Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Life and Work

Triss and I were talking the other night about how much pressure she feels to be specific about what she is going to do when she grows up. I expect I am somewhat to blame for this, and I am sorry. So I told her how so many people make large plans about their adult work, and then once they graduate from college they work in an office for some corporation or other. Sometimes people are regretful, but sometimes they have come to enough maturity that they realize it is not the career or job that matters in this life, but the actual *living* of life.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we shouldn't plan. (In fact, it is probably my emphasis on planning that has stressed out my sensitive daughter.) But career or job ought not to be what defines anyone as a person, nor what determines happiness.

I've been hearing lately how the economic downturn is going to cause crises for many (indeed, already has) in this area, and I am not talking about financial crises, but psychological. (There will be financial as well, and that is another post.) Yesterday on the radio, I heard a man warn that the need for psychological counseling is going to go way up, due to people whose identity is wrapped up in their careers losing their jobs. It is easy to stand at a distance and see that this is wrong-- what is a job compared to health, or family, or the love of the Lord? But when Triss started talking to me last night, I began to understand where this imprinting of career-as-self begins. We start grooming them for it as soon as they are old enough to show aptitude for something.

As a young adult seeking employment, I looked for jobs that would make me satisfied. I switched around, trying first one thing, and then another, seeking something that would keep me interested long-term. I never expected to marry, being aloof, considered unapproachable by young men. (Mr. Honey tells a funny story regarding this and the night we met. He says the other guys were gutless. My brave hero!) I served as a recreation leader, a nanny, a barista, while working toward my dream of being a singer.

(I had thought of going into opera, but the networking and politics of it was so intimidating, I switched to more pop-style music. The necessity of networking and formulaic songwriting was too much. What I really wanted to do was to sit at a piano and play and sing, then go home at the end of the day. I wouldn't even need a lot of applause. A lounge singer, yeah, that's it. I did do some auditions for a lounge singer, but didn't succeed. I would still love to do that.)

Then, behold, somebody loved me! And plans changed. I *was* to be a wife after all. I continued working after marriage. (We didn't have children and didn't have money either.) I worked in an office, feeling that perhaps the child-related jobs were too isolating. I enjoyed proofreading physician and hospital lists for the insurance company, but despised having to 'grade' my coworkers on how well they keyed in information. So demoralizing. And the tediousness and artificial lighting and air of the office soon wore me down. Also, I was surprised at how very childish adults could be-- and I didn't even have the authority to put anyone in time-out until they cooled off! I worked nights at a dinner theater to keep my singing dream alive and entertain myself while Mr. Honey worked long retail hours.

Then we discovered I was going to have a baby! As soon as Triss was born, I quit the office and stayed home with her. (The dinner theater had closed a few months earlier, being rather more eclectic than audiences in Nashville generally enjoy.) I gradually segued into home daycare. I was glad to be able to stay home and love on my baby, as well as other people's, but it *is* lonely sometimes staying at home with kids. I longed for a companion that could complete sentences. I read a lot.

One day after my second child had been born, as I sat in my home watching very small children and contemplating homeschooling, I realized that it isn't the job that brings satisfaction, but how I do it-- that it is better to 'be happy in what you do' than 'do what makes you happy'. Think about the difference between those two attitudes. (And think about how long it took me to realize this!)

Many times as adults, we are called on to do needful things because it is best that we do them rather than someone else, or because there is no one else at all to do them. We can whine that these jobs are not what we have aimed for or trained to do, but, in the larger scheme of things, that really does not matter. And we ought to be educated, if not at school then on our own time, in such a way that we are capable of thriving in a good many environments.

How, then, should we be educated? School-to-work is not the answer. That is what produces despair in a person who must change careers.

We say, "What is the good of knowledge? Give a boy professional instruction, whether he is to be a barrister or a bricklayer, and strike out from his curriculum Greek or geography, or whatever is not of utilitarian value. Teach him to play the game and handle the ropes of his calling, and you have done the best for him." Now, here is a most mischievous fallacy, an assertion that a child is to be brought up for the uses of society only and not for his own uses. Here we get the answer to the repeated question that suggested itself in a survey of our educational condition. We launch children upon too arid and confined a life.


Pursuing dreams and passions is also not the answer (although it comes closer). Many times children, and even adults, do not receive the education they need to live their lives to the fullest, because they focus solely on the aspect they have achieved a little success in. This results in a narrow view of gifting, and a similar attitude to the school-to-work crowd. Rather than saying "I can't because it isn't in my job description," they say, "I can't, because it isn't part of my gifting."

(This is a pet peeve of mine. Perhaps you have been placed in the situation you are in to develop a gift for this thing, did you ever think of that? Even adults grow and change, you know. We were not meant for stasis.)

"I must live my life!" said the notorious bandit who before the War terrorized Paris; and we have heard the sort of cant often, even before The Doll's House gave to "self-expression" the dignity of a cult; nevertheless, the brigand Bonnot has done an ill turn to society, for a misguiding theory neatly put is more dangerous than an ill-example.

We are tired of the man who claims to live his life at the general expense, of the girl who will live hers to her family's annoyance or distress; but there really is a great opportunity open to the nation which will set itself to consider what the life of a man should be and will give each individual a chance to live his life.


The pursuing of a gift or passion, for good or ill, can then be defined as 'I must live my [narrow, selfish view of] life'. Or the living of a person's life can be defined differently, as broad, complete, encompassing many interests and duties, the setting of a person's feet in a large room. With this, we can endure the tediousness of office, store or home; we can find happiness in serving even in the most menial tasks; we can step outside the comfort zone of resumes and dreams, and steep ourselves in real life.

I believe the answer to living the life we are meant to live lies, not in a well-chosen profession, but in a well-rounded education, full to the brim with ideas as well as information. It is a challenge to achieve this, especially with all the pressure to 'be' something when you grow up. However, a person who has captured wisdom and understanding can be quickly and efficiently trained to do just about any worthwhile task, and what's more, is content to do the task as long as necessary, and move on when it is time rather than complacently remaining in a useless position.

Our goal should be knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Not a job, not a dream. But a whole person, well-equipped to honor God and serve her fellow man in whatever capacity lies open to her.

"Think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well," says our once familiar mentor, Matthew Arnold, and his monition exactly meets our needs.


(All quotes are taken from Chapter 4 of the second part of Charlotte Mason's Volume 6: Toward a Philosophy of Education)

1 comment:

resourcequeen said...

You wrote, "However, a person who has captured wisdom and understanding can be quickly and efficiently trained to do just about any worthwhile task, and what's more, is content to do the task as long as necessary, and move on when it is time rather than complacently remaining in a useless position."

Did you reread this? It is very WISE! I would love to tell you and our dd my testimony of how I became a SAHM and how I found fulfillment in work whereby never finding the "perfect job". The short version is that if I were to view my life in few year segments, to be well rounded and active in many avenues (not just different activities but variety of doings) is my fulfillment in life. I'm sure it is different for others being more suited for one thing. I could go on and on for stories. Some stories are about things *I* did and others are about how the Lord is strng when *I* am weak.

Have a blessed week!