I’ve been job hunting lately. My time at this job (which I consider more missionary work than a traditional job) has been very fruitful and fulfilling, but I believe it’s time to move on. The question is: move on to what? My “indeed.com” searches first gained a kind of existential tinge, then became entirely symbolic of a deeper search. I’ve tried to outline the problem below.
I have, along with probably most humans, a desire to do great things. I want to leave my mark on the world. I want to create great art. I want to create a change that will outlast my 60 years I have left on earth. I’d like to be a driving force for good in the world. These are excellent platitudes, but that’s all they are. I feel them, though, as a burning desire in my heart, one that makes me want to scream in anger sometimes or alternatively motivates me to action. When I vocalize such desires, though, they taste like dry cardboard or stale coffee.
I have a problem. I feel- and perhaps am -utterly incapable of transforming my universal desires into particular actions. We read great books. We read about Achilles. Odysseus. Aeneas. Ishmael. Raskolnikov. St. Augustine. Huckleberry Finn. Alyosha Karamazov. Lavrans Bjørgulf. Captain Ahab. St. Paul. Tiresias. These are all great men who perform actions for good or evil. They perform actions for things beyond the actions themselves. Why did Ishmael take to sea? Why did Huckleberry ride the raft? Why did Ahab chase the white whale? It’s because they were pursuing the desires burning inside of them; because this interior principle was animating them and inspiring their actions. Is it too much to ask for the same? Why do I feel so hopelessly conscripted to mediocrity?
Every time I undertake a particular action, it leaves me completely unsatisfied and often embarrassed at how utterly it fails to communicate my intent. Take my blog posts, my conversations, and my musical performances for evidence. Reading a great book might leave me with a burning intuition, but as soon as I try to communicate that in a blog post, it gets lost. In trying to truly define my point, I lose it. So I’ve become afraid of particulars. Part of me would rather live in a wash of potency than attempt something particular and inevitably fail. Well I could become a great writer. I could become a teacher. A psychologist. A businessman. I could be rich or poor. I could live… anywhere. But in the meantime I’m accomplishing absolutely nothing! Is my desire for the universals worthless unless manifested? It seems like it. But as soon as I try to manifest it, I fail. So I don’t try.
It seems like the height of irony. The knowledge of universals imparted through a liberal arts education also seems to directly resist specialization. Because my education has given me (this sounds inexcusably arrogant; please excuse me anyway) a greater knowledge of the universals we ought to pursue, I am more incapable than most people of actually accomplishing anything. What do I mean by this? Let me try to explain:
The meaning of life, I hold, is to pursue goodness, truth, and beauty. Let’s say I try to accomplish that through social work. Before I can do anything of importance, I have to obtain a social worker’s degree and license. That involves selecting a particular institution, a particular job, and submitting yourself to the rules of an organization that you probably don’t completely align with. Seems like a failure. Sure, there are varying degrees of failure, but as soon as you admit any degree of failure, you’ve lost your perfect universal. So what do you do? Well, you either a) fail, or b) never attempt anything, and marinate in a sea of tantalizing potency.
I know the answer is supposed to be obvious, but I’ve been really struggling with it lately. It’ll happen as I’m turning out a job application, or envisioning myself working at a new job. I’ll get excited about the opportunity, but then, like a bucket of cold water, comes the question: “Really? Working in Evansville, Indiana as a GIS Technician is the best you can do? Is that truly the best way you can pursue the good, true, and beautiful?” I collapse. No, it’s not. It can’t be. It’s so… unheroic. It’s so bland. So it’s back to the drawing board. And onwards to continual failure.