New Year 2023
It is certainly possible, if not probable, that you’ll be farther from the answers to life after a rotation around the sun than you were before said rotation. For me, this is certain.
Four years after graduating college, I’ve got less hard answers for the meaning of life than I had sitting (hungover) at the ceremony. I’m unsure how much money it’d take for happiness, the ideal body fat percentage, the correct car to drive, location for living, occupation for working, or clothes to wear. I’ve searched far and wide, from the heavens to the depths of the ocean, for the elusive answer to a fulfilled and “happy” life. X squared plus Y squared equals contentment. Something along those lines might exist and open the door to nirvana and a kind of transcendental bliss waiting on the other side.
In the latter part of the year, I realized something.
The beauty and joy of life might not exist in an answer. It’s about the process and the style in which the answer is sought. In a mathematical frame, I imagine Archimedes finding the great joy in his life, measuring the circumference of a circle and discovering it was (roughly) 3.14 times the diameter of the circle, no matter how large or small. The twists and turns and trials in his memory that gave him the capacity to discover and think and achieve give definition to the achievement. This is the meaning of existence. We all know the result of his endeavors, yet the fulfillment lies purely with him and his journey.
Watching ‘The Last Movie Stars’ this year, something Paul Newman ruminated on has stuck with me since I viewed it on the stationary bike with a bum shoulder. Newman spoke of his appreciation for excellence, no matter the craft. From waiting tables to acting, he was interested in the individuals that had attained the top level of their profession. It was the first time that my ears had heard what my heart had felt the years since graduation articulated. I find the meaning of life in the acts necessary to attain the highest level of a craft, not the level itself. The desire to be an individual, in their own authenticity, rising to the peak of their profession, manifests as the apex of our shared experience. That gives us the drive to answer the alarm clock every day.
A sizable group thinks that the best part, or most memorable, part of Rocky movies are the montages. It speaks to something within us.
But I know that the meaning doesn’t lie solely in the occupation of a person. So, I extended my hypothesis. If true meaning is in the process of excellence and self-actualization in your occupation, then why can’t it be true for your actions and behavior as a son, husband, mother, partner, or friend? It’s easy to see the steps to take to rise to the top of the class, given you have specific gifts. But we find ourselves in fair competition in our, especially, human and flawed connections with those who we love.
There’s simplicity in the deadline of turning in a report, as is the detail necessary within to make an excellent report. Are the criteria as clear for the right thing to say to a partner in a time of apology? How about the time needed to spend with a friend or family member in a crisis? Is there a measurable way to ensure you celebrate the achievements of those around you?
Love doesn’t have a stock price or passing grade to satisfy our analytical side. Our more fuzzy, qualitative human aspects are harder to evaluate tangibly. I’m sure Newman would admit that love and fulfillment of our human side, while more difficult to gauge, is more fulfilling than professional achievements and the size of a bank account.
In the heart of our intuition, humans know the keys to be great at a particular thing. Somehow, someway, we possess a capacity for innovation, excellence, and brilliance. The last 200 years in technology have displayed that, with the need for higher reach and achievement ever present in the material world. Yet, we’re no closer to actualizing the human spirit than we were 2000 years ago. Many are still searching and along their way have become lost.
Often, embracing this side of our psyche leads to heartbreak and disappointment, and the heart is swift to close it off. The capacity for perseverance lies within all of us in the professional realm. Story after story includes a parable of overcoming heart ache and disappointment at professional success. Still, we are unprepared or unwilling spiritually and concede at the first obstacle or let-down. Determination is just another quality that applies to our inner most heart. Determination to succeed professionally is the same determination that is used to appreciate, forgive, empathize, and tolerate.
Changing jobs this year and beginning something new, I realized my tendency to become easily frustrated and denigrate myself for mistakes and oversights, even when I was new at something. When beginners, we are quick for self-criticism and infrequent forgiveness for honest mistakes. Just like the effort and practice necessary for the love we extend to others, the same is essential for ourselves. I always remind myself there was a time when Captain Kirk had to sit in the Captain’s chair for the first time.
I’m here to tell you, in the year 2023, it is possible to improve this side of yourself. When everything else has let you down, I implore you to try it. Whenever the explainable side of the world seems to have left you empty, remind yourself that your capacity for excellence reaches far beyond your desk or hard hat. The ability to find excellence as a friend, partner, or family member lies within every one of us, dormant, ready to be accessed.
Don’t neglect your spirit this year.