Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 18: Choosing the Right Vocation

The Young Man and His Vocation (1925-26): Lesson 18: Choosing the Right Vocation

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 17, 2011

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



“Blessed is the man who has found his work!
Let him ask no other blessedness.” – Carlyle.

One of the main reasons for the study of vocations is to enable young men to more wisely choose the life’s work which will best fit in with their individual likes, capabilities and opportunities. One of the saddest things in the world is the sight of a young man wandering aimlessly through life with no definite occupation; hoping that some day he wills tumble into a soft snap that will solve the question of making a living. Another condition, not quite so bad, but still very lamentable, is a person who has a regular occupation but who has the wrong one. The misfits that are so common in the industrial world are usually due to the fact that sufficient attention was not given to the choice of a vocation. The reason that some men do not like to work is that they are not engaged in the right pursuit. Giles tells a story, which has its setting in the rural district of a foreign land. There is a little pastor of a country church who hates his work. He cannot bear to have Sunday come around because he must preach on that day; he feels that time spent in preparing his sermons and attending to his pastoral duties is just that much time taken away from what he would like to be doing; and, in fact, his whole work is absolutely contrary to his taste and interest. On the other hand, a man who had gone into business, and had succeeded in getting a splendid financial return for his efforts, was just as unhappy and dissatisfied. The little pastor was interested in agriculture; he loved to experiment with soils, and with his knowledge of chemistry and his untiring industry during the hours when he could escape from his professional duties, he was able to make his land, which was situated in the midst of barrenness, fertile and productive. The business man when asked the cause of his discontent in the face of prosperity, replied, “I wanted to be a lawyer.” How many cases are we all familiar with which are similar to these?

Stumbling into a Vocation

One reason why there are so many square pegs in round holes is that no real planning has been done. The young man has simply slipped along from one job to another; he has prepared himself for nothing, he can do nothing very well. Too many of such individuals are like a barber who once said to me: “I hope you will do everything you can to see that young men do not make the mistake I made.” He then told me his story which was about as follows: When he was a young man his father was prospering and was prepared to fit him for some profession. They decided that he was to attend an agricultural college and become an agricultural expert, so that he could go into professional work or he could operate a farm and ranch which they had. During the summer before he was to enter college he got a job working on a state road. He had had a little previous experience cutting hair and so did barber work during his spare time. He made so much money at this side job that it turned his head. The road work closed about two weeks before the time for college to open, so he decided to try to get a job in a barber shop for this period. When time came for the opening of school he was doing so well that he decided not to enter college until the second term. In the meantime he met a young lady who liked to have a good time, and since he was making good money he spent it freely. When it was time for the second term at college, he had less money than he had in the fall, besides he was having a good time, so he decided to postpone his schooling for a year.

Before the year was up he was married and his wife would not consent to the sacrifice necessary in working his way through college. She was more interested in the wages he was getting then than in possible greater earnings which he might make with the training he had planned. “So,” said he, “I have remained in a barber shop from that day to this. I despise the work. If I had continued with my plans, I could have been in the work I love, instead of doing this work which I accidentally stumbled into. Yes, I hope you use your influence to have young men avoid the big mistake which I made.”

Vocational Guidance

one difficulty that every youth has in the matter of selecting a vocation is that he must do it before he has sufficient experience to give him the proper judgment. He is faced by somewhat the same predicament faced by the boy whose mother said that he could not go in swimming until he had learned how to swim. Since the judgment of the young man is not sufficiently matured to make an intelligent decision himself, he should seek the help of those capable of giving assistance. This lies at the foundation of the vocational guidance movement – a movement which is rapidly gaining in importance and which is being placed much more on a scientific basis than formerly.

Of course, any person of experience and good judgment is able to give much wholesome vocational advice to the young man; but the vocational guidance movement has now passed beyond this stage of general advice; it now has as a foundation many exact tests which have been worked out by psychologists. While these are not completely understood as yet by the general public they have been found to be very helpful in the hands of experts. It is no longer necessary for a father who is anxious for his son to be a physician to have the boy waste years of time and thousands of dollars only to discover that the boy does not have the mental qualities necessary for a physician.

