What should I be when I grow up? How can I reach the place in the world’s work to which I aspire? You have doubtless asked such questions of yourselves many a time. And perhaps you have put questions like these in serious moments to your parents, teachers, club-leaders, or other grown-up friends.
Surely, no problems in life are more important to think about, and yet none more fascinating to work on. There is no game or sport which can be followed with more stimulating delight and profit than that of playing Columbus, as it were, to your undiscovered powers and opportunities; of acting explorer in search of your own best field in the vast area of the world’s business. The more you care about such matters the more interesting do your daily tasks in home and school become, and if you greatly care, you will find a fresh zest in everything you do, whether it be work or play.
The Busy World
The truth is that every healthy boy or girl wants to amount to something. You respect, as a matter of course, those who are doing any useful work, whether they be in humble or conspicuous places, and you find that everybody else respects them, too. All about you men and women are busy doing many interesting things. High ways on land and sea are alive with the comings and goings of people; fertile farms are sending food to the cities; while slender wires across hill, plain and street and even the unseen forces of the air, are tingling with the messages of a busy world. Many a time you have watched your teacher in the classroom or on the playground and admired the sympathy and skill with which his day’s program has been carried through. The mechanic’s sure dexterity, the doctor’s modest, reassuring presence, the lawyer’s practical sense, the nurse in the sick-room gently carrying rest and relief to the patient, the locomotive engineer piloting the thundering engine and a precious human cargo along the shining rails, and the countless thousands of other workers in thousands of other employments have appealed to your imagination and have stirred you with visions of a universe of active service. No doubt you have pictured yourself now and again as one of these workers, and the thought has filled you with enthusiasm.
The Great Price of Success
Now these busy, useful toilers and servants of man kind once were boys and girls just as you are, and they, too, watched grown-up people in their work. They, too, dreamed of a place in the stirring life all about them and thought of what they would like to be when they were ready to go out in the world. They played their games, enjoyed the companionship of their fellows, studied their lessons, and as they grew up they thought more and more seriously about their future work. If these people you admire should talk to you in person, they would tell you of days and nights of hard study, serious reading, arduous labor, and often times disappointment, while they were on the way to the fulfilment of their ambitions. They would say also that despite handicaps and setbacks an unflinching purpose carried them through all trials. Their skill and success never came easily. For every bit of achievement they paid the price of toil and determination. And because toil and a purpose which knows no turning aside are forever the conditions of achievement, these honored workers would, if they could see you face to face, plead with you to look upon the golden days of your youthful health and strength as the time of richest opportunity, as the seed-time of manhood’s and woman hood’s harvest.
The Signs of Greatness
A wise man has pointed out a striking fact in the biographies of the men and women whom the world is glad to honor. The early youth of many of the world’s famous men and women shows a rare strength and singleness of purpose. Although they played as all children should do, and keenly enjoyed their leisure hours, there was often something striking, something amazing in the earnestness and intelligence with which they went about their tasks. There seemed to be some hidden source of power from which they drew strength to do their work well. There was persistence, and inspired energy in their work and conduct. What was this inner stream which flowed through their lives and seemed to bathe their thoughts and acts with strength and made their being-alive a blessing to the world.
Marching to Their Goal
A purpose to amount to something, to be something among the thinkers and doers, this is the keynote in the lives of those whose names are written large in human annals. While yet young, they had set a goal before themselves which they intended to gain, and the determination to win their goal was the compass by which they steered their lives through all trials. While their companions drifted along without much concern, often indifferent to what was going on all about them, these purposeful boys and girls who later achieved distinction were keenly interested in their surroundings and were always trying out their own abilities. They marched ahead to the place which they had set their hearts on as the one place in which they could best serve their fellows. The road was not always smooth. We know in deed how stony it was for some. Even to get the schooling which they so much wanted, many of them had to do all sorts of hard work outside, so as to pay for their books and clothing, and help out struggling poor parents at home. But they were glad to do such work, however painful, because they were marching on to their goal.
An Exploration Through a Wilderness
We think carelessly about what we call success. How many boys and girls could really define this very hazy word and bring out the idea of struggle and great exertion which success has always meant in the careers of those whose names are cherished in history? In a care less manner we are prone to judge success by its glamours and show. We look only at the accomplishment and frequently forget the steps which have gone before. Nothing could be more misleading. Success is not a simple result, a finished thing by itself. Success is no more simple than is life. It is a sum, an addition of light and shade, ups and downs, pain and joy, want and plenty, de feat and triumph. Achievement is never like a canoe- trip on placid water; it is more like an exploration through a wilderness with toil and sacrifice as common incidents, necessary in the making of the true explorer.
Every genuinely successful life makes it easier for others to live successful lives, just as the work of the first explorer opens the way for others to follow with less difficulty. And because of this service for those who come later, the earnest pioneer is willing to take the scars and the sufferings, which are of minor importance in view of the help which all pioneer work brings to the world. It is good for us to keep in mind our debt to the great workers and pioneers; to the writers who have given us books as lamps for our thoughts, to the inventors whose tools do in minutes the work men used to take days to do, and to all who in character and service have shown how life is to be lived. We owe much to these forerunners and can repay them in one way only—by remembering that we, too, are the forerunners of those to come and that we have a pioneer work to do.
Your future careers are virgin continents which await your blazing of trails; your tools for this expedition are the habits, character, intelligence, knowledge, and determination which you have or develop. Every boy or girl has a pioneer mission ahead, a mission which lasts as long as strength lasts, a mission to explore and bring to light whatever hidden gold of talent and service there may be concealed within the undiscovered territory of his or her own gifts and powers.
A Chart for Young Explorers
To plan, therefore, for your future is to do genuine work of exploration. You will need something of the explorer’s fortitude, hopefulness, and great purpose. But at all stages you will have the explorer’s satisfaction of opening up new pathways, of finding by the way novel sights and refreshing experiences. You will not mind rebuffs, because you know that each setback only hardens you for more effective effort, and with each new effort other efforts grow the lighter. The aim of the chapters which follow is to help equip you for the great voyage of discovery which it is your good fortune to undertake, for a trip among the occupations of the world in order to discover where you will be of greatest use to yourself and to your fellows. The next two or three chapters deal with some of the serious questions which arise when we neglect to plan and prepare for life’s voyage, while the main portion of the book will try to give a sort of compass and navigator’s chart in the hope that the boys and girls who read it seriously will find it easier to set out in quest of the place which their energy, training and ability entitle them to have and to hold.