To many people, this post will not make any sense. It has been several years now since my aunt died. She never went to college. She was heavy. She had human problems. But, dispatch for the local fire department, the whole community came together when she died. Every strong and brave man who offered protection to all of us, stood at attention. They blew their sirens as her hearse passed. They understood value.
It is easy to get caught up with striving for success: to think that we must go to the best school; have the highest paying job and the top score on every test, whether in school or in life.
To strive, to achieve, to accomplish is promoted by our culture, our friends, and our family members who love us. When we get the big job with the corner office our loved ones celebrate. Neighbors and rivals are envious. Pretty girls wink. Clients and bosses, conflating success with value, give us more money.
I am guilty of it. I sign my children up for piano, Colombian dance, and foreign languages. They run cross country, have math tutors and volunteer at the church. One summer when the kids were young, we refused to get sucked in to this rush and did not sign them up for camp. “Why not let them play in the creek and the woods the playground with their neighbors, classmates and friends”, we thought. Summer came and not a single neighbor, classmate or friend was home. Everyone shipped out to sailing camp, saddled off for horseback lessons or toured with their local soccer club.
Of course we participate in a culture and a time and a place and there are some things necessary if we want the benefits of that culture, time and place. There are things we really should do. I do not tell my children to abandon school. Every day I must wake up, go to work, and earn enough to pay my keep. But not every success is good for us. We can work hard, set goals, overcome hardships and achieve things that, ultimately, detract from our well-being. The secret, told by Aristotle and one of the steps on the Eightfold path, is sophrosyne, finding the “right” amount. Not a middle between extremes, but the “correct” measure given the time and the place. It is tempting to look out at something shinning on the horizon that our mother and spouse want for us, and confuse it with something that matters. And because we are growing and changing and floating in a postmordial soup, we must continually plot our bearing against the stars and the planets using only dead reckoning. We must locate where we are in the moment and ask “What do I want my life to be?” The ability to sustain passion toward an overarching goal is wonderful and powerful and good. But do not confuse all goals and passions and gritty endeavors with things of value.
What is the purpose of our lives? Yes, I must pay the bills. Yes there is meaning in supporting my family. I want my son and my daughters to be safe, have a good education and opportunities. I want the world to roll itself open at their feet. Yes, there is meaning in striving after our dreams. But success is not the polestar against which to set our bearing. It is not the barometer with which to gauge our worth. Rather than looking to whether we succeed at the shimmering things, let us shift our emphasis. Let us strive to live lives of value and meaningful effect, and direct our sustained passions in ways that our lives can matter. Strive to be of value. #Meaning #DoGood