Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Generational Search for Meaning

"The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live."

What a tragic statement.  What could possibly be more tragic is how readily I can identify with it.  It is so easy to wait for the right time, to start fresh "tomorrow," to feel the need to "research" something first, and while we wait for the right time, time continues its steady march forward. 

We all want meaning.  We all want passion and presence and feeling and fulfillment.  This yearning has birthed the bucket list generation, where we list out all of the accomplishments and goals and plans that, once completed, will indicate that we are now happy and passionate and present and fulfilled.  I propose that life doesn't really work like that.  It is more than just a string of accomplishments and goals checked off of a list.

I have also found that trivializing the things that I am passionate about by relegating them to just another item on my to-do list has the detritus, but perhaps predictable effect of eliminating my passion for them. I want to get to the top of Pyramid Peak, Mt. San Gorgonio or Mt. San Jacinto for the joy involved in the acts of doing so; for the companionship with friends, for the hardship that sharpens my mind and body, for the feeling of accomplishment that reaching the summit provides, and not merely to consider it over/done/finished/completed.

None of us have the time, energy or wherewithal to hop-scotch from one amazing event to the next without any time between them.  If I go on an amazing backpacking trip in early January, and then run a marathon in February, there is still a vast majority of down-time in between those memorable events.  If I just live for those note-worthy experiences, then I am merely coasting a lot more than I am actively living.

Which begs the obvious question; how do I actively live if not directly involved in something exciting, demanding and challenging?  More and more, I feel that we have to work to find the excitement, the meaning and the challenge in everything that we do.  People who know me personally would probably be surprised to know that I sometimes get requests for life advice, career advice, or information on how to live the kind of life I talk about here.  While I have strong doubts about how much help I can actually give, mostly due to the fact that I don't know what the hell I am talking about, I do have opinions on the professional and existential dilemma that so many people my age are going through.

College counselors and career advisers urge us to find what we are passionate about and make our career based on that.  If you are so lucky as to know what your greatest passion is, then you owe it to yourself and all of us folks who are jealous of you to follow that passion as far as it will take you.  Most of us don't have a burning passion for any one obvious thing.  My brother's girlfriend has known since she was young that she would be a doctor, and she is becoming one.  She has worked unbelievably hard for many years to follow that passion and she will be rewarded at the end of that day for her persistence.  I am incredibly impressed with her work ethic and vision, and I am also incredibly jealous that she would be granted this insight into what her "calling" is so young in life.  Most of us do not fall into this boat, and we are therefore left with two choices.  The first and easiest option is to resent our work, this imperfect and meaningless yoke that takes our time, demands our sweat and tears, and prevents us from following our heart.  As you can imagine, this path does not end in happiness.  The second option is to find the meaning and passion that we can in this imperfect vocation.

I have no great passion for the apparel and fashion world.  In fact, I am about as far from being cut of this cloth as it is possible to be, but I am successful in my work.  While I do not personally care for fashionable clothes, designer names or the trendiest colors and patterns, I take great pride in being known as an ethical and competent professional in the industry.  I am proud that I can help a designer take the "picture in their head" and make it a physical reality in the form of a perfectly-developed prototype or a successful production season.  Because of this pride, I can find the meaning, passion and challenge in an industry that on the surface does not stir my soul.

Looking back on every job I ever had, there were lessons to be learned, meaning and metaphor to be found every day, and a chance to find some sense of the passion and presence that we are all looking for.  I strive on a daily basis to adopt this mindset to every act and thought that I engage in, and if I have found any success in creating the kind of life that I value, I owe it to this commitment.          

Currently Listening To: "Kiss The Sky," by Sean Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
Currently Sipping On: Cold Can of Pabst Blue Ribbon


Anonymous said...