The public schools and various other agencies like the Mutual Improvement Associations are taking an interest in vocational guidance, and as a result the whole vocational situation throughout the country is sure to be improved.

Considerations that Count

In looking over the various paths open to him, the young man before making his decision should consider the big things that really count. He and his work will be companions during his entire life, and he should be sure that it is the kind of companion that will be entirely agreeable. A young lady in selecting a husband, or a young man in selecting a wife, often decides on trivial matters to their great sorrow later. One girl confessed that the ability of a young man to dance well was what induced her to marry him. After marriage, she found that his dancing was not sufficient to make the home happy. The couple had nothing in common and divorce was the result. She had paid no attention to the real qualities of manhood and companionship, but had based everything on a trivial matter, which could have but little to do with their domestic happiness. Thus it is likely to be in the choice of a vocation unless great care is exercised.

A liking for the work is one of the most important considerations. If the actual work to be done is distasteful, it will be difficult to be entirely happy even though other things are favorable. On the other hand, if one enjoys every hour of one’s work, that fact will compensate for many other undesirable conditions.

While money should not be the chief thought, a person makes a living through his vocation and he must engage in some thing that will pay. Probably the money phase is more often overestimated than underestimated. Men can be induced to do almost any kind of work provided they receive enough money.

The opportunities for advancement in a business are very important to the young man. A salary of a thousand dollars, with an opportunity to grow and the prospect of a steady raise, would be better than a position paying twelve hundred dollars where there was no chance for advancement.

The effect of a vocation on the individual and his family is often overlooked in choosing a life’s work; yet this is probably the most far-reaching consideration. Many young men were induced to work in the De Lamar Mills in Nevada because the wages were high. It was known that the dust would impair their health. The high pay, however, was a greater temptation than they could resist. Practically every man who worked there for any length of time died early from the effects of the dust he breathed. There are a number of vocations that do not pay well in money, yet because of their healthfulness and favorable social conditions they are very attractive. Such vocations should not be judged entirely on the wages they pay.

There is a tendency for young people to look with favor on the spectacular, or grand, and to depreciate the ordinary things of life. It often takes years of experience in the world to realize that the commonplace, everyday things are the ones that are usually best, and that it is with them that we will have most of our dealings. Boys dream of becoming presidents, governors, senators, military leaders, or most anything that will bring them before the public gaze. In fact there is a stage in the lives of most boys when they think of the brass band parade of the circus clown as the most desirable of pursuits. Fortunately most of these ideas have been outgrown before young men have to choose their work.

Some of the other things a young man should consider before deciding upon an occupation are permanence of the work; daily, weekly and yearly hours of work; opportunity for rest and recreation; and amount of preparation necessary.

The choosing of a vocation is no child’s play; it should be done with all earnestness and with serious thought. It is one of the few very important decisions a young man has to make, since his entire life is usually affected by the choice. There is probably one very best vocation for each individual and he should use every possible means of discovering just what that vocation is.


1. Memorize Carlyle’s statement given in the lesson.
2. What proportion of the men you know have just stumbled into their vocations?
3. Discuss the square peg in the round hole.
4. Give some cases you know of where people are not in the right vocation.
5. What do you know of mental tests?
6. What are some of the considerations that should count most in choosing a vocation?
7. What do you think of the idea that there is one best vocation for each person.



  1. This is a fascinating series. I know for myself, I was often frustrated by the 1970’s mantra, “You can be anything you want to be!” Nonsense. It was true I could do many things, but I’d be compensated only for some of them. And being compensated enough to pay for a family further limited my choices.

    Comment by Paul — August 17, 2011 @ 7:39 am

  2. I’m glad you like it, Paul. Even if we don’t read all the lessons in detail — and I certainly wouldn’t have, had I not typed it! — just seeing the breadth and depth of coverage of the issues and skimming a few chapters on specific vocations gives a good idea both of how serious the YMMIA leaders were in helping boys find a suitable calling, and also how systematically and with modern outlook they went about it. That means a lot to me and sharpens my mental image of my grandparents’ generation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 17, 2011 @ 8:40 am

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