The Meaning of Life: Work & Passion

Pedalling past green pastures to the sound of my heartbeat, I mused about what a splendid and wild world we live in.

And then as so often occurs in the history of mankind, I pondered the meaning of our existence, our fragile fleeting existence upon this mortal coil, this cyclical spirally soiled coil.

Our genetics insists that we should procreate and conquer our environment and adversaries and be merry in the face of certain demise.

What about leaving a legacy other than progeny?

Our religions insist that we should do good onto others and interact with each other within the rules that govern our spirit and mind, and be merry in the face of certain demise.

What if the deities are just assholes and there is no afterlife?

A quote from Dead Poets Society has always stuck with me:

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The full quote is this:

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

And the human race is filled with passion. What is this passion? According to evolution and religion, we are just meat-filled machines made to serve our instincts and base desires, to carry out our predestined duties in this preordained existence.

What is passion?

Some might say it is a device for us to procreate, a tool to create a legacy that will ensure the survival of our offspring, a divine gift to inspire others and bring about good in the world.

I feel passion is more than all that – it is closer to the thing we call our calling in life. The deep inner well that we draw our meaning from.

There are many I have seen who go through life without passion, a soulless meat drone going about the daily routine, a slave to the chores of life and the burdens of existence.

There is no passion there, there is no joy.

Having passion is more than just having a goal in life, something to strive towards. As the cliche goes – it is not just the destination, it is also the journey. And passion is the same – shouldn’t it be more than just attaining more wealth or more love or longer life?

Passions are ideas, relationships, dreams. The intangible made tangible.

Will the things I say awaken something in those who hear it? Will the lines I sketch alter reality? Will the words I write today change tomorrow?

Probably nothing ground breaking, nothing monumental.

But if it can even spark something in another person, implant the seed of future greatness, or make someone’s day, is that something?

What if evolution is right? What if all there is to existence is to make babies and ensure they go on to make more babies?

What if religion is right? What if there is an afterlife and all the good people get to have endless fun while the bad people are subject to eternal turmoil?

Both of these options seem rather meaningless to me. Both simply prescribe a means to an end, a way of life that does not help the present, that does not lead to progress or the true betterment of man.

But then again, what is progress? Doing things faster and more efficiently? Curing diseases so people can live longer?

For what? To continue to fuck for babies and fuck with one another until we fuck off this mortal coil?

Speaking with a friend about the meaning of life, he replied that it is up to the individual to determine the meaning of their own lives. And so I asked what he felt was the meaning of his life.

Was it to help his fellow man? To create and leave behind a legacy that would make the world a better place? To motivate, inspire and equip the next generation?

To do good works?

Is not our life’s work (or “day jobs” as some people refer to them) one of our defining purposes and major source of meaning in our lives?

A friend shared a story with me:

There once was a man who approached three construction workers and asked what they were doing.

The first worker replied simply: “I’m working hard to feed my family.”

The second worker responded proudly: “I want to learn and improve my skill so I can become a famous stonemason.”

The third worker stated humbly: “I am helping to build a grand cathedral for the church.”

All three workers clearly had different goals and ambitions (or lack thereof).

The first worker believed his work to be a means to an end – to feed himself and his family. Basic necessity, zero ambition.

The second worker believed in himself – he only saw his own future and what he wanted for himself, with no regard for the larger project that he was a part of.

The third worker’s response captured the true goal of the project at hand – he knew his own role in the scheme of things, and aligned his goals with that of his principal. He saw things not just from his own scope of work, but also from the perspective of the organisation, of the whole body of work. This type of worker is capable of seeing the end result and the value of the entire project. The third worker sees the big picture, and thus is believed to have the greatest chance of success.

Perhaps a somewhat dull tale about types of workers, but it does outline the different mentalities that people have. And if work is one of the greater purposes of our life, then shouldn’t we place more emphasis on it?

I imagine for much of the working class in today’s society, the work we do is simply a means to an end, akin to the first worker’s aim. We work to earn money so we can feed ourselves and our families and live happily ever after.

We work so we can make money so we can stay alive and perhaps travel every now and then.

Religion dictates that we work so we can provide not just for ourselves and our kin, but also to do good for the needy and less fortunate in our society, so we can store up karma and treasures in heaven.

So either way we have to work, right?

So we go through life working and working and making money. There is meaning in that.

But is it enough?

No? Then get better at what you do. Become the second worker.

Be the best that you can be, so the world will know you and acknowledge your amazing work. So you can get paid much much more for your work.

So I can live happily ever after with all that extra money I’ve made.

Then what?

How’s that for meaning?

Do I need to be the third worker? Do I need to see the bigger picture?

And what, pray tell, is the bigger picture?

At the end of my days, when I am old and shriveled, when my joints ache and bones cry out in pain, when my mind is sluggish and my smile is all I have left to offer, will I have found my meaning?

Or shall I just keep living my life in a blurred haze of busy work to make ends meet? Never once pondering further the meaning of things. Thinking about what life should be like, instead of thinking about what life is?

And when I’m nearing my end, will my frail heart waver and rue my life’s choices? Will I turn back to the old things that brought me comfort in my life?

Will I call out to my deity when my time has come?

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