Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Path Less Travelled

Being a relatively fresh graduate with graduate school looming ahead and NGO work not quite having removed its loose threads from me, I am taking the slower road to success than most. However, it can also mean "biding my time," finding out what I really want to do, or even discovering myself as it is. In the capitalist world we've ensconced ourselves in, it is very easy to have our ideals and ethics topple by the wayside, to pursue higher-paying jobs and so on. But then..heck, I dunno, as much as it pays the bills and more, is it really what we believe in? Is that how we--how I--want to project myself? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Again, I am operating from an idealistic perspective. But then again, shouldn't we all shoot for the stars, even if at the back of our heads we know we might still end up falling? For nonetheless, doesn't it make the stars a whole lot closer?

On Work by Kent Nerburn

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.

I remember several years ago when I was intent upon building my reputation as a sculptor. I took a job driving a cab, because, as I told people, "I want some job that I will never confuse with a profession." Yet within six months, I was talking like a cab driver, thinking like a cab driver, looking at the world through the eyes of a cab driver. My anecdotes came from my job, as did my observations about life. I became embroiled in the personalities and politics of the company for which I worked and developed the habits and rhythms of life that went along with my all-night driving shift. On the days when I did not drive and instead worked on my sculpture, I still carried the consciousness of a cab driver with me.

Whether I liked it or not, I was a cab driver.

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 spent 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.

So you need to choose your work carefully. You need to look beyond the external measurements of prestige and money and glamour to see what you will be doing on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute basis to see if that is how you want to spend your time. Time may not be the way you measure the value of your work, but it is the way you experience it.

What you need to do is think of work as "vocation." This word may seem stilted in its tone, but it has a wisdom within it. It comes from the Latin word for calling, which comes from the word for voice. In those meanings it touches on what work really should be. It should be something that calls to you as something you want to do, and it should be something that gives voice to who you are and what you want to say to the world.

So a true vocation calls to you to perform it and it allows your life to speak. This is very different from work, which is just an exchange of labor for money. It is even very different from a profession, which is an area of expertise you have been sanctioned to represent.

A vocation is something you feel compelled to do, or at least something that fills you with a sense of meaning. It is something you choose because of what it allows you to say with your life, not because of the money it pays you or the way it will make you appear to others. It is, above all else, something that lets you love.

When you find a vocation, embrace it with your whole heart. Few people are so lucky. They begin their search for work with an eye to the wrong prize, so when they win, they win something of little value. They gain money or prestige, but they lose their hearts. Eventually their days become nothing more than a commodity that they exchange for money, and they begin to shrivel and die.

I often think of a man I met on the streets of Cleveland. He was an assembly-line worker in an automobile plant. He said his work was so hateful that he could barely stand to get up in the morning. I asked him why he didn't quit. "I've only got thirteen more years to go to retirement," he answered. And he meant it. His life had so gotten away from him that he was willing to accept a thirteen-year death sentence for his spirit rather than give up the security it earned.

When I spoke with him I was about twenty. I was young and free; I didn't understand what he was saying at all. It seemed incomprehensible to me that a man could have become so defeated by life that he was willing to let his life die as he held it in his hands.

Now I understand too well. Lured by what had seemed like big money at the time, he had chosen a job that didn't offer him any inner satisfaction. He lived a good life, rolling from paycheck to paycheck and getting the car or the boat that he had always dreamed of having. Year by year he advanced, because businesses reward perseverance. His salary went up, his options for other types of employment went down, and he settled into a routine that financed his life. He married, bought a house, had children, and grew into middle age. The job that had seemed like freedom when he was young became a deadening routine. Year by year he began to hate it. It choked him, but he had no means of escape. He needed its money to live; no job he might change to would pay him as much as he was currently making. His fear for the health and security of his family kept him from breaking free into a world where all things were possible but no things were paid for, and so he gave in.

"I've only got thirteen more years to retirement" was a prisoner's way of counting the days until the job would release him and pay him for his freedom.

Most people's lives are a variation on that theme. So few take the time when they are young to explore the real meaning of the jobs they are taking or to consider the real implications of the occupations to which they are committing their lives.

Some have no choice. Without money, without training, with the pressures of life building around them, they choose the best alternative that offers itself. But many others just fail to see clearly. They chase false dreams, and fall into traps they could have avoided if they had listened more closely to their hearts when choosing their life's work.

But even if you listen closely to your heart, making the right choice is difficult. You can't really know what it is you want to do by thinking about it. You have to do it and see how it fits. You have to let the work take you over until it becomes you and you become it; then you have to decide whether to embrace it or abandon it. And few have the courage to abandon something that defines their security and prosperity.

