( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Every man is fitted by nature and education to do some- useful work well. It may not be to- rule a kingdom, to bend senates to his will, " to hold a restless realm in awe ;" but there is something honorable, useful, and lucrative that every man can do and do well. In a word, every man has some natural aptitude, which, if cultivated, will put him in the way of success- and prosperity. Among the burdens of life, some light and some heavy, there is one that his strength can bear. Among the vocations of men requiring varying degrees of talent and ability, there is always some place for a man of industry and integrity. And to study one's own aptitude, and learn what he can do best, is all there is of choosing a vocation.
One of the chief troubles in society is the fact that so many men are out of their places. They are all the while yearning for some great field of operation in which to exercise their powers. They are not satisisfied to follow out the bias that nature has put in hand and brain. To do that is not to achieve the measure of greatness for which they think they are fitted. It is one of the weaknesses of humanity to be ambitious. Men are continually stretching themselves up into Miltons and Cromwells, Alexanders and Caesars, when they ought to live in contentment low down in life. Ambition is not in itself an evil, but when it leads men beyond their judgment, beyond a sensible appreciation of their powers and abilities, then it becomes a hindrance and not a help to success. One of the greatest blunders that a man can make is to enter upon life without knowing his natural aptitude and cultivating it to the highest possible degree of perfection. To the man who has the soul of music in him, it is the greatest unhappiness to put him into a calling where there would be no chance for him to develop his natural talent. To place the man who is fitted for public speaking in a place where he must work only at hand labor is to cheat the world of an orator and make a human soul unhappy. To place a man who has a• natural bent for business in a place where he is called upon to use some other talents than those with which he is most liberally endowed, is to make of his life-work a dismal failure. And, on the other hand, to put a clumsy, awkward boy, with the strength of a giant and feeble intellectual activity, at the piano to learn music, is to spoil a first-rate farm hand to make a very poor musician. And a man who is an adept at some one of the trades, who can work well at the forge or at the bench or in the paint-shop, always makes a sorry figure when he leaves them for the bar, the pulpit, or the doctor's office. It is, indeed, wondrous how a little religious fervor can transform a successful day-laborer into a useless minister of Christ.
" Above all, the notion that the 'three black graces '—Law, Physic, and Divinity—must be worshipped by the candidate for respectability and honor, has done incalculable damage to society. It has spoiled many a good carpenter, done injustice to the sledge and anvil, cheated the goose and the shears out of their rights, and committed fraud on the corn and potato field. Thousands have died of broken hearts in these professions—thousands who might have been happy at the plow, or opulent behind the counter; thousands, dispirited and hopeless, look upon the healthful and independent calling of the farmer with envy and chagrin ; and thousands more, by a worse fate still, are reduced to necessities which degrade them in their own estimation, rendering the most brilliant success but a wretched compensation for the humiliation with which it is accompanied, and compelling them to grind out of the miseries of their fellow-men the livelihood which is denied to their legitimate exertions. The result of all this is, that the world is full of men who, disgusted with their vocations, getting their living by their weakness instead of by their strength, are doomed to hopeless inferiority."—MATHEWS.
Many of these mistakes in the choice of a vocation are due to the foolish ambition of parents. To a careful observer, it would seem as though the parents of our country were entering into a conspiracy to make their children unhappy for life and put them into positions for which they have no aptitude nor fitness. In their excessive fondness for the children they are filled with an overmastering ambition to have them shine socially or intellectually. Not being sufficiently alert to discover the true bias of the child's mind, they see in their dear children "Some mute inglorious Milton ; some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood." And so they crowd them into some place or profession where 'they can tune their muteness and cease to be inglorious. Parents thus 'fill the minds Of their children with ambitions too great for their talents, and the result is that the child is not content to do what it can do best. In this way the great mistakes are made. In this way :
'All the gates are thronged with suitors,
It is in this way that so much of the mischief of mistaken callings comes. It is in this manner that the way is opened to failure in so many lives. It is in this manner that foolish parents do their children incalculable injury in not leaving them to choose their own vocation along the lines of natural aptitude. We believe that every person has a combination of powers which, if cultivated and led into proper channels, will vouchsafe success. We also believe that this natural bias of mind and effort generally exhibits itself early in childhood. The watchful parent can discover it and give it intelligent direction, if his mind is not beclouded with foolish fondness and ambition. When this bias is once discovered and a proper education has been given, it is hardly possible, and not at all probable that the child can fail when he comes to the active work of life. The greatest kindness, therefore, that the parents can bestow upon the child is to educate the hand and brain to perform useful labor in that line where the child finds the most happiness in work. If your boy has mechanical genius, and can "rig" all sorts of appliances to gate-post and gable, don't smother that talent in Blackstone. If your boy loves to care for the garden and the cow, and his interest is centered in them, why do you urge him continually to go to the pulpit instead of the farm ? If your girl shows marked domestic tendencies, does not care for the school-room, nor the brush, nor any of your ambitions, why do you crowd her out of her natural element? She had better do housework all her days than be a fool in some calling for which she has no liking. If she can draw and loves to paint, by all means encourage her in it. If she shows an early aptitude to be a clerk or do anything useful, in heaven's name encourage it, and do not leave her to rust out in idleness as the " figure-head" of a family. By a little care, children can be led along into a place of toil that shall bring out all their powers and enlist their enthusiasm in happy work. And it is a crime for a foolish parent to push them into a place for which they have no liking and no aptitude. It is a greater shame to fail in a high place than to do honor to a low one. It is a shame to put a two-dollar boy into a two thousand-dollar vocation, and the parent is in a position to know when this is being done. The greatest folly in human life is to over-estimate one's own abilities. The next folly after that is to over-estimate the ability of your child. Nothing can atone for a mistake of this kind. The choosing of a vocation is the greatest turning point in life. The decision once taken is taken forever, and a mistake at this point is a vital mistake from which it is impossible to recover.