Cory Leonard

Arthur Brooks on failure, Emerson, and the peril of being a “city doll”

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2014 at 3:20 am

Good advice to graduates (’tis the season):

In his magnificent 1841 essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson scorned elite college graduates — he called them “city dolls” — who wallowed in self-pity if they didn’t immediately land the prestigious job to which they felt entitled. Emerson contrasted them with the “sturdy lads” who hailed from remote civilizations — such as New Hampshire.
As Emerson wrote, “A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.”

Failures, false starts and midcourse corrections are part and parcel of a life well lived. Early setbacks may even prove to be a lucrative investment: A growing business literature shows that failures offer invaluable chances to learn and improve. Steven Rogers of Harvard University has written that the average entrepreneur fails almost four times before succeeding.
The Roman philosopher Seneca wrote that “difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” Don’t meet obstacles with victimhood and self-pity. Welcome them, especially early in life, as opportunities to grow in resilience and virtue.

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