We Aren’t Surrounded by Olympians

It was a short conversation about the Olympics, punctuated by many “how-do-they-do-that”s and “all-those-hours”es. At the end, my friend added the interesting footnote: “I wonder what it would be like to be an athlete at the Olympics, surrounded by people who are excellent.” Then, calmly, “But, I guess we always are.”

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Sacrifice vs. …Sacrifice? : Doing What You Love

Seth Godin recently pointed his blog readers to a heart-warming—and considerably thought-provoking—documentary. Appropriate to Godin’s field of work, “Lemonade” interviews over a dozen laid off advertisement professionals who use their new found freedom to pursue work and recreation that they truly enjoy.

If you scroll down to read some of Hulu’s viewer comments, you’ll notice that the concept of “doing what you love” full-time is controversial. Many argue that “pursuing one’s passion” is often mismanaged, resulting in failure, the loss of other opportunities and a decrease in quality of life. The potential for success may not be worth the enormous risk.

Of course, it’s normal for us to seek pleasure over pain, happiness over unhappiness. There is logical consistency in choosing activities we enjoy over those we despise. Pursuing work that inspires us can be opposed to our basic needs or our familial responsibilities. Even the non-basic comforts of our lifestyle are enough to hinder us from pursuing a motivational occupation because we can’t bear the loss of them. Consequently, immediate needs usually take precedence over long-term goals.

Achieving success while doing work we enjoy is also not as predictable as, say, a corporate job. Some individuals see their corporate work as a service to others, whether they’re serving their coworkers or indirect recipients. But more often than not, it’s the paycheck that keeps them in their offices. Money, after all, can open doors for activities we really enjoy. Saving and preparing for a family’s future is also one of the major reasons people choose higher paying jobs. None of these are unworthy goals.

The potential pitfalls of choosing work solely because we love it can be numerous. Seth Godin—who, if you don’t know, advocates the pursuit of meaningful work—outlines these pitfalls thoroughly in an article from a couple of years ago.

Yet choosing work we enjoy can be rewarding, not only for ourselves but for our families and for our community. Making a documentary about surf camps, for example, “that provide free, therapeutic surf lessons to kids with cystic fibrosis” is a powerful way to impact a community; something as simple as home roasting coffee beans and selling them at the local farmer’s market is yet another way to link people together.

If we truly love the work we do, we’ll be devoted to it, willing to suffer for it, and consequently, be much better at it.  There are times when hard work is not enough to accomplish something. Usually we need certain knowledge or the right opportunities in order to achieve success. But success isn’t possible at all without devoted persistence.

As human beings created in God’s image we find the most enjoyment and meaning when we act according to our natural skills and abilities, which includes the act of creating. By doing that which most fits and inspires us we’ll be able to more fully serve our community (and create better art) as a result.

Even though money itself can be a means to better things, we frequently make the mistake of building our lives around it. Some people are able to make lots of money doing what they love, but for those of us who can’t, is the loss of money worth the loss of utilizing the gifts God has given us?

It’s okay for us to simply live and be and do. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds me that, first, “all things have been done before,” but also that living humbly, I can do work which is most suited to me. It isn’t worth wasting time and energy in an attempt to achieve material wealth when it is not ultimately for the good of our families, for our community or for our own well-being. We should know who it is we want to be and what it is we want to do. Whether it means working to make money for the good of one’s family and for added opportunities, or giving up material goods for the pursuit of higher things (like art, invention, discovery or the betterment of our community and society). ‘