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.
As the sculptor chips the marble he keeps his model
constantly in sight. No stroke of the painter’s brush is made without
reference to his sketch. The author’s every sentence is written with his
outline in mind.
If one of you were cutting a garment you would pin your
cloth to the pattern and be very careful that your shears did not go
here and there aimlessly, or cut a piece too wide or too narrow, or cut
out of proportion or relation to the whole. And yet many a young woman
is trying to fashion that most stupendous thing, a character, that most
marvelous thing, an effective and noble life, without a pattern. Her
shears are running everywhere and nowhere, her chisel is gouging and
defacing, or is idle; her picture has no central figure, or no
Such a young woman should begin at once to possess herself
of a pattern! She should stop her aimless and defacing hacking, and
begin to chisel by rule.
Don’t hesitate to set perfection as your standard. If you
never reach it you will get much higher than those whose aims are lower.
And write this sentence in your minds in letters of fire so that they
will become a part of your inmost consciousness: You will never be
larger than your thought.
Little patterns make little productions; uncertain
patterns bring forth uncertain results; half-patterns give
half-realizations. A perfect thing must have a perfect pattern.
Imagination is nearly always spoken of by the unthinking
as a misty and unimportant thing, or is regarded as reprehensible.
“Don’t let your imagination run away with you” is a sentence that has
chilled, if not checked, the enthusiasm of most of us. But imagination
is the master-builder of your most satisfactory life-structure, and when
it “runs away with” you, it becomes the most powerful dynamic in the
What does imagination mean? Imaging, building a
thought-pattern, a mental model, an ideal.
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,”
asserts Emerson. Imagination is enthusiasm’s vital principle, its inward
life, its kindling fire.
We have the electric telegraph and the submarine cable
because imagination gave Samuel Morse and Cyrus Field no rest till the
world-revolutionizing messages were clicked and flashed out in
intelligible signs. We ride, and cook our food, and light our homes by
electricity because imagination gripped Moses Farmer and Edison. The Red
Cross and the White Cross movements, and many other things of worldwide
worth, came into existence because in the minds and souls of such women
as Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale and Jennie Collins imagination
refused to be bridled.
Never be afraid of imagination!
The second rule of life should be: Focus your energies. I
believe it is an entirely demonstratable fact that more failures in life
have been caused by want of direct aim and concentration than by lack
of ability or opportunity. In every life which is to be a success the
less must always be sacrificed to the greater.
It may be urged that there are professions, such as those
of the author, the painter, the musician, that can yield a livelihood
only after years of toil, and that in the meantime a young woman must
engage in other occupations to earn her daily bread. True!
But if she keeps her main object steadily in view, keeps
working toward it in spare hours by the occasional story or sketch, the
sometimes picture, the interspersed hour of music, and by the
conscientious performance of her enforced, bread-winning duties, learns
consecration, and absorbs whatever knowledge comes by her touch with a
side of life different from that which she has chosen, she will
ultimately attain her goal.
In no life can any kind of knowledge come amiss. One must
live worthily and widely before her pen or brush or bow can speak
intelligently and worthily of worthy and wide things.
Clearly, the life I describe is a hard and strenuous one.
But the work one loves, and which is born hers, hard and strenuous
though it may be, is the most satisfying thing which will ever come to
Those who have chosen the careers that have chosen them
will bear testimony to this truth. True living and real achieving can
never be anything but earnest work, but it may be very far removed from
And if you watch other lives you will learn, as every
careful observer must, that one bears far less hardship in living the
life of soul-whiteness and effective accomplishment than in trailing out
a careless, heart-spotted existence, which leads to no desirable goal.
The way of the transgressor of any law of holiness, of constancy, of
courtesy, is hard. Life everywhere proves this.
The man who seeks for precious gems digs no deeper, fares
no harder, waits no later, than he who delves after common stones, but
in the end the one with the higher goal holds in his hand not merely a
pretty rock—but a diamond!
Frances Willard, born Frances Elizabeth Caroline
Willard (1839-1898), was one of the most influential women in 19th
century America. She worked tirelessly to bring about social reform in
this country and around the world. Her efforts were instrumental in
securing the passage of the 18th (Prohibition) and 19th (Women Suffrage)
Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Willard was born in Churchville, New York, but spent
most of her childhood on a farm in southeastern Wisconsin. When she was
18, she moved to Evanston, Illinois, to attend Northwestern Female
College. After graduation in 1959, she became an instructor at the
college and was appointed its president in 1871.
Willard helped organize the Chicago chapter of the
Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), an organization dedicated to
persuading all states to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages, and
became its president in 1874. Five years later she was named president
of the national organization, a position she held for the remainder of
In 1883, Willard formed the World’s WCTU and was
elected its president in 1888. Under her leadership, it grew to be one
of the largest organizations of women in the century.