When I was 17 I was sure I’d found my vocation. I’d become a draftsman, and the drafting table was a place where time flew by in a blur. But even then the ripples of change were in the air, and CAD (Computer-Aided Design) was taking over. Pencils couldn’t keep up with programming, and I opted for college to find a wider channel.

Each man has his own vocation.  The talent is the call.  There is one direction in which all space is open to him.  He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion.  He is like a ship in a river: he runs against obstructions on every side but one, on that side all obstruction is taken away and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.  This talent and this call depend on his organization, or the mode in which the general soul incarcerates itself to him.  He inclines to do something which is easy to him and good when it is done, but which no other man can do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson witnessed the American Industrial Revolution happening all around him in Waltham, Lowell, Lawrence, Fitchburg and other mill towns. The pace of change was extraordinary for the time, and still inspires awe. Cities bursting upwards from ancient land, transformed forever from ancient forests to quiet farmland to bustling brick and steel blocks as far as the eye could see. Timeless rivers dammed and diverted into canals that fed in turn the turbines and the looms and the mill workers and most of all the mill owners and investors. Railways and highways built and expanded to move goods efficiently from place-to-place. Neighborhoods creeping ever outwards to house the workers. The transformation is ongoing in an ebb and flow of maddening hunger for more and more.

Mixed into this crush of transformation was the pressure to keep up, leading to consumer debt and then student debt. Shackled to interest payments, how does a young person navigate the obstructions on all sides and find the channel that brings them to the endless sea? The system is set up to feed the beast, not the soul of the worker. The futility of this leads to anxiety, blame and rage. Look around in America today and you see it everywhere. The dream lives on, but obstacles clog the channel. That channel is there, if only we break free of the obstacles. Too many never do.

“Just as a well-filled day brings blessed sleep, so a well-employed life brings a blessed death.” – Leonardo da Vinci

I’m further down the river, but haven’t reached that infinite sea. The writing feels like a better channel, though it’s currently a hobby not a vocation. I’ve sprinkled long form writing into many career stops down the river, but one man’s channel is another’s obstacle. In business long form writing gets swept aside for quick sound bites of absolutely necessary information and then on to the next thing.

Better to find a better audience, and technology allows for that to a degree, even as it eliminates other opportunities. The proverbial river has changed since Emerson’s America, narrower channel in some places, wider in spots, but dammed up in others. Opportunities to find your way to that infinite sea have never been more available, just stop bouncing from shore to shore trying to find the channel and the journey will be a lot easier. There’s no serenity out of the channel (where too many find themselves), and the sea awaits.