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How To Choose Your Career Or Vocation

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

You have briefly studied the principles of phrenology, physiognomy and vocational psychology and have found them of little or no value as guides to help you find your way into the right vocation. You have found that phrenology and physiognomy are almost entirely discredited, and that the principles of vocational psychology are so new and uncertain, as they stand at the present time, that their value may be seriously questioned. Yet your problem of selecting the work for which nature has fitted you, and in which you are most likely to meet contentment and success, is as important as ever.

The fact remains that it is better to choose the work in which you are to engage than merely to go out and hunt for any sort of job, taking the first that is offered to you. The fact also remains that no one can choose a vocation unless he has first made a systematic study not only of himself, but also of the various occupations which may be open to him. Since it has been seen that no reliance can be placed on the means that have been employed in the past, how is the choice to be made?

The task is not easy. In the early days, when the young man could count on the fortune teller or the clairvoyant or upon those who claimed that they could, by the methods of physiognomy or phrenology, tell him just what characteristics he possessed and just what line of work he should follow, he had little or nothing to do for himself ; but now that he must rely chiefly upon himself in making this study and choice he must give the matter considerable time and study. The basic thing that is required is knowledge. First, you must make a serious study of yourself ; that done, you must make a careful study of the various occupations; and then you must compare the requirements of the occupations studied with the qualities you possess and, by a process of elimination, come to a final conclusion as to the work in which you are most likely to find success and happiness.

First, consider the necessity of a clear knowledge of self. That was all the physiognomist or the phrenologist claimed to do—to judge, from your physical characteristics, just what your' mental and moral characteristics were. Once you had learned what these characteristics were, you were supposed to know just what kind of work you could do and just what kind you could not do.

Now it is necessary that you think over these characteristics yourself. You, better than anyone else, are able to say whether you have a mechanical turn of mind, or are "unable to drive a nail straight"; whether you prefer to mix with other people, or prefer to work and be alone. You know whether you are good at figures, or whether you are good in languages. You know whether or not you have a good memory for facts, faces or figures. You know whether you find it utterly impossible to do any sort of work when you have to accomplish it under pressure and excitement, but that you do your work perfectly and neatly when you have plenty of time and can plod along in your own deliberate way. You know whether you hate to be ordered around by your associates, or whether you rather like to have the other fellow assume responsibility. You know whether you like to do things on your own initiative, or whether you prefer to have someone else map out the plans for you to follow.

All these things you know in a vague sort of way—these are your natural characteristics and tendencies and these are the things which must determine what kind of work you should follow. Since you already know these things in a way, it is just a question of getting them down in some sort of ordered form, so that you may see and study them all at once and get a "bird's-eye view" of the whole you. It is not enough to know the kind of characteristics you possess—whether you are quick or slow in your mental or physical processes—whether you are hasty and impulsive in your actions, or whether you act deliberately and only after deep thought and consideration—whether you are tactful, or whether you are blunt—and so on through the entire category; but you must also know the kind of things you like to do as compared with the things you do not like to do. Though you may possess mechanical ability to a high degree, the idea of becoming a mechanic may not appeal to you at all. Though you may be able to lead the other fellows in various games, it may give you no great pleasure to do so; in fact, it may even be distasteful to you to exercise your powers of leadership.

After all, your likes and dislikes must be one of your strongest guides in choosing your profession.

You must form some idea as to what your ultimate ambition is. Without a star to guide you, it is very unlikely that you will ever reach your port. Ask yourself the question: "Do I want to be a Ieader of men—a great statesman, a great politician, perhaps even the President of this great country?" Do not be ashamed of your ambition either because it seems too high or not high enough—pure contentment is the best pay in the long run. Again ask yourself : "Will I get more happiness out of doing absolutely methodical work—the same thing day after day, but knowing that I am an important cog in the wheel and that without me the great machine must stop until I can be replaced?" Or perhaps you would get the greatest returns in doing some work which would be of service to the community, but which would give you personally only a comfortable living. To some people the idea of public prominence is strong; to others the idea is repugnant; while there are many who do not think of self at all, but only of the good they can do for those about them. For instance, you may feel that you can do the greatest good as a country doctor—or perhaps as a minister. Whatever it is, have your ultimate ambition clearly in mind, and it will be just that much easier to work constantly toward that goal. There are so many conflicting human characteristics that to "know thyself" will be no easy matter. Perhaps you have the ambition to become a teacher. You may have the education, the power of instilling knowledge in others—everything that goes to make a good teacher-but you are entirely lacking in patience, and feel that you can never acquire it. Your plans must all fall to the ground, for the ability to teach must be founded on the ability to put up with foolish mistakes, to go over the same ground again and again, to put yourself in the other person's place and rarely to lose your temper. Those who would control others must first control themselves. So you see how necessary it is that the knowledge of self be based on a deep and serious and systematic study of all your aptitudes, interests, ambitions, abilities, resources and limitations.

