Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 2: The Need of Vocations

The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 2: The Need of Vocations

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 02, 2011

For background and links to chapters in this series, see here



Not long ago I saw a policeman walk up to a shabby and none-too-clean man who was leaning against a lamp post on a street corner and ask him what his business was. When the leaner replied that he had none the policeman said: “You will have to come with me, then, and do some explaining,” and off they went together leaving me wondering,.”What,” thought I to myself, “does a man need to have some business or be ind anger of being ‘run in’ by a policeman?” After a good deal of thinking on the subject I have come to the conclusion that the law is just in requiring everyone to have some means of support. Every man should do his share of the work of the world. Then the thought came, why should he not also be required to be trained for some specific piece of work for which he is adapted, and not allowed to go drifting through the world as a sort of misfit who is not able to earn a respectable living for himself and those dependent on him, let alone adding to the general wealth and welfare of the world? How much greater is the possible achievement of a man with a job for which he is trained than is that of the jack-of-all-trades with training for none.

Undivided Work

In the days when men’s activities were not as complex as they now are, it was not difficult for a single individual to do any of the work necessary for the comfort of himself and family. People in pioneer days could very easily live the simple life; they had no large cities but lived in small communities or as individual families scattered over the land. Every man could hunt, till the soil, build a house, or do whatever else that contributed to his welfare. Specialization was not necessary since there was no great competition, and people could live almost independent of one another. Under these conditions it was a matter of pride that a man could do anything, and a person who knew how to do but one thing was held in contempt.

This condition is found today in many of the less civilized countries of the world. There is little difference in the work done by the various members of an Indian village existing in its native state; about the only division of labor is based on sex or age.

Modern Society Complex

The numerous inventions made during the past century have revolutionized methods of living, especially in centers of population. with the utilization of steam as power, and later with the development of the automobile and flying machine, it became possible to travel in a few days distances that had previously required months; the telegraph, the telephone and the radio have entirely changed methods of communication. Modern machinery renders easy tasks that were impossible when hand labor was used. The discoveries recently made in the fields of physics, chemistry, and biology have completely changed many of the old industries and have made possible numerous new ones. These discoveries have also changed methods of living, of preserving health, and of fighting disease.

Under modern conditions more people can enjoy the comforts and luxuries of life than formerly. Education is much more general and the average individual has greater opportunity to travel and to learn than ever before in the history of the world.

The Division of Labor

This complex condition has made necessary the division of labor. One man can no longer do all of the kinds of work that are to be done in a single community; specialists must be developed. where great competition is encountered, division of labor reaches its highest point. In a small village a man may transact a number of kinds of business. He may keep the post office; his business may include merchandizing and banking; he may run the local hotel; and he may also operate a farm. As the volume of trade increases and competition becomes keener, he may eliminate certain phases of his business and pay more attention to others. He may drop the post office, then the bank and hotel, and confine himself to selling merchandise; later he may even need to divide his store and specialize on drugs, shoes, groceries, or dry goods.

The jack-of-all-trades is not usually a prosperous individual these days. It is better for a man to centralize his ability rather than to disperse his energies over too wide a field. One of these do-everything workmen, who represents the type, said that he could make anything but a living. There may have been, and probably still is, a demand for a few individuals who are handy at all kinds of jobs, but such persons as a rule receive only scant pay.

There are at least three good reasons for a division of labor: First, much greater proficiency can be obtained if a person studies thoroughly one subject, or does one kind of work. And individual who should try to do legal work, practice medicine, operate a farm, sell merchandise and build his own house, would probably know but little about any of them. In modern times so much is known about each business and profession that a person finds difficulty in mastering one of them, without trying to learn all about several.

A second reason for dividing the work of the world is that people differ int heir dispositions and natural abilities. Caruso easily became a singer, whereas Edison turned naturally to invention. One person is gifted in music or art, another seems adapted to business, while a third is interested in machinery. Thus by dividing the activities of the world each man may do the work for which he is best suited.

The fact that a person can spend his time more economically when not trying to do too many kinds of work may be considered a third reason for division of labor. Even if all had the same ability and training, it would still be advisable to divide the work of the world into different occupations. A person who spent a few hours working in the field, a few more working in a factory, and the rest of the day handling money in a bank, would waste most of his energy in changing from one thing to another. It is better, therefore, to have the work of men divided into groups in order that each person may have a vocation, or life’s work, at which he spends the greater part of his working hours.

“The man of today” says Edward Bock “who has to do with the employment of men witnesses no sadder sight than the procession of unemployed men that are exemplary in life, have some general intelligence, are respectably honest and frequently of good social position, and yet who can get only menial, routine, poorly-paid positions. The reason for this is that they have no definite knowledge, no special experience. They can do ‘almost anything’ they say, which really means that they can do nothing. The successful man of today is he who knows hot do do one thing better than most other men can do it.”

With these facts in mind can the young man looking forward to achievement neglect to learn everything he possibly can about vocations and how his own life may be influenced by his making the proper vocational adjustment.


1. What is vagrancy and how is it punished?
2. Explain how greater division of labor becomes necessary as civilization advances.
3. Enumerate as many discoveries as you can which have been made by science since your grandfather was a boy.
4. Compare the income of some specialists you know with that of the jack-of-all-trades.
5. Give several reasons for the division of labor in modern times.
6. Who is Edward Bok?
7. What should be the attitude of members of the Y.M.M.I.A. toward proper vocational adjustment?


1 Comment »

  1. “Modern Society Complex” gave me a good chuckle. I don’t think today’s meaning of complex is what they meant, but given as a sentence fragment, it is left open to any number of intretations, based on punctuation.

    I also think it is interesting that so much responsibility was placed on the idividual’s choices, as an explanation for lack of education. My ancestors weren’t living in Utah at the time. They were in the South, and even as white “farmers” who owned their small piece of land, (3 acres really wasn’t enough to feed a family then)they could not afford to buy their children shoes most of the time, and school was out of the question.

    I also found the reference to punishments for vagrancy to be kind of strange for active LDS youth. Was there a lot of boys growing up to be vagrants in Utah territory? Or is this really cofe for “drunk?”

    I also have no idea what “proper vocational adjustment, unless it was to encourage young men to leave farming? Even after reading the lesson I am not sure I quite get it.

    I read a great post about the need for precise language yesterday. (The writer is a woman who left the LDS church as a teenager, but who still identifies with LDS friends, and writes about her experiences both in and out of the LDS church. Just wanted to *warn* those who might be uncomfortable with that.)

    She talks about how precision of language, whether in identifying ourselves or explaining complex scientific processes, is important. I have been thinking since then that maybe imprecise speech is sometimes purposedly used, as a “code” to those who are insiders.

    Comment by Julia — September 1, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

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