The essay ‘On the Choice of a Profession’ by R.L. Stevenson, deals with the theme of choosing the right profession through wisdom and the affect of the professional choices made by a person over his personality and his personal life.
Herein, a young man had expressed interest in seeking Stevenson’s advice regarding any set principles followed by the wise men while choosing a profession for themselves. He wished to seek Stevenson’s guidance regarding the matter for it is one of the momentous phase in the young man’s life. The young man was of the impression that wise men had a lot of practical knowledge and that it was far superior and wholesome. Stevenson, referring to the young man’s interest, says, “What, you ask, are the principles usually followed by the wise in the like critical junctures? …the wise, in these circumstances, act upon no principles whatever.”
Stevenson feels responsible to guide the young man in his course in a truthful manner and with utmost responsibility.
After recollecting and examining his youth when he himself was at a similar juncture in life and after questioning others in order to gain as much view to share with the young man, Stevenson denies the existence of any set rule or principle which wise men follow that may guarantee a successful profession. The fact is that, wisdom has nothing to do with the choice of a profession.
Stevenson makes a sarcastic remark over people who acknowledge the existence of any such principle or the guidance which these ‘enlightened minds’ claim to provide over the existence of any such practical philosophy. Stevenson says that the advices by them are actually of no help because they complicate the understanding of the advice-seeker for the one’s giving advice possess the least knowledge over the subject. The topic is of no consideration to them, yet they choose to guide people, thereby complicating things.
Stevenson begins to question the thought that goes behind in helping people while choosing the profession for themselves. He doubts the input of any such analysis. He doubts the input of any such analysis, hence, he wonders as to how can people be equipped enough to guide others for that matter. Stating about bankers, he says, “How should a banker know his own mind? It takes him all his time to manage his bank.”
Stevenson thus wonders as to how can a banker judge or introspect his profession and its impact in his personal life, when he spares no time for himself.
Similar is the case with the pilgrims who walk together in a group. They seem to be blindly following each other, without putting in any thought and thereby, remaining utterly indifferent to the fact that there is no leisure whatsoever in all that they do.
Referring to the banker again, Stevenson says that a banker believes that banking is his business; his duty, hence he’s being loyal to his duty and living a monotonous and ignorant life. Though, here, Stevenson expresses concern and raises his doubt that maybe the person who chose to be a banker, was ‘trapped.’
Referring to the education system, Stevenson says that education is a means of harnessing people with a friendly approach towards life. As a child, man is taught to be punctual in school and is expected to be updated with his course book. One should stay hygienic and also learn to be social. As a young man, he should make friends and eventually land up with a job with some bank. That is how man is trapped into the profession throughout. He says, “He has been used to caper to this sort of piping from the first; and he joins the regiment of bank clerks for precisely the same reason as he used to go to the nursery at the stroke of eight.”
Hence, a man is trained from childhood to lead a mechanized life. The proud parents, after having accomplished in trapping their child, sit back, relaxed, with a smile on their face, while smoking pipe. “The trick is performed, … the wild ass’s colt is broken in; and now sits diligently scribing. Thus it is, that, out of men, we make bankers.”
Unfortunately, for generations, men have been following each other blindly just like tame elephants, everyone following in-line with the legacy. Education and practical philosophy has been limited to grudging, gaining reward, getting forced and punished and ultimately trapped.
Stevenson considers the idea of ‘choosing’ as a negative action rather than holding any positive inclination. In the act of choosing, he says, we embrace one thing by refusing thousand others. This imprisons our inner energy and starves various affections. Such are the repercussions of making a choice.
Hence Stevenson advices the young man that he should pay-heed to his inner calling rather than having-ears for futile opinions. A person is himself equipped enough to make his preferences in life. Nobody else can decide upon the choices of others, for each individual is God’s unique creation, hence no set rule or a generalized principle can ever be applicable to all. “God made you, not I. I cannot even make you over again.”
Hence, he wishes the man with the best of everything in life, suggesting him to value his self-esteem and will over any monetary benefits and to grab the opportunity to bask in the glory of success.