According to "If—," what is the most vital thing in life, and why must you master it?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

According to the speaker, the boy to whom he's addressing the poem needs to master himself. The onus will be on him to keep his head while all those around him are losing theirs; to trust himself when other men doubt him; to wait and not be tired by waiting; and so on. What matters most of all is self-control. There are many things in life you can't control, but one thing you can control is yourself and how you react to events, especially those likely to cause you all kinds of trouble.

Why is all this important? Because the speaker hopes that the boy he's addressing will grow up to play his part in the running of the British Empire. That being the case, it is absolutely imperative that he should learn to exercise the kind of self-control necessary to perform such a difficult and, at times, thankless task; the kind of self-control necessary to be a man.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team