What does Rudyard Kipling's If suggest about both life and choices?

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jacquelineledoux eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Rudyard Kipling's If is a poem he wrote in 1895. It is said to be inspired by Leander Starr Jameson, the man who led the failed Jameson Raid, which took place about 15 years before the poem's publication. These days, If is often read at events such as graduations and/or farewell ceremonies. 
 
The poem reads as if the narrator is speaking directly to someone else, most likely a young man. The poem, in its entirety, is basically one big piece of advice on how to be a man. 
 
If, which is written in iambic pentameter, consists of only four stanzas; each one is comprised of a different potential "if" situation.
 
For example, in stanza one, the narrator says, "If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,/If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,/But make allowance for their doubting too" (Kipling, 1 - 4). 
 
My Translation: If you, young man, can keep a level head in spite of everyone around you losing theirs and blaming you for it and you can still trust yourself, even after taking into consideration the doubts that others have of you, then... * 
 
* Note that the narrator does not yet reveal what will happen if the young man ends up in one of these situations but is still able to act in the manner described. 
 
That said, the following three stanzas are made up of similar hypothetical situations and there's no real change in pattern up until the last two lines of stanza four. There, the narrator offers his last potential "if" situation before revealing what will happen "if." 
 
He says, "If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,/Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,/And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!" (Kipling, 29 - 32). 
 
And there, in those last two lines, lies the entire point of the poem: 
 
"Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,/And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!" (Kipling, 31 - 32).
 
The narrator reveals that the secret to being a man, and the secret to living a good life, is being the exact person he was describing in all of those hypothetical situations. 
 
In order to find out what kind of person that is, you'll just have to refer back to the "what if" statements and make inferences about the characteristics that each one illustrates.
 
I would list them for you but they're all pretty workable, so you can use a number of different words to describe each trait.
 
I hope this helps!