But it is not enough to know yourself—you must also know the various occupations just as thoroughly, in order that you may compare the requirements of the work with what you have to offer your work. How often a boy refuses to go into his father's business because he knows it too well—knows all its "outs" and can see too clearly its hardships. Yet he will select another business for himself about which he knows practically nothing but its illusions, and is sure to meet with disappointment when he finds that this business, too, has its "outs" as well as its "ins," its hardships as well as its pleasures. How much better it would be if you studied all of the important occupations which interest you, in order to learn just what the requirements of each of these vocations are.

You should first make a general survey of the field of vocations and then make a definite study of those in which you are most interested. It is only in this way that you can weed out those for which you are not fitted from those for which you are fitted. It is far better to know the requirements of a vocation before you enter it than to run up against unexpected difficulties after you have made your choice. This can lead only to bitter disappointment and disillusionment and is apt to turn you into a "rolling stone" who is never satisfied anywhere. You should know all the requirements of each vocation in order to see whether you can meet them. The occupation of a carpenter may appeal to you—you may seem to have all the natural characteristics: mechanical skill, drawing ability, ability to handle tools, ability to follow plans, knowledge of the proper material to use in each particular case; but there is one thing more that carpentry requires, and that is physical strength and endurance—the ability to handle heavy material and to work on high scaffolds—without which your field of activity in carpentry is likely to be very limited, and your chances of success, therefore, small. It is true that a frail body may be built up, but there is a limit to what may be done in that direction. The same talents might be better employed in a less arduous occupation, such as model or pattern making, for instance.

It is also necessary that you should know the sacrifices you may have to make in order to gain success in any vocation. For instance, if you desire to be a doctor, it is better to know before-hand that you will have no time to call your own, no time in which you can settle down with your family for a few hours, certain of uninterrupted peace. You should know that you must always be ready to go out, no matter what the hour, or what the weather, just because one of your patients needs you. You should also know under what conditions success is won in certain occupations—whether it is through work alone or whether it is through the cultivation of influential friends, as would be the case with the man who desired political prominence. You should know the advantages and disadvantages of the work. Some callings repay the individual little in a purely financial sense, but place him high on the social scale—as, for instance, officers of the army and navy. These men receive little in the way of pay, but the homes of cultivated people are always open to them. Again, take the vocation of teaching in which the remuneration is very small compared to the amount of work that goes into such a calling—yet many a teacher or a professor considers himself well paid either because of the chance it gives him to go on with his own education, or the contentment he receives from guiding and molding the future of youth, and so the future of the nation. Still another point which should be taken into consideration is the amount of good which certain occupations do in the community. Social service workers glory in their work, just as missionaries find pleasure in theirs, because they know that they are working where they are doing the greatest good for the greatest number; yet the pay of both of these types of workers is small indeed.

It is better to learn of the disadvantages of an occupation before you enter it than to stumble across them after you have started, and be forced to give up in despair. It is better to know just what educational requirements are needed in order to gain success in an occupation than to enter it and find that you cannot cope with your competitors because you have not had the educational advantages which they have had.

Another thing which deserves consideration when studying the various occupations is the opportunity for advancement. In considering any work it should always be with an eye to the future. The compensation you receive at first is not as important as your future prospects. Avoid occupations in which there are absolutely no outlets—"blind-alley jobs," they are called—if you wish to attain real success. The position of clerk has often been considered an example of this type, but this is not invariably true, for in many offices the man with the proper training and the proper ambition can find his way to better things, provided he does not sink into the rut of routine.

