Willard, Frances Elizabeth, 1839-1898. / Occupations for women: a book of practical suggestions for the material advancement, the mental and physical development, and the moral and spiritual uplift of women (1897)
[chapter xii][p. 84]
LET no girl dream that this question will ever be adequately and conscientiously answered except by her own heart. No time is ever more uselessly employed than in listening to advice on this subject. "The soul's emphasis is always right," declares Emerson. He might as truthfully have added 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.
And satisfaction and success are twin gods which walk together like a man and his shadow.
Every girl wants a career which will bring success. And what is success? 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 of a poorly remunerated literary toiler, with whom I was speaking of one of the buyers in a large dry goods establishment, who received as salary several thousand dollars a year. "Never!" was the quick reply. "I should rather write for three dollars 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 truly a success for the other. The shivering, starving, disappointed life of 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 Vanderbilt millions, had he been obliged to employ Vanderbilt methods to secure them. [p. 85] Think you that to Audubon, to whom to know every bird of the forest by the shade of its feathers or the fibre of its notes was knowledge of utmost importance, the splendid triumphs of 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 which has chosen you. The work which means success to you. In this choice lies your only safety, since there is no real dynamic power outside of one's soul.
Most of us have seen a disabled locomotive propelled along the track. It took a dozen men to move it, and then the progress was exceedingly slow, and ineffective. How different were its movements from those of an engine whose motive power came from the boiler!
The talent is the call,'' --a call which can remain unheeded only with the direst results.
Supposing the literary worker, tempted by visions of gain, had attempted a commercial life? or the buyer of fabrics, instigated by thoughts of fame, had undertaken to become a writer? What if Millet had essayed a mercantile career? Audubon to master the secrets of electricity? Edison to become a naturalist? The chances are a million to one that each would have met with complete financial failure, and missed satisfaction as well, because she or he was attempting work which was not born hers or his.
Did you ever try to care for a stranger's child? In two hours probably you were irritated, exhausted, and too impatient to take the measures which might have most effectively assisted in your assumed task. To the mother of the child even the labor of caring for it was dear, and her endeavors to develop it a work of love. It was not born yours; it was born hers.
No one can effectively handle that which does not belong to him. Pythagoras the learned had no wiser rule than this That which concerns me I will attend to. "That which concerns me not I will let alone."
"Well," said a character in one of Sophie May's books, "I have done what I could." "Ah, no," replied her sister, "you have done what you couldn't." This girl had turned away from the things she really could do to advantage, and had written a book, not because she had a talent for writing or anything to say, but because she considered writing "genteel."
Don't let your career be wrecked, girls, as so many careers have been, on the rock of gentility. Remember that work to be really genteel must be genteelly done; that it is not the occupation itself, but the manner of handling it which makes it fine or unfine work. The book which the born milliner writes will not be a fine book. The bonnet which the appointed poet trims will not rank among [p. 86] works of art. Many a girl can handle cooking utensils genteelly whose picture would be a bungle. Many a splendid stenographer would distract the neighborhood by her music.
The first rule of life should be, Work according to your ideals.
One day two women, who were driving in a New Hampshire town, rode up to the door of a farmhouse to ask for information about routes. While the lady of the house stood by the carriage, a man was seen approaching whose costume bore but a faint resemblance to anything usually worn by mortals. There was a decided discrepancy in the size of the trousers legs, the shape of the coat sleeves was like nothing in particular, the vest was like no other vest the beholders had ever seen.
"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 question.
"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," said a young woman to me one day; a remark which was but the repetition of the same complaint uttered or written in many different phrases by many different people--people who were simply seeking relief by the outpouring of their doubts and fears, or asking comfort and counsel.
After the girl whose life was a misfit had taken her departure, I gave my mind up to the possible solution of the riddle why so many were finding existence inadequate, ineffective, unsatisfactory; and the conviction was forced upon me that the disaster was, in many cases, due to the same cause which clothed Johnson so uncouthly--want of patterns.
Did one of you ever know of anybody accomplishing 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 written. 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, is it not? 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 [p. 87] 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 girl 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 consistency.
Is it not as clear as possible that such a girl should begin at once to possess herself of a pattern? That she should stop her aimless and defacing hacking, and begin to chisel by rule?
And don't hesitate, girls, to set your standard at perfection point. 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 that they may brand themselves in, and 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 which has chilled, if not checked, the enthusiasm of most of us. But imagination is really the master-builder of one's most satisfactory life-structure, and when it "runs away with" one, becomes the most powerful dynamic in the world. 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. Imagination "ran away with" Peter thee Hermit, and across a continent tramped, with great loss and terrible suffering, thousands of people, following an illiterate and hitherto unknown man who had magnetized himself and his followers by the thought-pattern of the Christ tomb free from Moslem possession. Carthage fell and Rome became supreme because imagination "ran away with" Cato in picturing the destruction of the African metropolis, and kept zeal at white heat till the rival of the Eternal City was demolished. We have the electric telegraph and the submarine cable because imagination took the bits in her teeth and gave Samuel Morse and Cyrus Field no rest till the world-revolutionizing messages were clicked and flashed out intelligible signs. We ride, and cook our food, and light our homes by electricity because imagination got on so unstoppable a canter with Moses Farmer and Edison. The Red Cross and the White Cross movements, and many other things of world-wide 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.[p. 88]
Never be afraid of imagination!
The second rule of life should be, Focus your energies. I believe it is an entirely demonstrable fact that more failures in life have been caused by want of direct aim and concentration than by lack of ability or opportunity.
Through many lands, broad as a lake, majestic as an ocean, flows the Mississippi River, bearing on its bosom many crafts for human transportation and the carriage of freight. What if its volume was dissipated by flowings into smaller rivers, by emptyings into lakes, by drainings into creeks? It would soon lose its majesty, and become a comparatively useless and entirely inadequate body of water. Its might and power lie in concentration of volume and a straight onward flow.
In every life which is to be a success the less must always be sacrificed to the greater. No one can have a Mississippi and all the little lakes and rivers and creeks beside.
It may be urged that there are professions, such as those of time author, the painter, the musician, which can be attained to in a measure which will yield a livelihood only after years of toil, and that in the meantime the poor girl's power must flow out into side-streams, that she may earn 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 as the life--if she does this, she will find these side-occupations not streams flowing from but toward her Mississippi, increasing its volume and augmenting its might.
In no life can any kind of knowledge come amiss. She who writes in the deepest and most comprehensive vein, she who paints the things nearest to reality, she who most potently touches the human heart by her voice or touch on the instrument, is she who has seen most of life, mingled most with the people, felt most the throbbing of human heart-beats. There must be something to write about, something to put on canvas, something to inspirit the music. One must live worthily and widely before her pen or brush or bow can speak intelligently and worthily of worthy and wide things.
Do you say, girls, that I have suggested a hard and strenuous life? Yes, 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 her. The world over those who have chosen the careers which 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 unpleasantness. And if you watch other lives you will learn, as every careful observer must, that one bears far less [p. 89] 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 diamonds digs no deeper, fares no harder, waits no later, than he who delves after common stones, but in the end he holds in his hand nothing less than a diamond!
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