That Iron String


When I first read Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, it had a profound impact on the way I envisioned my life. I loved Emerson for his frankness, his rallying cry of non-conformity, his insistence on “accepting the place divine providence has found for you.” (And his influence on Walt Whitman! But that is material for another article.) A few years later I tried to push this essay to the back of my mind, afraid that some of Emerson’s ideas were irresponsible, and that his emphasis on independence was contrary to Catholic interdependence. But here I am, once again reading Emerson and cherishing what I read. This article will prove to be brazenly Emersonian, but I hope Catholic enough as well…

image:that iron string

Credit: Donna Cymek (2006) [CC BY]

I imagine that, at some point, you have been hesitant about communicating your dreams to others. Maybe they seemed too daunting, too impractical, too selfish. Maybe they frightened you to the point that you ignored them, and even now they simmer under the surface of your daily life.

Self-doubt can arise at any age, but it is prominent in a unique way during adolescence and young adulthood. One of my least favorite questions is “what do you want to be?” Unfortunately, answering this question is an obligatory part of growing up. In my experience, people throw around “what do you want to be?” just like “how are you?” Rarely do they expect more than a one-word answer. Even worse, answering this question often precedes judgments and disparaging looks, particularly when one’s career of choice is a little unconventional. This is not only disheartening, but extremely confusing. I have been exposed to a lot of contradictory advice about which jobs are “better” – which usually translates to which are more lucrative or secure – and this data changes all the time.

I dislike cheap (read: unsolicited) advice, but I treasure the suggestions and encouragement of those invested in me. I stay away from “shoulds”: they always make me wary of the motivations behind them. I have a core belief that most people know what they are meant to do and merely need the time, space, and support to discern it. We often hear about the importance of “guarding your heart” with respect to the virtue of chastity, but I would go further and say that “guarding your heart” is something to promote in general. This is especially true in a culture that couldn’t care less about your well-being in a genuine sense.

I don’t have a self vs. world agenda, far from it. But let this be a reminder to surround yourself with people who care about you flourishing as a human being. Don’t worry about complicated “shoulds” that distract you from the clarity at your core. God’s call is more simple, more quiet, more natural. When you hear it, answer. As Emerson said,

“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.”

Copyright 2015 Sarah Blake
Photo by Donna Cymek: a reminder to love. March 25, 2006, CC, via Flickr


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