A commonly explored topic–why man does what he does–has found itself at the forefront of my mind time and time again over the past few years. As I closed in on my thirtieth birthday, I gave the milestone unnecessary and maybe unhealthy consideration. As a kid, I was sure that by age thirty I would have graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, settled into a vast fortune of material riches, and changed domestic and foreign policy to better serve my wants and needs. I certainly could not articulate those desires in the aforementioned manner when such aspirations were but lofty and blissfully ignorant; however, I knew I wanted to be great. I knew I wanted to make people around me proud, and I wanted to have fun in the process.
What I did not explicitly know or fully understand as a child was that my definition greatness would vastly change as I grew into the mind and body of a young man and adult. Around the age of seventeen, I began to grapple with the realization that my baseball fantasies were unlikely, and perhaps more shocking was that I no longer desired to play like I once had. Being on the field no longer felt surreal. I lacked purpose and drive, yet I allowed the sport to define my identity for so long that I held on through college, enjoying it sparingly and reveling more in the brotherhood of my team. Still, it took me a long time to build a different boat, shape another plan, hoist a new flag, and embark on a voyage that would take me somewhere worthy of my toil. It took me a great bit of pain and discomfort to understand that my individual greatness could be displayed, harnessed, and actualized through a capacity to develop greatness in others–a discovery that seemed less than appealing at face value. Why help others when I wanted so badly to help myself? Were the two ever mutually exclusive to begin with? These questions drove me to explore the world of inclusive practice, one that seeks collective advancement and embraces an ideology that suggests as individuals we might go fast but as a unit we might go far.
Yet despite embracing the utopian vision that ultimately led me to a profession that values some of the aforementioned traits, teaching, I cannot help but think that my deviance from self-interest and a forceful pursuit of collective growth gave heed to judgement. Some would embrace and offer in my direction the age-old and terribly misguided idiom, “Those who can’t…teach.” Buried in this statement is a fundamental and unfair assumption that teaching is not a profession of choice but rather a consequence of failed attempts. I assure you, incompetence knows no line of work. It is a fact of life that human beings are flawed, fall upon hard times, and struggle to find meaning–these truths are displayed in the work put forth in any environment. Conversely, I know educators, electricians, lawyers, plumbers, general contractors, pharmaceutical reps, professional athletes, authors, and others alike that bring great expertise and passion to their craft, forcing me to arrive at an altogether different conclusion: those who try…can. So it seems, at least through my eyes, that one’s occupation matters less than one’s drive and willingness to give themselves selflessly and without reservation or fear to that endeavor.
Admitting the transparent bias that probably needs no introduction at this point, I’ve used my own occupation to arrive at the previously stated conclusions, though my aim is not to elevate my work or that of any other man or woman above that of the next. My appeal is more intrinsically centered on the motives we possess, intentions we create, and actions we execute in tandem with our values and goals. I realized some time ago that I have a greater potential to affect positive change and enjoy my life a great deal more through working with others to discover how we might encourage and inspire one another to continually learn, solve problems, and care deeply for our humanity and share experiences. Throughout this process–one constantly under construction–I have learned and experienced my greatest lesson to date: in thinking of myself less, I have become more giving and learned to live more fully. And in a funny but somewhat anticipated manner, the pangs of trying to live as much for others as I can for me has illuminated just how many people are ready to share their gifts to support my growth. The hardest part? Faith and forgiveness.
By now my argument has transcended its origin, and that is arguably my intent. I find it only necessary to expand upon initial points, as they serve only as examples to a greater and less convenient truth about our nature as men. We will spend many of our days taking risks, however large or small, and some will pan out. Others, and with an inevitability that lessens not the blow, will leave us seemingly lost, bewildered, empty, emotionally drained, betrayed, torn, or a combination of said feelings and experiences. Still, it is not our finest day in the classroom, our greatest day in court, our most beautifully built home, our most brilliant sales pitch, or any other professional or personal conquering of tasks and fears that will define our merit and character as men. It will instead be our reaction to moments of despair, rejection, utter failure, true pain and loss, and the judgement cast in our direction that will characterize, reveal, build, and lend opportunity for honest growth–we must only be open to accept the invitation.
“Humanity may endure the loss of everything; all its possessions may be turned away without infringing its true dignity–all but the possibility of improvement.”
-Johann Gottlieb Fichte