A PAIR OF SOCKS
By William Lyon Phelps
One fine afternoon I was walking along Fifth Avenue, when I remembered that it was necessary to buy a pair of socks. Why I wished to buy only one pair is unimportant. I turned into the first sock shop that caught my eye, and a boy clerk who could not have been more than seventeen years old came forward. "What can I do for you, sir?" "I wish to buy a pair of socks." His eyes glowed. There was a note of passion in his voice. "Did you know that you had come into the finest place in the world to buy socks?" I had not been aware of that, as my entrance had been accidental. "Come with
me," said the boy, ecstatically. I followed him to the rear of the shop, and he began to haul down from the shelves box after box, displaying their contents for my delectation.
"Hold on, lad, I am going to buy only one pair!" "I know that," said he, "but I want you
to see how marvellously beautiful these are. Aren't they wonderful!" There was on his face an expression of solemn and holy rapture, as if he were revealing to me the mysteries of his religion.
I became far more interested in him than in the socks. I looked at him in amazement.
"My friend," said I, "if you can keep this up, if this is not merely the enthusiasm that
comes from novelty, from having a new job, if you can keep up this zeal and excitement day after day, in ten years you will own every sock in the United States."
My amazement at his pride and joy in salesmanship will be easily understood by all who read this article. In many shops the customer has to wait for some one to wait upon him. And when finally some clerk does deign to notice you, you are made to feel as if you were interrupting him. Either he is absorbed in profound thought in which he hates to be disturbed or he is sky-larking with a girl clerk and you feel like apologizing for thrusting yourself into such intimacy.
He displays no interest either in you or in the goods he is paid to sell. Yet possibly that very clerk who is now so apathetic began his career with hope and enthusiasm. The daily grind was too much for him; the novelty wore off; his only pleasures were found outside of working hours. He became a mechanical, not an inspired, salesman. After being mechanical, he became incompetent; then he saw younger clerks who had more zest in their work, promoted over him. He became sour and nourished a grievance.
That was the last stage. His usefulness was over. I have observed this melancholy decline in the lives of so many men in so many occupations that I have come to the conclusion that the surest road to failure is to do things mechanically.
There is, for example, no greater literature in the world than the Bible and no more exciting subject than religion. Yet I have heard many ministers of the gospel read the Bible in their churches with no interest and no emphasis, whereas they ought to read it as if they had just received it by wireless from Almighty God. I have heard hundreds of sermons preached mechanically, with no more appeal than if the speaker were a parrot. There are many teachers in schools and colleges who seem duller than the dullest of their pupils; they go through the motions of teaching, but they are as impersonal as a telephone.
In reading that remarkable book, The Americanization of Edward Bok, I was impressed by
what he said of competition m business. Beginning as a very young man in a certain occupation, he had expected to encounter the severest competition. As a matter of fact, he met no competition at all, and found that success was the easiest thing in the world, if one provided the conditions necessary for it.
He worked along with a number of other young men in the business. He was the only
one who ever got to the place ahead of time. At the noon hour at lunch the other youngsters never on a single occasion mentioned the business in which they were engaged. They talked of their girls, or of athletic sports, or of various dissipations. He was the only man who ever remained after business hours, and he was convinced
that he was the only one who ever occupied his mind with the business during his evenings.
He rose above the others with consummate ease, and for two obvious reasons: First, he made himself indispensable; second, he found his chief pleasure in his work, not in the dissipations outside of it.
It is simple enough for any one to be attracted by the novelty of a new job. The real difficulty is to keep up that initial enthusiasm every day of one's life, to go to work every morning with zest and excitement. I believe that a man should live every day as if that day were his first and his last day on earth.
Every person needs some relaxation, some recreation; but a man's chief happiness should not lie outside his daily work, but in it. The chief difference between the happiness of child-hood and the happiness of maturity is that the child's happiness is dependent on something different from the daily routine-a picnic, an excursion,
a break of some kind. But to the right sort of men and women happiness is found in
the routine itself, not in departures from it. Instead of hoping for a change, one hopes there will be no change, that one will have sufficient health to continue in one's chosen occupation.
The child has pleasures; the man has happiness. But unfortunately some men remain children all their lives.