Emerson believes that each person has unique talents and passions that can be discovered only on one’s own. What does he mean by “this sculpture in the memory”?
Emerson argues that we each have one, God-ordained destiny that is ours alone to grasp and for that reason we should not feel compelled to conform to what society tells us we should do. Thus the title, "Self-Reliance," refers to relying on our own inner voice, our own soul, to discover what our unique vocation is. What our vocation should be is pointed out to us through the memories that stand out most sharply in our minds. Our memories are "sculpted" by God, not random chance, and are formed in a certain way to push us toward a particular pre-ordained path. Because God (or the divine force) wills it so, we remember this face and not that face. Likewise, a certain fact and not another impresses itself on our minds. As we remember certain people, certain faces, certain facts we have learned, they stand out in relief and they form or sculpt us. For example, we might most sharply remember a great teacher and then facts about teaching might stick with us, and those together would indicate that perhaps we are destined to be a teacher, no matter what society says about that as a good or bad vocation. We shouldn't ignore or pretend this sculpting doesn't exist, Emerson states, because doing so will destroy our peace of minds.