Yet there is no reason why a person cannot have two, three or more careers in the course of a life. There is no reason why a person can't abandon a job that does not fit anymore and strike out into the unknown for something that lies closer to the heart. There is risk, there is loss, and there likely will be privation. If you have allowed your job to define your sense of self-worth, there may even be a crisis of identity. But no amount of security is worth the suffering of a life lived chained to a routine that has killed all your dreams.

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.

So it does not pay to tie yourself to a job that kills your love of life. The job will abandon you if it has to. You can abandon the job if you have to.

The man I met in Cleveland may have been laid off the year before he was due to retire. He may have lost his pension because of a legal detail he never knew existed. He may have died on the assembly line while waiting to put a bolt in a fender.

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.

So. I started grad school last Saturday, and my schedule is as follows:
0800-1100-Lit251 (Development of Fiction)--Mr. Danny Reyes
*1100-1200-LUNCH--preferably at Blissful Belly, traveled to by foot*
1200-1500-Lit202 (Literary Theory and Cultural Studies)--Dr. Lulu Reyes
1500-1800-Lit201 (Research...something)--Mr. Jonathan Chua

By Mr. Chua's class, I was nodding on and off. Ohmygod. By the end of the class, I think sheer will just forced me to walk to National Bookstore and Aeon Books.


This past weekend, went on a shopping spree, ahehe. I swear, if I die one day, my greatest treasure will be my BOOKS! Saturday, I bought Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Flaubert's Madame Bovary at NBS, not to mention getting Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison, Burton's Vive Le Vegan and Counihan's Food and Body..ish from an aunt in the US; Sunday, bought Edge's Yoga School Dropout, Zola's Germinal, Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Camus' The Stranger at Powerbooks; David's Goodbye, Chunky Rice, Robbins' Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis, Rashid's Design Your Life, Woolf's To the Lighthouse, and an unabridged Murasaki's Tale of Genji! Monday, I got Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and an abridged copy of Bulfinch's Mythology from Powerbooks, and Voltaire's Candide and Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained from Fully Booked. So YES, it truly has been booklove season *squeal* Aside from books, I also went on a Healthy Options rampage, buying Agave Nectar, Blackstrap Molasses, besides cereal, egg-free mayo, chocolate soy/almond milks, vegan sea vegetable and carrot(!) chips, organic, vegan Mint cream Oreo™-type cookies, as well as bought two reversible Gap pleaty skirts and two unique-ish (as usual) Paul Smith shirts(ON SALE!) last Sunday as well (besides all the books!), so more reasons to squeal and dance ;)

Yesterday, worked from home. Good thing, as I had an upset stomach spewing out...stuff. Bleh.

*need to lose 29 pounds* -->high school weight {HEADDESK} But I love my food...oh well.

Today...lunched with Migs at Oody's for the first time. And we are both extremely chatty, haha.

Danny's class on Thursday, so will be in AdMU again. Will be processing GA stuff by then, too. Blissful Belly for lunch, methinks.

FridayWednesday, because 'twas awkward enough and R said 'twas best--last day in PETA Asia Pacific :( Aw. Time to move on. But I'm hoping the friends I gained will be friends for life.

1 comment:

sushil yadav said...

The link between Mind and Social / Environmental-Issues.

The fast-paced, consumerist lifestyle of Industrial Society is causing exponential rise in psychological problems besides destroying the environment. All issues are interlinked. Our Minds cannot be peaceful when attention-spans are down to nanoseconds, microseconds and milliseconds. Our Minds cannot be peaceful if we destroy Nature.

Industrial Society Destroys Mind and Environment.

Subject : In a fast society slow emotions become extinct.
Subject : A thinking mind cannot feel.
Subject : Scientific/ Industrial/ Financial thinking destroys the planet.
Subject : Environment can never be saved as long as cities exist.

Emotion is what we experience during gaps in our thinking.

If there are no gaps there is no emotion.

Today people are thinking all the time and are mistaking thought (words/ language) for emotion.

When society switches-over from physical work (agriculture) to mental work (scientific/ industrial/ financial/ fast visuals/ fast words ) the speed of thinking keeps on accelerating and the gaps between thinking go on decreasing.

There comes a time when there are almost no gaps.

People become incapable of experiencing/ tolerating gaps.

Emotion ends.

Man becomes machine.

A society that speeds up mentally experiences every mental slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A ( travelling )society that speeds up physically experiences every physical slowing-down as Depression / Anxiety.

A society that entertains itself daily experiences every non-entertaining moment as Depression / Anxiety.





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