We were meant to work for a living…not a life. Yet, billions of us spend more than a third of each day, in places we don’t want to be, doing work we don’t want to do.
In the name of a “fast-track corporate career” or some such thing, we spend most of our lives buried in work…the kind we don’t even enjoy…earning more money than we can spend…and still wanting more !! Many spend their whole lives chasing a dream that’s not really their own, all the while, harbouring desires to do something entirely different.
In June of 2002, I chanced upon an essay by email. It came into my life out of the blue, but seemed to echo every thing I wanted to say on the subject. It provided me with hope…and encouragement…giving me a clarity I wished I had had earlier in life. I reproduce parts of it here for your benefit…
I often hear people say, “I have to find myself.” What they really mean is, I have to make myself.” Life is an endlessly creative experience, and we are making ourselves every moment by every decision we make.
That is why the work you choose for yourself is so crucial to your sense of value and well-being. No matter how much you might believe that your work is nothing more than what you do to make money, your work makes you who you are, because it is where you put your time.
This happens to anyone who takes a job. Even if you hate a job and keep a distance from it, you are defining yourself in opposition to the job by resisting it. By giving the job your time, you are giving it your consciousness. And it will, in turn, fill your life with the reality that it presents.
Many people ignore this fact. They choose a profession because it seems exciting, or because they can make a lot of money, or because it has some prestige in their minds. They commit themselves to their work, but slowly find themselves feeling restless and empty. The time they have to spend on their work begins to hang heavy on their hands, and soon they feel constricted and trapped.
They join the legions of humanity who Thoreau said lead lives of quiet desperation – unfulfilled, unhappy and uncertain of what to do. Yet the lure of financial security and the fear of the unknown keep them from acting to change their lives, and their best energies are spend creating justifications for staying where they are or inventing activities outside of work that they hope will provide them with a sense of meaning. But these efforts can never be totally successful. We are what we do, and the more we do it, the more we become it. The only way out is to change our lives or to change our expectations for our lives. And if we lower our expectations we are killing our dreams, and a man without dreams is already half dead.
You must never forget that to those who hire you, your labor is a commodity. You are paid because you provide a service that is useful. If the service you provide is no longer needed, it doesn’t matter how honorable, how diligent, how committed you have been in your work. If what you can contribute is no longer needed, you are no longer needed and you will be let go. Even if you’ve committed your life to the job, you are, at heart, a part of the commercial exchange, and you are valuable only so long as you are a significant contributor to that commercial exchange. It is nothing personal; it’s just the nature of economic transaction.
I once had a professor who dreamed of being a concert pianist. Fearing the possibility of failure, he went into academics where the work was secure and the money was predictable. One day, when I was talking to him about my unhappiness in my graduate studies, he walked over and sat down at his piano. He played a beautiful glisando and then, abruptly, stopped. “Do what is in your heart,” he said. “I really only wanted to be a concert pianist. Now I spend every day wondering how good I might have been.” Don’t let this be your epitaph at the end of your working life. Find out what it is that burns in your heart and do it. Choose a vocation, not a job, and you will be at peace. Take a job instead of finding a vocation, and eventually you will find yourself saying, “I’ve only got thirteen more years to retirement,” or “I spend every day wondering how good I might have been.”
We all owe ourselves better than that.