere expedient for earning a living.
What a mean, narrow view to take of what was intended for the great
school of life, the great man-developer, the character-builder; that
which should broaden, deepen, heighten, and round out into symmetry,
harmony and beauty, all the God-given faculties within us! How we shrink
from the task and evade the lessons which were intended for the
unfolding of life's great possibilities into usefulness and power, as
the sun unfolds into beauty and fragrance the petals of the flower.
"Girls, you cheapen yourselves by lack of purpose in life," says Rena
L. Miner. "You show commendable zeal in pursuing your studies; your
alertness in comprehending and ability in surmounting difficult problems
have become proverbial; nine times out of ten you outrank your brothers
thus far; but when the end is attained, the goal reached, whether it be
the graduating certificate from a graded school, or a college diploma,
for nine out of every ten it might as well be added thereto, 'dead to
further activity,' or, 'sleeping until marriage shall resurrect her.'
"Crocheting, placquing, dressing, visiting, music, and flirtations, make
up the sum total for the expense and labor expended for your existence.
If forced to earn your support, you are content to stand behind a
counter, or teach school term after term in the same grade, while the
young men who graduated with you walk up the grades, as up a ladder, to
professorship and good salary, from which they swing off into law,
physics, or perhaps the legislative firmament, leaving difficulties and
obstacles like nebulae in their wake.--You girls, satisfied with
mediocrity, have an eye mainly for the 'main chance'--marriage. If you
marry wealthy,--which is marrying well according to the modern popular
idea,--you dress more elegantly, cultivate more fashionable society,
leave your thinking for your husband and your minister to do for you,
and become in the economy of life but a sentient nonentity. If you are
true to the grand passion, and accept with it poverty, you bake, brew,
scrub, spank the children, and talk with your neighbor over the back
fence for recreation, spending the years literally like the horse in a
treadmill, all for the lack of a purpose,--a purpose sufficiently potent
to convert the latent talent into a gem of living beauty, a creative
force which makes all adjuncts secondary, like planets to their central
sun. Choose some one course or calling, and master it in all its
details, sleep by it, swear by it, work for it, and, if marriage crowns
you, it can but add new glory to your labor."
Dr. Hall says that the world has urgent need of "girls who are mother's
right hand; girls who can cuddle the little ones next best to mamma, and
smooth out the tangles in the domestic skein when things get twisted;
girls whom father takes comfort in for something better than beauty, and
the big brothers are proud of for something that outranks the ability to
dance or shine in society. Next, we want girls of sense,--girls who have
a standard of their own regardless of conventionalities, and are
independent enough to live up to it; girls who simply won't wear a
trailing dress on the street to gather up microbes and all sorts of
defilement; girls who don't wear a high hat to the theatre, or lacerate
their feet with high heels and endanger their health with corsets;
girls who will wear what is pretty and becoming and snap their fingers
at the dictates of fashion when fashion is horrid and silly. And we want
good girls,--girls who are sweet, right straight out from the heart to
the lips; innocent and pure and simple girls, with less knowledge of sin
and duplicity and evil-doing at twenty than the pert little schoolgirl
of ten has all too often. And we want careful girls and prudent girls,
who think enough of the generous father who toils to maintain them in
comfort, and of the gentle mother who denies herself much that they may
have so many pretty things, to count the cost and draw the line between
the essentials and non-essentials; girls who strive to save and not to
spend; girls who are unselfish and eager to be a joy and a comfort in
the home rather than an expense and a useless burden. We want girls with
hearts,--girls who are full of tenderness and sympathy, with tears that
flow for other people's ills, and smiles that light outward their own
beautiful thoughts. We have lots of clever girls, and brilliant girls,
and witty girls. Give us a consignment of jolly girls, warm-hearted and
impulsive girls; kind and entertaining to their own folks, and with
little desire to shine in the garish world. With a few such girls
scattered around, life would freshen up for all of us, as the weather
does under the spell of summer showers."