Let no woman dream that the question of what career to
pursue will ever be adequately answered except by her own heart. No time
is more uselessly employed than in listening to advice on this subject.
Ralph Waldo Emerson declared, “The soul’s emphasis is always right,”
and I would add that the emphasis of any soul, the decision of any mind
except one’s own is far more likely to work disaster than to bring
satisfaction or success.
Yet every girl wants a career that will bring success. The
difficulty is in determining what that means, for to scarcely two
people in the world would it be represented by the same thing.
“Would you exchange places with that woman, performing her
duties and receiving her income?” I asked a poorly remunerated literary
toiler, in reference to one of the buyers in a large dry goods
establishment, who earned several thousand dollars a year.
“Never!” was the quick reply. “I should rather write for
$3 a week than to bargain for fabrics and faces at a hundred.’”
No amount of money, on the one hand, or of literary
creation, however largely rewarded, on the other, would have made the
work of one of these women a success for the other.
The shivering, starving, disappointed life of the artist
Jean-François Millet, whose hardships continued till nearly the end of
his days, was to the painter of The Angelus a greater success
than would have been represented by the millions made by industrialist
Cornelius Vanderbilt, had he been obliged to employ Vanderbilt’s methods
to secure them.
Do you think that to ornithologist John James Audubon, to
whom knowing every bird of the forest by the shade of its feathers or
the fibre of its notes was of utmost importance, the splendid triumphs
of inventor Thomas Edison would have meant success? And to the master of
the lightning what could have seemed less like success than to become
accurately acquainted with the habits of birds?
Success is ever an individual thing.
What career shall you choose? The career that has chosen
you—the work that means success to you. In this choice lies your only
safety, since there is no real dynamic power outside one’s soul.
The talent is the call, a call that can remain unheeded
only with the direst results.
Suppose that the literary worker, tempted by visions of
gain, had attempted a commercial life? Or that the buyer of fabrics,
motivated by thoughts of fame, had undertaken to become a writer?
What if Millet had chosen a mercantile career? Audubon to
master the secrets of electricity? Edison to become a naturalist? The
chances are that each would have met with complete financial failure and
missed satisfaction as well because the person was attempting work he
or she was not born to do.
No one can effectively handle that which does not belong
to him. Pythagoras, the learned philosopher and mathematician, had no
wiser rule than this: “That which concerns me I will attend to. That
which concerns me not I will let alone.”
Some women are tempted to choose a career because they
believe the work is genteel. Remember that to be truly genteel, work
must be genteelly done; that it is not the occupation itself, but the
manner of handling it that makes it fine or unfine work.
A book written by a born milliner will not be a fine book.
A bonnet trimmed by one appointed to be a poet will not rank among
works of art. Many a girl can handle cooking utensils genteelly whose
painting would be a bungle. Many a splendid stenographer would distract
the neighborhood by her music.
The Rules of Life
The first rule of life should be: Work according to your
One day two women, who were driving in a New Hampshire
town, rode up to the door of a farmhouse to ask for directions. While
the lady of the house stood by their carriage, a man approached whose
outfit bore but a faint resemblance to anything usually worn by mortals.
“Where,” asked one of the ladies respectfully, “does your
husband get his clothes?”
“I make ‘em,” was the reply.
‘’And where do you get your patterns?” was the next
“Oh,” answered the wife, “ I don’t bother with patterns. I
just glance at Johnson once in a while and cut.”
“Life is all a misfit,” a young woman said to me one day,
expressing a feeling experienced by a number of people who had sought my
counsel. After she had taken her departure, I pondered why so many were
finding existence inadequate, ineffective and unsatisfactory. I
realized that the disaster was, in many cases, due to the same cause
that clothed Johnson so uncouthly: want of patterns.
Have you ever known of anyone who accomplished a
satisfactory piece of work without a pattern? Everything, from the
largest to the least, that grows under the hand of the sculptor or
painter, is formed from a model, which is either actualized or in the
mind. The story, the play, the essay, exist in outline before they are
You could not fashion the simplest gown nor cut the
plainest apron without either a material or a mental pattern. If you
tried to do this you would inevitably produce a shapeless and partially
or wholly useless thing.
The entire world owes its strength, its utility, its
beauty, its “every good and perfect gift,” to patterns, or ideals. What
is a pattern? Something to fashion after and compare with.