Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.
Human beings need endeavors to feel wholly alive, but lasting satisfaction comes when those endeavors are felt to have been intrinsically worthwhile. Some endeavors are physical, material, and outwardly directed toward communities, individuals, yet-unborn posterity, interest groups, organizations, or even audiences. Other endeavors are expressed more privately; perhaps they are mental, spiritual, personal, or artistic, and possibly directed towards some higher purpose or to only one or two other individuals at most. Sometimes there is even crossover between the two.
Some examples of endeavors undertaken on behalf of others:
- City planning/beautification
- Performing in a symphony
- Restoring a historic structure
- Working as a hospital chaplain
- Being a square dance caller
Private endeavors often serve a good beyond oneself not immediately apparent:
- Sailing a boat around the world alone or with one other person
- Developing a spiritual life
- Rescuing a kitty from a dump
- Writing a beautiful poem with no intention of publishing
- Developing expertise in a craft
- Collecting stamps
- Examining one’s own conscience to develop a better set of ethics
Crossovers between private and other-directed endeavors often occur:
- Becoming an expert woodworker and then writing a book about it (I think of Gary Rogowski, Handmade: Creative Focus in the Age of Distraction)
- Genealogical work (usually a private enterprise but often benefits many others)
The lines between private and other-directed endeavors are often imprecise, but to be truly satisfying there must be a sense of having achieved something you think or feel is deeply important. Such endeavors are not always describable in career terms; in fact, your most cherished endeavors or college major may end up having no connection with any job or career — such is the world of work nowadays.
When I wrote my thesis on library-museums, for instance, I already worked in the field and was hoping to establish myself in a transferable niche. However, the real reason for undertaking the degree itself was that I was interested in learning how to further the interests of libraries and museums because I deeply revere their role in preserving intellectual, cultural, and historical memory. (Conversely, when I studied journalism, I didn’t actually want to write about news, but cultural and historical topics.) So, in fact, I fulfilled part of my primary endeavor, that of writing, even though there weren’t actually any viable museum positions besides the one I already had. So, yes, it was still worth it to have written the thesis.
Such intrinsic motivations often drive people to champion the establishment of universities, hospitals, libraries, museums, religious institutions, or charities that benefit many others. Other motivations result in undertakings that remain private while serving some unseen good, such as rescuing a kitty from a dump when no one is looking. Sometimes these pursuits become full-time endeavors – I know a lady who rescues kitties and squirrels like it was a calling. Somewhere inside each person is a collection of motivations that transcend whatever names the world gives for their station in life or work. Those motivations are who we really are and they suit us for certain kinds of interactions and undertakings. Don’t worry whether you can give a name to whatever you are motivated to do or be (like “philanthropist”). You should just do that thing — whatever it is — because it is the riches of your life to express it for some positive good.
Header photo: Mahbub Shaheed / CC BY-SA