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Thoughts on the Scramble

“Only those who decline to scramble up the career ladder are interesting as human beings. Nothing is more boring than a man with a career.” — Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

A few days of sailing had the desired effect. The stress accumulated, overflowing and leaking out of my pores, revealed in comments and recent blog posts was finally released. That’s a symptom of too many active endeavors leading up to a boiling point, of sorts, without the necessary reprieve of time off. Why do we do this to ourselves? Because we’re seeking meaning in prestige, earning potential and perceived value others place on us. It’s nice to be wanted, and even needed, even as it sucks the very life out of us at times. So it goes.

We ought to lean into our vocation, and less so into pursuits less worthy of our brief dance with vitality. But ought to’s are tricky things. There are things we must do and things we might do, and things that fall in between. Life is this navigation and this dance.

To be a great navigator is to decide on a proper course based on the relevant data, while ignoring the frivolous tangential information. So do we question our active pursuits? Shouldn’t we? How else can we determine the essential from the tangential?

What we fill our days with ought to matter a great deal. Even as I write this, I’m weighing the high of a few days off from my primary work, an admittedly lighter lift on blog posts and time with exceptional people against a keen desire to open up the work computer to set the table for a productive week. If time off is so fulfilling, why are we so eager to roll up our sleeves and get back to business? What gives?

When we find meaningful ways to contribute, ways that offer value to others while speaking to something within us, we’ve reached a state of working bliss. This may sound ridiculous on the face of it, but there’s something to being productive in work that matters to us, even as there is also value in doing the essential things that aren’t that work. So if traveling to fascinating places, learning new languages and skills, sailing, hiking, reading great books and poetry and socializing with great friends makes a person more interesting, so too might dabbling in work that matters. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

This isn’t a contradiction, it’s a personal audit of what matters most, which we all ought to do from time to time. Work that matters carries us to places of joy, purpose and yes, usefulness. This makes us more than interesting, it makes us contributors in the game of life, raising the stakes for the lot of us. This calling is ours alone. For what are we here for but to be useful in our own unique way?

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