Nearly one year ago I thought deeply about my bond with work. Unease was lingering beneath my daily ritual and I was grasping to root it out. This process was like playing darts in a dark room; I knew roughly the direction of the dartboard – a blotchy shadow in a general vicinity – but could not see the bullseye.
After one year of observing my own life since then, I clearly watch myself oscillate between two realities: 1) feeling fully-absorbed and identified with the narrative of my job during the week, and 2) tasting freedom to let my mind roam on the weekends and vacations… reading books, exercising, listening to music, playing a little piano, and writing.
This post is a tribute to the second reality, one I aspire to inhabit much more often than I am.
A quick aside: gratitude for writing
First, I am incredibly grateful for the urge to start this blog. Every human wanders in the woods of the mind, and journaling is a way to place signposts in the ground that remind you where you’ve been, in-turn empowering you to orient in new directions.
Every once in a while an inner voice clearly directs you toward something. In my case, I wrote the note below… and this blog was born. Why a blog and not a private a journal? Sure these thoughts are personal, but not so personal that they might not resonate with anyone else in similar circumstances. We are all in this human experiment together, aren’t we? Best case, I sort my thoughts out. Bonus, I start a conversation around theses ideas with other interested humans.
I want my mind back
“We labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.”
– Nietzsche, 1887
I am hereby affirming every hunch I felt about the byproduct of work one year ago. Whether one loves their work, or hates their work, it consumes the mind either way. I am convinced of this. For some people this is a feature, and maybe for certain periods of life this is totally appropriate, for me – right now – it’s a bug. Again, I understand most people are so unconsciously invested in the template of our society, 9-5-till-age-65-then-retire, any discomfort of this bargain is either nonexistent or buried in some deep, deep place to be reckoned with another day. For me the reckoning is now.
Dear work, I love and admire you. Wait, what??
Work is not bad. I believe most work is fair. I believe the definition of most work is: cooperation in human groups that powers everything we rely upon to sustain our lives and society. We literally hold each other up. I cannot sit here and author this without thousands of other humans doing what they do to keep me safe, keep me fed, educated, keep the internet running, and deliver fancy bundles of techno magic that let me broadcast thoughts to the world and summon pizza to my doorstep. All accomplished with human work.
To relentlessly occupy oneself with work (or anything) until old age, with no “Golden Time”, i.e., sustained period for reflection, is essentially a flavor of Albert Camus’s philosophical suicide. Once more, I do not count nights and weekends as “Golden Time”.
What matters most – a promise to self to remember
Returning to my two oscillating realities: When I AM caught-up in the grind of my job, when all of my mental energy is applied, and I am disappointed or satisfied with X, or really wish this colleague had done Y, or think about how my professional experience would be so improved if the environment were only Z were true, this is a reminder to myself let it go. Concerns about commute, and promotions, and prestige, and opportunities, and recognition, and learning, and politics… NONE of those things come even remotely close to the toll of attention and time on the mind. This is the apex concern – the cost is absolutely extraordinary. In an optimal situation, a profession is exciting… There is always a new hill to climb or new game around every corner. You must always stay a few steps ahead of the competition. You must always improve yourself and inspire those around you to improve themselves as well. But the ride goes on forever. There is no grand prize. The grand prize is life itself, every moment of it. And it’s possible to miss that.
Steady as she goes
1) Remember the above. Re-read often.
2) Head down and finish strong, with the same commitment that brought me here.
Although my heart no longer deeply identifies with the story of my career, I am still unbelievably grateful to have served on this vessel of my company, with these fellow humans. When the day comes I depart I will wish them nothing but the best. In my final days I will do everything in my power to ensure their success continues beyond me. My quarrel here is with the ocean of broader circumstances, not the vessel.