Aristotle? Marcus Bach? Albert Schweitzer? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Did the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle secretly work at a job placement agency? Probably not, but a popular family of sayings about career choice has been attributed to him. Here are three examples:
- Where your talents and the world’s needs cross, there lies your calling.
- When the needs of the world and your skills intersect, therein lies your vocation.
- One’s purpose is merely knowing where one’s talents and the needs of the world intersect.
I have been unable to find a solid citation for Aristotle? Would you please examine the origin of this saying?
Quote Investigator: QI has not yet found any substantive evidence connecting these words to Aristotle.
The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a speech delivered at a high school graduation ceremony in 1954 by Dr. Marcus Bach of the State University of Iowa School of Religion. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
I’m just optimistic enough to believe that God has given you some sort of call. You’ll discover that the place where your talent meets the world’s needs is the job God has in mind for you.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1957 Bach delivered another address to graduating seniors at a high school in Iowa. He employed a variant expression which the newspaper journalist credited to the theologian Albert Schweitzer: 2
“You should determine soon, tonight or in the weeks to come,” he advised, “a particular goal in life. Think about it seriously in the darkness of your room.”
As a guide toward choosing a goal he quoted from the scientist-philosopher, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who said: “At that point in life where your talent meets the needs of the world, that’s where God wants you to be.”
Bach’s speeches to students did include quotations from Schweitzer. However, QI believes that the journalist above made a mistake. Bach did not intend to attribute the above remark to Schweitzer. The phrase was probably Bach’s.
In 1958 Marcus Bach was the guest speaker at school in Lark Park, Iowa. His address included a quotation from Albert Schweitzer, but the text indicated that the comment about talent was from Bach: 3
First, decide what to do with your life, between now and fall. In the words of Dr. Albert Schweitzer, “Search and see if there is not some place in the world where you can invest your life.” Take five minutes every morning to listen to God and His direction for your life. Take time for soul searching. He would have each graduate write this sentence in a conspicuous place; “At that point in life where your talent meets the needs of the world, that is where God wants you to be.”
In 1965 Bach delivered a speech to the students and faculty at a school assembly in Ames, Iowa. The journalist reporting on the speech ascribed the saying to Schweitzer: 4
Dr. Schweitzer found his place in life where his talents could be of the most service. According to Dr. Bach, Albert Schweitzer once said, “At the point in your life where your talents meet the needs of the world; that’s where God wants you to be.”
In 1971 Marcus Bach published a spiritual book titled “The Power of Perfect Liberty: Out of Japan: A Creative Breakthrough in Humanity’s Quest for a New Man in a New Age”. The saying was presented as a helpful guideline. Bach did not credit Schweitzer or anyone else. In the excerpt below “PL” meant “Perfect Liberty”: 5
“At that place in life where your talent meets the needs of the world, that is where god wants you to be.”
The phrase was perfectly demonstrated, at PL headquarters particularly, everyone seemed to be working toward a common cause, giving the impression that there is a special endowment and a specific place in life which combine for a state of harmony and peace.
In 1988 a book of daily mediations titled “Life Streams: Journeys into Meditation and Music” included the saying: 6
September 2 Sharing
At that point in life where your talent meets the needs of the world, that is where God wants you to be. Albert Schweitzer
In 1993 a column about careers by Joyce Lain Kennedy in a Louisville, Kentucky newspaper credited an instance of the saying without “God” to Aristotle: 7
As Aristotle is said to have said, “Where your talents and the world’s needs cross, there lies your vocation.”
In 1997 “Zen Soup: Tasty Morsels of Wisdom from Great Minds East & West” by Laurence G. Boldt printed an instance credited to Aristotle: 8
Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.
In 2009 a columnist in a Greenville, South Carolina newspaper shared an instance while crediting Schweitzer: 9
On success: “At the point in life where your talents meet the needs of the world is where God wants you to be.”—Albert Schweitzer
In conclusion, this article presents a snapshot of current research. The ascription to Aristotle is unsupported. Marcus Bach used versions of the expression in speeches multiple times beginning in 1954. Some of Bach’s listeners thought that Bach was attributing the words to Albert Schweitzer. Yet, QI would provisionally credit Bach himself.
Image Notes: Arrows pointing toward the center of an image from geralt at Pixabay. Bust of Aristotle; Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; accessed via Wikimedia Commons.
(Great thanks to Robert Goulding and David Rensberger whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Goulding whose research concerns Aristotle did not believe the attribution to the famous philosopher. Rensberger noted that Frederick Buechner had communicated a similar notion by 1973.)
- 1954 May 25, Carrol Daily Times Herald, Athletic Award Is Presented to Ed Champion, Start Page 1, Quote Page 7, Column 1, Carroll, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1957 May 28, Carrol Daily Times Herald, Dr. Bach Urges Carroll High Grads to Become ‘Good World Citizens’, Quote Page 1, Column 3, Carroll, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1958 May 22, The Lake Park News, Commencement Held Friday Eve, Quote Page 8, Column 3, Lake Park, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1965 October 12, Ames Daily Tribune, Dr. Bach remembers Schweitzer, Quote Page 7, Column 3, Ames, Iowa. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1971, The Power of Perfect Liberty: Out of Japan: A Creative Breakthrough in Humanity’s Quest for a New Man in a New Age by Marcus Bach, Quote Page 124, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans from Marcus Bach Collection, Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library Digital Collections) ↩
- 1988, Life Streams: Journeys into Meditation and Music by Hal A. Lingerman, Date: September 2, Quote Page 222, A Quest Book: The Theosophical Publishing House, Wheaton, Illinois. (Google Books Preview) ↩
- 1993 November 7, The Courier-Journal, Section: Classified, Careers: Self-evaluation must precede any job change by Joyce Lain Kennedy, Quote Page G1, Column 6, Louisville, Kentucky. (Newspapers_com) ↩
- 1997, Zen Soup: Tasty Morsels of Wisdom from Great Minds East & West Laurence G. Boldt, Section: Work, Unnumbered Page, Penguin Compass: Penguin Books, New York. (Google Books Full View) ↩
- 2009 August 30, The Greenville News, Take inspiration for business from others by Rhonda Abrams (Columnist), Quote Page E1, Column 2, Greenville, South Carolina. (Newspapers_com) ↩