Choice of a Profession
One of the most perplexing problems of life is the choice of a profession. Even in India, where the avenues of employment are far fewer, the problem presents many difficulties to our young men. The act of choosing one thing out of many similar ones is in all cases a hard task, and involves much thought, much anxiety, much vacillation, and sometimes, alas ! much repentance too. The reason for all this is that every one desires to make the best choice—to enter a profession which may at once place him above want, and even raise him to opulence : and hence the choice of a profession is often attended with the same kind of suspense, the same kind of trembling solicitude with which a gambler, for instance, makes a throw of dice, putting a heavy stake upon it.
The choice of a profession is indeed a momentous step in one’s life. On it depends not only one’s happiness in life, not only one’s position in society, but also one’s out turn of real, useful work. There can be no question that many men fail, not from want of ability, nor from lack of honesty, nor by reason of indolence, but owing chiefly to an unfortunate choice of a profession. There is such a thing as fitness and aptitude, and it is often the case that men fail to perceive their natural leanings early enough in life, and so make a wrong choice of their profession, then struggle with difficulties, find it too late to change, and ultimately prove failures in life. A boy has a mechanical turn of mind, but his parents long to see him a successful lawyer. The boy reads Law, struggles with the difficulties of that abstruse study, enters the legal profession, and either finds no work coming to him, or feels the work that does come most uncongenial and repulsive. Naturally he can-not do it well, and the result is that he fails as a lawyer. Sometimes it is not the parents, but the young man himself, whose ambition brings about such a catastrophe.
The cardinal principle underlying the choice of a profession should thus seem to be the principle of natural taste and aptitude. A young man should take up that calling for which he does feel a real calling—a summons, as it were, from above, commanding or inviting him to employ his time in doing such and such work for mankind. But young men are so easily led away by sentiment that the principle of natural taste and aptitude is not always a safe guide. For there are true sentiments and false sentiments, inborn propensities and momentary impulses, and the chances of confounding these are very great in youth. A young man comes into contact with a brilliant lawyer, hears him deliver impassioned orations on some current political topic, and is so charmed that he is at once fired with the ambition of becoming a politician, and “serving his mother country by pleading her cause,” and so on, as the set phrases go. He makes haste to study law, is somehow able to scrape through the examination, and has no sooner set up his sign-board than he joins some local political party, and learns to imitate the canting style of half-fledged politicians. It all goes very well for some time; but while the stream of political oratory flows full and free, the channels of legal practice become gradually dry, and the main source of livelihood gets stopped altogether. Then, perhaps, when it is too late to recede and start anew, does the young enthusiast feel that the choice he made was an unwise one, that he was carried away by a fit of admiration without sufficiently weighing his own circumstances.
For it is man’s circumstances that constitute another powerful factor in the choice of a profession. Cases are known in which sons of very poor parents have blundered by choosing profession beyond their means. It was with the greatest difficulty that such men could complete their education; some of them had to depend upon charity for their school or college fees; and yet, after taking their degree, they aspired to become lawyers, not knowing that the profession of law cannot be commenced with an empty purse. Lawyers they did become, so far as passing the examination went; but legal practice does not in these days come like a shower of rain from the skies; a young fellow has to wait and to live on his own resources for a pretty length of time before he begins to earn anything. Having no resources of their own, such lawyers were eager to make money by any means; starvation stared them in the face; and in their distress they stooped down to foul practices just to earn a few rupees to live upon. They sacrificed their character for the sake of their stomach. All their education was wasted upon them. Now, this would not have happened if in choosing their career they had consulted their own means. Men of slender means ought not to aim high, —not at least in the beginning. There is no shame attaching to humble occupations, which serve as excellent stepping stones to rank and distinction.
Another great mistake which is common in India in connection with the choice of a profession, is that the very thought of a choice is deferred until the very end of the young man’s education. Instead of a boy’s receiving an education befitting the profession he wishes to enter, his profession is made to adapt itself to the education he has already received. The result is that not only is a young man made to turn from one thing to another several times, but, as has been stated above, the danger of making an ill-considered choice is multiplied. A change from one profession to another means, in most cases, a change for the worse, because, apart from other evils, it involves at least the evil of making a new beginning each time; and new beginnings are always beset with difficulties. The proper thing therefore is to determine the career of a boy as soon as his elementary education is over, and to mould his subsequent education in accordance with it, and trust, not to chance, but to the boy’s own profession and aptitude and the excellence of his training for profession and prosperity in his profession.
There is one profession in India which has not received that attention from our youth which its importance deserves, —viz, the profession of teaching. The chief reason of this neglect is that a teacher’s career does not offer such chances of rising to eminence as the more lucrative profession of law or medicine. But chances of distinction never go to fifth-rate men; they are monopolized by the best intellects; and if the best intellects choose to discard the teaching profession, it is left to be crowded by mediocrities or worse men, who naturally lack those qualities that make for conspicuous success in any profession. The reason why the teaching profession offers no chances of eminence is that the best men do not care to enter it. Every lawyer or Doctor is not a man of eminence; so, every teacher may not be an obscure creature. It depends upon the man, not upon his profession what he is in later life—a man of prominence or an unnoted name.
After all, the probable earnings of a profession ought not to be its sole attraction. Money is not the only valuable thing on earth : there are things more valuable still,—peace and happiness, to which money is only a means. And if you com-pare the peace and happiness of a teacher’s life with the thou-sand shocks which the lawyer’s flesh is heir to, many of you will go in for the humbler in preference to the higher. We make the mistake of viewing the teacher’s comparative poverty, and ignoring his ‘rich share of peace and happiness, and we therefore turn from it in disgust. Similarly in looking at the legal profession we cast longing eyes upon the successful practitioner’s wealth and splendour, and do not see the hard toil he has to undergo, nor the cares and disappointments that beset him; we also do not visualize the brief less lawyer pining away for want of work, and running from place to place in search of a mouthful of crumbs to appease the gnawing’s of hunger; and we are fascinated and dazzled, and want to be-come lawyers. We do not make a full comparison, and are therefore partial and one-sided in our judgment.
The teacher’s profession is one of the most patriotic labours that any ,man can undertake in India. The task of enabling young minds to perceive the truth, to recognize their duties, to lead their lives aright, is a task the nobility of which cannot be compared with the brightest glories of the legal or medical profession, nor the overflowing coffers of the successful business man.