“Every man’s work, whether it be literature, or music, or pictures, or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself.”-Samuel Butler
As I was nearing the end of high school, my father and I had a discussion about my future. My father was never one to be long-winded or get involved in extended conversations. But, what he had to say was short, sweet, to the point and wise.
He wanted me to know that I shouldn’t feel that my disability, as a result of Polio, would be a road block to having a successful career. In his own way he drove this point home by telling me; since I could not do physical work, as he had, I could still, while being behind a desk, get the job done; by leading others. His meaning being that, what I lacked in body, I would compensate in mind. His words were quite prophetic. For I was behind a desk-a teacher’s desk-and those who I would lead, were my students. And the work to be done, was their education. My disability put limitations on the number of professions that I could pursue. Yet it put no limits on the level of success that could be achieved within those limited choices.
Today, an uncertain and floundering economy has put similar restrictions on many young people. Young people who have dream jobs in mind, that may not become a reality. Passing time and changing circumstances may rekindle those dreams. However, time and circumstances do run their course. But, wherever one finds oneself, one must realize that work, in and of itself is valuable.
After retiring, I and my family decided to move to a different part of the state. We would be together as we aged, and could benefit from the more manageable financial arrangements. When I told my friends and colleagues, whom I have known for some years, of my decision to move, they were shocked and saddened. They attempted to convince me, out of that sadness, to stay in the area. Their argument being, that what I had accomplished as a teacher and coach, is what defined me. Essentially, in leaving, I would find myself lost. I was a bit taken aback by that comment, because I don’t believe I am defined by my profession or achievements, but rather by my character, which has played a role in those achievements. That character is derived from where I place my faith, and to whom I willingly surrender myself.
I sympathize with those young people, who see themselves as less, because they believe a particular profession would bring them the honor, meaning and purpose they seek. Suppose one does secure that special job, that one dreamed of having. Does that “dream come true,” make the person? Dreams, like all things in this temporal world, have a limited life span. And as dreams fade like a mist, so to, do all worldly things. What, then, will become of you? Do you fade away along with it? Do you lose meaning and purpose? If you believe your job defines you-then yes, in your way of thinking, you have lost your meaning and purpose.
A job brings nothing to us, except an opportunity, to express ourselves in work. Because if work is not performed by you, it will be performed by another. We do, however, have a unique opportunity to bring something to the job-ourselves. In doing so, it is we who bring definition to work, rather than work bringing definition to us. In this way, whether our task, at any given time, is our dream job or other, we can find fulfillment. For being a brain surgeon or a farmer, is not what matters. What matters is being a successful brain surgeon or a successful farmer. And what determines that success is the disposition of the one doing the work.
So it is not so important the work that we do. However, it is quite important, how we do that work. It is in the how we do something that defines us. And that you can take with you wherever you happen to be.
“The quality of work reflects the quality of the person who does that work.”