Ralph Waldo Emerson on Resilience

I read the following excerpt from Emerson in Linchpin by Seth Godin. The book is worth reading for anyone who wants to have the career they deserve – and who wants to do work that matters.

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not “studying a profession,” for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Isn’t it funny how some of the most talented people are also the ones who worry the most about their careers? I see it all the time when I interview high school seniors who are applying to my alma mater – the kids with the best grades and the best test scores and the best high school resumes always seem to be the most stressed out about getting into the “right” college.

Four years later the stress continues, as these same kids, now a little older, stress out about getting into law school or medical school or the “right” career path. (Of course, the job market is terrible right now for new college grads, so maybe everyone is feeling the same kind of stress these days.)

I think in the future we’re going to see a different standard for success. It’s not about getting into a profession anymore – the professions have lost some of their cachet. Don’t be a doctor because you want to impress people or earn a big salary; there are better paying occupations that don’t require 10 years of schooling. Don’t be a lawyer because you think it’s the only way to have a “reputable” career – most lawyers hate their lives. And don’t expect to start out on one perfect career path the month after you graduate from college. Life is more complicated than that – and the most “successful” people, in the long run, are the ones who can try multiple things and bounce back from adversity and keep landing on their feet. It was true in Emerson’s day and it’s true today.

Comments are closed.