And, at the very beginning, Nature writes upon the tablet of your inner consciousness an inventory of your strengths and of your weaknesses, and lists there those tasks which you are best fitted to perform—those tasks which Nature meant you to perform. For Nature put you here to do something; you were not born to be an ornament.
First, then, learn your limitations. Take time enough to think out just what you cannot do. This process of elimination will soon reduce life’s possibilities for you to a few things. Of these things select the one which is nearest you, and, having selected it, put all other loves from you.
It is a business maxim in my profession that “law is a jealous mistress.” It is very true, but it is not more true than it is that every other calling in life is a jealous mistress. To every man his task is the hardest, his situation the most difficult.
By finding out one’s limitations is not meant, of course, what society will permit you to do, or what men will permit you to do, but what Nature will permit you to do. You have no other master than Nature. Nature’s limitations only are the bounds of your success. So far as your success is concerned, no man, no set of men, no society, not even all the world of humanity, is your master; but Nature is. “We cannot,” says Emerson, “bandy words with Nature, or deal with her as we deal with persons.”
“Poeta nascitur, non fit,” is just as applicable to lawyers and mechanics and engineers as to poets. More failures have been caused by the old idea that a man may make himself what he will, than by any single half-truth that has crept into our common speech and belief. A man may make himself what he will within the limitations Nature has set about him.
“When I was born,
From all the seas of strength
Fate filled a chalice,
Saying, This be thy portion, child,”
declares the Persian sage. But all that Hafiz means by that is that a Paderewski shall not attempt blacksmithing, or a Rothschild try cartooning or sculpture or watchmaking, or any man undertake that for which Nature has not fitted him.
Do we not see instances every day of men made unhappy for life, and their powers lost to the world by trying to do that for which they have no aptitude? Parents obeying the attractive theory that any boy can make himself what he pleases decide upon some ambitious career for him without considering his natural abilities and efficiencies. Usually some calling of clamorous conspicuity is selected.
Twenty years ago the law was the favorite avenue upon which fond parents would thus set the feet of their offspring; the law, they thought, would enable him better to “make his mark”—that is, to parade up and down before the public eye and fill the public ear with declamation. Even yet that profession has clientless members, miserable in their hearts over their self-consciousness that they are not lawyers and never can be lawyers, who would have been useful, prosperous, and happy if they could have been permitted to be architects or merchants or farmers or doctors or soldiers or sculptors or editors or what not.