A little nephew of ours said he wanted to be a ditch-digger. Asked why, he said: “So I can wear dirty clothes, smoke a pipe, and spit tobacco juice in the street.” The little fellow is really endowed with an inheritance of great natural refinement and a splendid intellect. As he grows older, his ideals will change and he will discover there is much to ditch-digging besides wearing dirty clothes, smoking a pipe, and expectorating on the public highways. He will also learn that there are things in life far more desirable than these glorious privileges. Of course, these are mere boyish exuberances, and most people do not take them seriously. On the other hand, they illustrate the unwisdom of trusting to the unguided preferences of a youthful mind. The average young man of twenty is only a little more mature than a boy of ten. He still lacks experience and balance.
Those of us who have passed the two-score mark well know how tastes change, judgments grow more mature, ideas develop, and experience softens, ripens or hardens sentiment as the years go by. It is unquestionably true that if children were given full opportunity to develop their tastes and to express themselves in various ways and then given freedom of choice of their vocations, they would choose more wisely than they do under ignorant, prejudiced, or mistaken judgments of parent or teacher. Yet the tragedy of thousands of lives shows how unscientific it is to leave the choice of vocation to the unguided instincts of an immature mind.
Boys and girls often choose their careers because some popular friend or associate exerts an undue influence upon them. George is going to be a doctor. Therefore Joseph decides he, too, will be a doctor. Mary looks forward to being a teacher. Mary is the very intimate chum of Josephine. Then Josephine decides, also, that she is going to be a teacher. We knew one earnest and popular young man in college who persuaded about three dozen of his associates to join him in preparation for the foreign mission field. In one class in college a fad caused several young men to lose good opportunities because they decided to take up the practice of medicine. In one high school class, several young men became railroad employees because the most popular of their number yearned to drive a locomotive. And this enterprising youth, with parental guidance and assistance, became a lawyer.
Parental bad judgment is one of the most frequent causes of misfits. Even when parents are sincere and try to be wise, choice of a child’s life work is very difficult for them. In the first place, they either underestimate or overestimate their children. What parent, worthy of the high privilege, can be absolutely impartial in judging the talents of his child? Arthur Brisbane says that Nature makes every baby look like a genius in his mother’s eyes, so that she will gladly sacrifice her life, if necessary, for her child. It may be a wise provision, but it does not tend to make parents reliable guides to vocations for their offspring.