|The Three Marriages - Three Marriages 4|
But work is not only necessity; good work like a good marriage needs a dedication to something larger than our own detailed, everyday needs; good work asks for promises to something intuited or imagined that is larger than our present understanding of it. We may not have an arranged ceremony at the altar to ritualize our dedication to work, but many of us can remember a specific moment when we realized we were made for a certain work, a certain career or a certain future: a moment when we held our hand in a fist and made unspoken vows to what we had just glimpsed. For some it may come very, very quickly.
Work is a constant conversation. It is the back-and-forth between what I think is me and what I think is not me; it is the edge between what the world needs of me and what I need of the world. Like the person to whom I am committed in a relationship, it is constantly changing and surprising me by its demands and needs but also by where it leads me, how much it teaches me, and especially, by how much tact, patience and maturity it demands of me.
Like marriage and relationship, work is a constant invisible question, sometimes nagging, sometimes cajoling, sometimes emboldening me; at its best beckoning me to follow a particular star to which I belong. If children move into their late teens with no inkling of their future vocation, not even a glimpse of the star, it is time for the adult world around them to become rightly and increasingly worried. At this point a seemingly wrongheaded but determined direction is far better than none at all. It may be, in fact, that most of the great work done by individuals through history has often been accomplished through long years of wrongheadedness. Wrong direction or no, human societies have always intuited the powerful necessity of a gravitational pull youth must follow to find their way.
One of the most powerful thresholds children cross into adulthood comes through the sexual revolution that occurs in the very fibers of their being, turning them initially upside down, but eventually toward the ultimate necessities of committed relationships. It is interesting to think of an equivalent line in work that children must cross where their comprehension of the world is revolutionized as they slowly come to realize there is labor in the world; that the food on their table and the roof over their head may not have been won lightly and that their work in the world will be as much about providing for others as about providing for themselves. It can be a stone-cold sobering arrival or it can be a careful apprenticeship. For some children this is well understood at seven years old according to the manner of their upbringing, the income of their family and their early introduction to actually doing something for others. Other more gilded youths I have known, with $60,000 a year in tuition plus living expenses at Stanford paid without a blush, may take it all for granted until their twenty-seventh year.
Work waits. Reality waits. The conversation cannot be averted without our becoming a shining example of immaturity to those we know. Like our parents' marriage to each other, their sense of dedication to work, in or out of the home, is one we inherit, take on and ultimately test against our own experience. No real long-term satisfaction is possible in work without treating it as something much larger than a series of jobs. I must find, pursue and commit to my vocation as I would to another person in marriage or relationship.