Just as, in the study of self, there are many and varied conclusions, so there are many sides to every occupation; and you must study and consider them all carefully and systematically, so that you will have a complete idea of the entire occupation—its requirements and the conditions under which you may win success, its advantages and disadvantages, its compensations, opportunities and prospects. It is only through a careful study and tabulation of facts about yourself and the various occupations that you will be able to make a comparison and gradually eliminate those for which you are not fitted from those for which you are fitted.

It is not enough that you should consider all your qualifications, but they must be put down in black and white where you can refer to them and find them in consecutive and well-tabulated order. The best method of doing this is through the questionnaire, which will be taken up later.

Self-analysis.—Probably most people who have chosen a vocation have resorted to self-analysis in a vague way. Perhaps you have said to yourself that you would like to be a doctor, a carpenter or an engineer, or whatever the case may be, because, half instinctively, you have studied yourself and decided that you have the qualities which such a vocation would require. The study, of course, has been superficial and you cannot really know that you do possess all the qualifications demanded by that vocation, largely because you do not know what these requirements are. But the superficial analysis has been helpful in its way; how much more useful would a systematic self-analysis be, where tabulated results in both cases might be compared.

Systematic self-analysis is best accomplished under favorable conditions. You must go off where you will be undisturbed and study yourself as if you were another person. It is not easy to detach yourself entirely from your own personality—to praise and to condemn—but it is absolutely necessary that you do this. You may think it is time wasted, for, in order to study yourself truly and honestly, you must spend considerable time and thought upon the problem; but if you could only look into the future and see all the time it will save you, you would not begrudge a minute spent on self-analysis. Just consider the time you would ordinarily spend in trying to find the right place. It is only natural that, if you have not studied yourself, you will have to make a considerable number of changes before you are satisfied with the work you are doing. This alone should convince you that it is better to spend a little time and labor in the beginning, and not only save time in the long run, but win happiness and contentment along with it.

Putting It Down on Paper.—If only we had the power of seeing ourselves as others see us, the problem of self-analysis would not be so difficult. Since that power is denied us, the best we can do is, after a careful study of self, to put all our findings down in black and white. If you put these opinions about yourself down on paper, you will clarify and make orderly the fleeting thoughts you have when, half instinctively, you feel drawn toward an occupation. You cannot judge yourself as a whole being unless you can see every one of your characteristics put down in orderly formation and are thus able to balance one against the other and come to a final conclusion. You may say: "This is very foolish, putting all this down on paper. I knew it all before, and writing it down won't make me know any more about myself than I did before." But putting things down on paper clarifies your own ideas about yourself, makes you stop to think and consider more deeply than you would do with only a mental examination and may even lead to a conclusion far different from the one you would expect, provided the whole thing is backed by an honest examination. It is only after you have put these various characteristics and qualities down on paper in answer to pertinent questions that you can safely compare them with the requirements of the various vocations.

Suppose you have down on one side of the ledger—the personal side—such items as these:

1. Love outdoor life, hate indoor life.

2. Hate the sciences, love mathematics.

3. Have had good industrial training.

4. Not happy unless I can be at the head of things and bossing everybody.

5. Like to work with my hands but dislike mental activity.

And so on for many items. Now on the other side of the ledger you will have down in black and white every item that a certain vocation requires. For example, take agriculture:

1. Love of the outdoors.

2. Scientific knowledge.

3. Physical endurance.

4. The ability to direct and initiate.

5. Knowledge of markets, etc.

With these various qualities down in black and white, it will be a comparatively easy matter for you to go down the list, comparing and crossing out—taking each vocation that has appealed to you in turn, until you come to one in which the qualifications and your requirements are alike, or at least where the strength of one quality you have to offer is sufficient to outweigh your lack of another. Taking the example above, the weakness may lie in the fact that you dislike scientific studies. Otherwise, let us say, you fit in with all the requirements. Now if your love of nature and the great outdoors is sufficient, it may outweigh the necessity of your liking the scientific end of farming. After all, there are some things which you can have done for you, provided your love of "bossing the situation" is not so strong as to make it impossible for you to accept advice. On the other hand, as has been pointed out elsewhere, there are some qualities which you absolutely must possess in order to succeed in certain positions, such as the understanding and love of mathematics, if your desire is to become a great engineer. You may have all the other requirements—love of the outdoors, hardihood, ingenuity, and so forth—but without the cornerstone of mathematics you may as well not enter the profession if you are desirous of making a big success of it.

