“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” –Henry David Thoreau
As the plane sat at the gate, making final preparations for take off, I gazed out the window, watching two ground crew members, tramping around in the muddy slush, loading up the last pieces of luggage. They looked busy. They looked focused. They looked determined.
As my thoughts turned toward home, the fascination with the two workers below was interrupted with a sudden, “You from Boston?”
I turned to the man next to me and chuckled, reveling to him my New York Yankees jacket, “No, just visiting.”
As fate would have it, he wasn’t content to leave it at that. “Ahhh! Business or pleasure?”
Perhaps he was a little concerned as to the cause of my red eyes and rather weary appearance—little knowing that I had just spent the past several days in a New Hampshire cabin with no running water. Or maybe it was just one of those rare occasions when I looked a little more vulnerable than my usual, leave me alone, I’ve been on a long journey, traveler look—still a glow from all of my recent discoveries within the ancient American region of New England.
I carefully guarded my growing suspicion over his line of questions with as few words as possible, “A little bit of both.”
He seemed to ponder the response, then fell silent for a moment. I could sense he was on the edge of leaving me alone—finally! Thankfully… he gave it one last shot.
“How do you make your living?” The hook slipped into my conscious with the precession of a Wicked Tuna fisherman out of Gloucester Harbor that had finally snagged the big one.
We’ve heard the question a thousand times, on a thousand trips around the world, when getting to know a stranger, in some strange place. But this time, it wasn’t a strange question. This time the question penetrated my very being and challenged me to give the curious lad a meaningful and well thought out answer.
Perhaps it was symptomatic of my natural buzz from the lack of sleep? Nay, I knew it was more than that; it was something lurking in the salty philosophic Atlantic air that whispers through the timeless picturesque scenery North of Boston—the same whispers that spoke to some of America’s most profound writers, like Frost, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Eliot, while they tried to answer questions about life and death and time, and all things concerning the affairs of our daily busyness…and business.
How do you make your living?
It was the very question that had been haunting me the entire trip, with each log I split, in every step taken on a hike to some small peek overlooking the New England landscape, every snowflake that sung to me on it’s decent to the frozen forest floor. In fact, it has been haunting me the past couple of years of my career—the so-called Prime Earning Years between the ages of 30 and 50 years of age. That age when family responsibilities and economic recessions catch up with the hopes and dreams of what you thought you could become through your career. That age when we struggle to make our living, rather than allow our living to make us, through a rhythm and routine that wears us down like the mountain steam does to the rock when no one is looking.
What is a living, anyway? And how does one go about “making it?”
Making a living isn’t about a paycheck—it is not your job! If we try to answer that question by simply explaining what we do to make money, than somehow we’ve reduced the meaning of how we spend the majority of our days. Our work needs to be much more than just a how we make money; it must be about the purpose or cause we serve through our efforts at work—making other people’s lives more productive and enriching because of what we do—while also serving as a means to providing quality choices for the things that we cherish the most.
Where are you in relation to where you want to be in your career—in your life?
Maybe you don’t currently do what you love to do. Maybe your current job or project is not what you dreamed of doing when you were off earning degrees at the University or working for that revolutionary start up company when you first entered the workplace. But if you don’t believe that there is a higher purpose or meaning in the work you do, then you’re in danger of slipping into what Thoreau warned as, “quiet desperation.” If the gap between work and play is so wide that you can’t wait to get to the weekend so you can do what you really love to do, then it’s time to look in the mirror and ask the question, “How do YOU make YOUR living?”
To make a living requires a continual renewal of spirit and perspective that pulls all of our hopes and dreams, experiences, responsibilities—our living, into a larger, more integrated and meaningful context. It takes effort to align the things we love, and are passionate about, with what we call work. And yet, it is as simple as splitting wood this side of winter, on a spring day, in late April or early May—just for the pleasure of it.
As the plane began it’s decent, nearly four hours later, into San Diego, California, my new best friend and I had thoroughly investigated how we make our living. Just after the plane touched down in a land far from those ancient poets gravesites, I shared with him a few words I had just found, inside the wood I was splitting, just North of Boston. Words…that are there with you too, right now, on your computer’s keyboard, in the pen on your desk, in the code you punch in to enter your office, or the clock you punch your card into, or on the palm of the handshake you’ll receive at next Tuesday’s Business meeting. And those words are whispering to you:
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.
–Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time