From his diary. Adams wrote this entry at the age of twenty-three, a year after being admitted to the Boston Bar. By 1765 he had earned considerable renown, electing to defend both John Hancock, against accusations of smuggling, and Thomas Preston, the British officer in charge during the Boston Massacre. He drafted the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780 and became the second U.S. president in 1797.
Reputation ought to be the perpetual subject of my thoughts and aim of my behavior. How shall I gain a reputation? How shall I spread an opinion of myself as a lawyer of distinguished genius, learning, and virtue?
Shall I make frequent visits in the neighborhood and converse familiarly with men, women, and children, in their own style, on the common tittle-tattle of the town and the ordinary concerns of a family, and so take every fair opportunity of showing my knowledge in the law? But this will require much thought and time, and a very particular knowledge of the province law and common matters, of which I know much less than I do of the Roman law. Shall I endeavor to renew my acquaintance with those young gentlemen in Boston who were at college with me and to extend my acquaintance among merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, etc., and mingle with the crowd upon change, and traipse the townhouse floor with one and another, in order to get a character in town? But this, too, will be a lingering method and will require more art, and address, and patience, too, than I am master of. Shall I, by making remarks and posing questions to the lawyers at the bar, endeavor to get a great character for understanding and learning with them? But this is slow and tedious, and will be ineffectual; for envy, jealousy, and self-interest will not suffer them to give a young fellow a free, generous character, especially me. Neither of these projects will bear examination, will avail. Shall I look out for a cause to speak to, and exert all the soul and all the body I own, to cut a flash, strike amazement, to catch the vulgar; in short, shall I walk a lingering, heavy pace, or shall I take one bold determined leap into the midst of fame, cash, and business? That is the question—a bold push, a resolute attempt, a determined enterprise, or a slow, silent, imperceptible creeping; shall I creep or fly? I feel vexed, fretted, chafed; the thought of no business mortifies, stings me. But let me banish these fears; let me assume a fortitude, a greatness of mind.