This seems getting a long way from "putting it down on paper," but it is only through this process that you can make the proper comparisons and eliminations. Putting it down on paper has another advantage—it will show you how little you really can say, with perfect assurance that you are right, about yourself, and will, in turn, insure a more careful study which can never fail to be helpful to you and may even reveal some characteristics which you never realized you possessed before. Putting things down on paper, simple as that may seem, is of greatest importance in giving you a definite guide and plan, always permanent in its character, to which you can turn in time of need or when you have begun the work you chose and find yourself doubting your choice. With a rereading, you will strengthen your certainty that you were right, and find a means of helping you over the rough places, with the assurance that all will be right in the end. The things you put down on paper will mark the beginning or starting point—you can almost call them the blue prints from which you are to build your structure—a successful career.

Questions for Self-analysis.--Questions for self-analysis have been proposed by the thousand. While it is desirable for you to examine yourself from every conceivable angle, too many questions may easily lead to confusion and result in defeating the purpose for which they are intended. You will find the following questionnaire short, concise and to the point. Each question has been framed with the definite idea in mind that the answer you make to it will shed a pointed light on the problem of just what sort of vocation you should follow and just what sort of vocation you should avoid. For instance, the question of what studies interested you most when in school has a distinct bearing on your future vocation. If you were fond of the literature courses, and always wrote good themes, then, perhaps, other things being favorable, you may make a success as a teacher or a journalist, or even a novelist. Perhaps you disliked the science courses particularly; in that case you should avoid all occupations where scientific knowledge underlies the foundation of success in that line. Again, a distinct liking and aptitude for mathematics may turn you to some profession based primarily on mathematical calculations. And so you might go through all the list, tracing the importance of each question and its bearing on your vocational problem.

Some of the questions may be answered definitely and directly; others, especially those regarding character, are more complex and the answers may be more or less uncertain and imperfect. However, do the best you can, and the result cannot fail to be of distinct advantage as a guide in choosing your occupation. Before you answer a question, consider it carefully, and try to form a good judgment upon it. If necessary, state the facts upon which you base your answer. Above all things, be truthful. Remember that what you are doing is for your own benefit and for no one else's—so you can fool no one but yourself. In some questions it will look as if you must answer them only one way, or show that you are unfitted to undertake any work. For instance, take the question of whether you are enthusiastic or not. It would seem that, if you were not enthusiastic, that fact must count against you. But all kinds of occupations require all kinds of workers and there are some types of work where too much enthusiasm, instead of the calm, easy-going nature of the unenthusiastic person, would be fatal to success, as well as fatal to your happiness. So, first and foremost, be honest with yourself.

Remember that the correct answer to each question may be measured in dollars and cents as well as in increased happiness and contentment. No man is more successful than the man who succeeds in the work which he loves and for which nature has fitted him. Try, in answering these questions, to detach your-self from your own personality and look upon yourself as some strange person whom you have never seen before. In some questions you will find that it will help you to judge your own value if you compare yourself with other persons who you know possess that trait in marked degree. In answer to the question of persistency, for example, think over your school acquaintances and ask yourself: "Who gets tired of working or of playing a game or of doing anything first—myself or the other fellow?" Then, consider and compare yourself with the other pupils when the teacher tests your memory by asking some question, the answer to which he has told you long before, and which you tucked away in your brain. Are you the one who recalls it, or is the other fellow who raises his hand? Whether it is a question of carefulness, punctuality, reliability or what not, always compare yourself with the best person you know with reference to these qualities. Do not overestimate and do not underestimate your abilities. There is work for almost any man, provided only that he is ambitious, honest and of good moral character.

Take this questionnaire off into a room where you can be absolutely alone and sure of no disturbance. It is only through consecutive thought that you will reap any benefits from filling it out. Be sure that you understand just what is expected of you and just how you are going to do it. Have a pencil and plenty of paper with you. Do not glance over the entire questionnaire, but concentrate on one question at a time, giving a full and complete answer before passing on to the next. If, after trying very hard, you find that you are still unable to answer a certain question satisfactorily, leave it and pass on to the next. Your answers to subsequent questions may help you to answer the troublesome one later. Clear your mind of all other thoughts and considerations. You must concentrate on what you are doing. Remember what the correct answering of the questions is going to mean to you.