You seem very conflicted. You post many times about finding enjoyment walking around Venice with your parents on nice days, and then posts like this that seem to ache for grand adventures. Not to say they are mutually exclusive, because they aren't, but you seem to have trouble finding balance between the two. If you have one you want the other, and vice versa. Like all things in life balance is the goal. I don't mind bucket lists, because often times writing something down helps crystalize one's goal. I think for most people the end event isn't the actual goal, but as you say, it's getting their. If their goal is to climb the tallest peak on each continent, that is admirable and challenging, and if the person only wanted to reach the end then it wouldn't be worth the investment of energy.

Maybe I'm misreading your meaning, but what you are dealing with is life. Few get their ideal job. I hope that your brother's girlfriend finds that becoming a doctor is everything she has hoped. But there is always the possibility that it won't. That is the chance we all take. I think for 90% of people the satisfaction in reaching a goal is getting there. Although, I can say for me, becoming a senator will not be better since I'm not a schmoozer and hate asking for money.

Martin said...

Hanley - I think perhaps you were missing my meaning. The balance is what I was referring to her. This was not a knock of doing great things...just that they are not the ONLY thing. Enjoying the small stuff, which takes up the large majority of our time is what I was attempting to bring attention to.

Martin said...

"Here" not "her."

Anonymous said...

Then we are in agreement. My personal belief is that if I make a substantial impact on the world before I depart it by an aneurism at 56 it will be a successful life. Rarely do I evaluate my feelings on the life I live, but more what have I done to make it better. As my loving girlfriend pointed out, I'm "almost 30" and my stomach completely flipped. My worst fear is dying before I do something meaningful for the world more so than meaningful for myself.

Les Champs Elysees said...

Well said Martin... I look at you and see a lot of traits, characteristics, and thoughts that you share that I envy. I look up to you in a way. I'm one of the people who seeks your knowledge & thoughts on life. To me, I'm searching for that way to make my mark, but Im also searching for my way to become more like you.

If you died today(let's pray you don't) you would leave a very favorable mark as a man. The search for truth and knowledge, and then the sweat to attain some sort of level of understanding of what you found is great. You have made yourself into the machine that you are, and will continue adding to that.

Enjoy life and live in the present is what I take from this great post!

linda said...

This was a somewhat comforting read. I've been down on myself for over a year for not really having a calling career wise.

Glad to see a post from you.

Allison said...

Very well said Martin. I feel it comes from the fact that were were promised so much as kids, but now we look at our lives and start to wonder what happened to all those amazing things were were told we could do.

There are so many factors that get in the way of enjoying things.

One morning, when I was opening the coffee shop up at 7 am, I noticed the sunrise and thought, 'well that's at least one good reason to come to work this early."

BARNES said...

I take such pleasure in your torment, it really isn't fair.
You are inching closer and closer to this precipice, trying to maintain the stability you have been taught is a corner stone of a respectable life yet at the same time this whole other pack of smelly, appealing instincts is shrieking at you and it causes you such conflicted moments. I know this conflict.
Your juggling act on that tight rope is impressive and flatly commendable. Although, surely condemned my following statement will be by many, why should try and I blow smoke up your ass: when you finally fall I will be looking on only to see if you simply let the balls drop away with boredom and turn face first into the plummet oddly satisfied at this new beginning, or if you actually fucking hurl the rainbow highlighted clown equipment away at the audience before demonstrating your skill with dual middle finger messages and then execute a near perfect jack knife deftly slicing your way into the abyss.
Both seem equally likely conclusions.
Should be fun.

Sean said...

This is definitely my favorite of your posts. I agree completely, about doing big things, but trying to find the meaning in them rather than just checking them off the list. And what to do in between adventures. And also taking a job you don't necessarily love, but being good at it, for me its a point of personal pride. I want to be able to say, "it was a shitty job, but i was good at it." and the like. Very excellent Martin, keep it up.

K. Syrah said...

This might be your best post yet. Last year you seemed so filled with existential crisis', like a caged bird and now look at you, you seem more content now that I've read in quite some time.

Anonymous said...

Pasbt Blue Ribbon... hmmm. Working man or hipster....

There was an error in this gadget