Sometime during his law career, before he became famous, Abraham Lincoln gave advice to young lawyers.
Let no young man choosing the law for a calling for a moment yield to the popular belief—resolve to be honest at all events; and if in your own judgment you cannot be an honest lawyer, resolve to be honest without being a lawyer. Choose some other occupation, rather than one in the choosing of which you do, in advance, consent to be a knave.
An honest calling. If you can’t be an honest lawyer, choose a career where you can be honest. This applies to every career and every calling. Above all, resolve to be honest. Many haven’t heeded that advice.
Like Lincoln, I was taught humility, perseverance, hard work, and honesty by my parents. Not by any overt lesson plan or diktat, but by their daily example. Rather than accumulate financial rewards by any means, they focused their lives on raising a family, instilling a sense of integrity in their children, and proving themselves to be worthy of the esteem of their fellow man. They didn’t lecture us on how to be honest; they lived it and we learned by observation.
Again like Abraham Lincoln, I was stimulated by a more intellectual calling than my parents and their siblings. I was given opportunities that weren’t available to them, often by pure luck. I regret that I didn’t always take advantage of some of those opportunities, especially in the immaturity of youth, but I feel comfortable with my accomplishments to date. Like my parents, I sought more than simple financial reward. I sought experiences. I sought to live with integrity and honesty.
No one is perfect, of course, and I faltered many times. We all do. But I learned from my parents how to pick myself up, dust myself off, and keep moving forward. Whether I get to where I’m going is less important than the journey.
And that is an honest calling.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.