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, Self-Reliance
4 thoughts on “Self-Reliance”
My sister and I were discussing our grandfather in these terms just last night. He was very smart and very poor, growing up in a nowhere rural area. He took the post office exams and got a job sorting mail on trains (which used to pick up and drop off mail at every little town). He went to “normal” (teacher training) school for 6 weeks (!) and became a country schoolteacher for a while. He bought a couple of lawbooks, ran for office, and was justice of the peace for a time. He took a job with the state highways department, built the Pennsylvania turnpike, and became a registered engineer (an exam that many engineering school grads flunk) without formal training. He kept working past 65 and died before he got a chance to read all the history books he acquired for his retirement pleasure.
And he also gave us change to spend in the candy store.
I love this story! Thank you so much for sharing it with me.
I love your insight, Greg ;o)
Thanks, though of course it’s not mine, it’s Emerson’s. And he also hated quoting others, which makes me seem less self-reliant than he would have advocated for, I suppose. 😉