When you have thought a question over carefully and decided upon your answer, put the number of the question down on your paper and write your answer clearly, concisely and legibly. Take the question: "What claimed most of your attention in school, your studies or outside interests?" Think the matter over care-fully. Did your studies come first or did that game of basket-ball? If you did spend more time in your studies, was it be-cause you enjoyed studying or because your parents forced you to, or because of the desire to stand ahead of everyone else? Think it all out and answer honestly. Business and professional life hold positions both for the student and for the man who is socially inclined and dislikes the confining atmosphere of study. Again, take the question: "Do you get along well with other people and they with you?" This is another question which will require thought. If you are always running around with "the gang," is it because you push yourself into it, or does the gang run after you? Are people really glad to see you, or is it a forced greeting? If you do not mix well, study the cause and give it. Do you prefer to be alone in most things and so avoid company, or are you "hail-fellow-well-met" with everybody? Go through each question that way, asking yourself all these little side questions and, when you write your answer, put down the reason for it, if the answer is one that requires, or is simplified by, a reason.


1. Name. Date.

2. Age.

3. Occupation of parent or guardian.

4. Occupations of other relatives which have interested you.

5. What schooling have you had?

6. Have you had any special industrial or commercial training? If SO, what?

7. What studies interest you most?

8. What studies do you dislike most?

9. Are you studious by nature, or does studying come hard to you?

10. What claims most of your attention in school—your studies or outside activities, SOcial, athletic, etc.?

11. What sort of books, magazines, etc. do you read?

12. How do you spend your spare time?

13. Do you "get by" in school with little or no study, or do you have to "plug hard" in order to pass?

14. Do you like to invent things or devise improvements on things around you?

15. Have you mechanical ability?

16. Do you like to draw? Free-hand? Mechanical?

17. Do you like music? What instrument do you play, if any?

18. Do you express yourself well in writing? In speech?

19. Are you timid, a "go-getter" or neither?

20. Have you a hobby that makes large demands upon your spare time? If so, name it, and try to give reasons for its strong appeal.

21. To what organizations do you belong, if any?

22. Do you take an active part in club meetings or on similar occasions, or do you prefer to leave that to others?

23. Are you a "good mixer"?

24. Have you any particular ambition or vision for the future?

25. Are you naturally healthy?

26. Are you strong physically?

27. Name physical handicaps, if any.

28. Do you prefer to be the director of things, or are you willing to do

your share while someone else directs and assumes responsibility?

29. Are you able to concentrate on the work you are doing, or does your

mind wander off to other things?

30. Do you get along well with others and they with you?

31. Do you stick to an idea or to a certain job until the end, or are you easily discouraged?

32. Which sort of work appeals to you most—methodical, repetition or work of wide variety?

33. Do you prefer mental activity, physical activity or work involving both?

34. Can you work well under high pressure, or do you work better when you have time and leisure?

35. Have you a good imagination?

36. Do you naturally pay attention to small details, or are you more interested in broad planning without giving much thought to methods of carrying out your plans?

37. Have you a good memory for names? For faces? . For facts? . . . For figures?

38. Do you keep your desk or room always in order, or do you allow things to accumulate until you are forced to clean up?

39. Are you systematic in your work, or otherwise?

40. Are you self-reliant?

41. Are you tactful, or do you say what you think without consideration of effect?

42. Are you careful and conservative in taking a step, or are you impulsive and careless of consequences?

43. Are you quick or slow in your movements? . In your mental processes?

44. Are you talkative, or taciturn and a good listener?

45. Do you grasp an explanation quickly, or do things have to be explained to you in detail?

46. Do you insist on accurary and perfection in everything, or are you satisfied with "good enough"?

47. Do you take pride in your personal appearance, or are you careless or indifferent?

48. Do you enjoy meeting strangers?

49. Are you happiest when you are busy, or do you enjoy your leisure most?

50. Do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors?

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