We recently sponsored a panel discussion on campus on work and meaning; a fascinating conversation that touched on elements of feminism, justice, meaning, purpose, and more. This article, an opinion piece from the New York Times, continues that conversation, reminding us that duty as much as passion is relevant to finding meaning in work.
It reminds me of a book by Dr. Mary Pipher in which she shares the experience of asking her grandmother if she has had a happy life. After trying to dodge the question, her grandmother, who has faced many challenges in her life, tells her that the question of happiness isn’t relevant to her; what is important is the question of whether she has done the right thing. This powerful idea of choosing the right thing over that which might make you happy can be lost in today’s culture, but this article offers a reminder of some grounding truths.
What do you think? Where do you find meaning in your life? Where do you seek it?
The universally recognized paragons of humanity — the Nelson Mandelas, Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther Kings — did not organize their lives around self-fulfillment and bucket lists. They, no doubt, found a sense of meaning in their heroic acts of self-sacrifice, but they did not do what they were doing in order to achieve that sense of meaning. They did — like my father and some of those kids from town — what they felt they had to do.
Dr. King taught that every life is marked by dimensions of length, breadth and height. Length refers to self-love, breadth to the community and care of others, and height to the transcendent, to something larger than oneself. Most would agree with Dr. King’s prescription that self-fulfillment requires being able to relate yourself to something higher than the self. Traditionally, that something “higher” was code for God, but whatever the transcendent is, it demands obedience and the willingness to submerge and remold our desires.
Perhaps you relish running marathons. Perhaps you even think of your exercise regimen as a form of self-improvement. But if your “something higher” is, say, justice and equality, those ideals might behoove you to delegate some of the many hours spent pounding the track on tutoring kids at the youth center. Our desires should not be the ultimate arbiters of vocation. Sometimes we should do what we hate, or what most needs doing, and do it as best we can.
The rest of the article can be found here.
Image (and article) courtesy of opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com