Life’s Work: A Trajectory or Spiral?

Everyone is filled with this notion of potential, some untapped or undiscovered resource within themselves, like a cache of gunpowder waiting for you to strike the match. In a world smothered in false modesty, it may seem unthinkable to admit that I have never felt a lack of potential – I’ve maintained a quiet confidence that comes with knowing the ‘cache’ is fairly well – stocked.

The trouble has always been direction – no sense in lighting the fuse unless you know where to aim and blow the world away. This lack of direction has led me through a myriad of jobs and situations, as I desperately sought that spark of inspiration or connection with something genuine and worthy. Something that demands and rewards in equal measure, where I can barter irretrievable time for timeless knowledge – discover skills and ideas that feed my curiosity and sustain my being. This may all sound like hyper-romanticised nonsense, but if this truly is the only swing of the bat I get, then I plan to invest the next four decades very carefully.

They say “the Devil makes work for idle hands”, and although I’m not religious, I know this to be true. There was a time, not so long ago, where I reached a mental impasse. I could no longer continue investing so much time in something that gave nothing back, other than the impetus just to continue – like Sisyphus rolling the rock up the hill. So I cut and ran – made a leap of faith, based on what I thought I knew about myself. I leapt, not to where the grass was greener, but out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The new work I had found was unsustainable, and I wound up penniless and back at home, asking myself why I ever left that comfortable job in the first place. Time passed. My sense of self-worth diminished rapidly as I realised the current tide of undergraduates rendered my qualifications increasingly obsolete. I wasn’t an individual; I was a piece of A4 paper, a fish lost in a mighty shoal, steered by unknowable forces. I was becoming a drain on my family, both financially and emotionally, so I retreated into myself, only ate once a day and slept the rest of the time.

There is a sense of perspective that can only be gleaned from extreme detachment – I stumbled upon this during some of my lowest moments. All those times I had sought things that appeared stable, respectable, acceptable, comfortable….tripping along the economic conveyor belt of conventions, towards the picket-fenced protectorate of marriage with 2.4 children and a house borrowed from the government. This is a static dream – stasis is comfortable, where Henry Ford’s vision of industrialisation reveals us to be nothing more than replaceable cogs within the repetitive machine.

Satisfaction is death, a resignation to “what is”, not what “can be”. Beware easy routines and comfortable habits – keep whittling the mind with questions and live any way you can. Keep moving, seeing and doing, gather your successes about you as a life raft, a foundation, and build your own way out of the mire.

Let your body tell you when it’s time to stop, not your mind. This is life; there will be time enough at the end for everything else.

Suggested reading/material:

Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell

This Business of Living: Diaries 1935 – 1950 – Cesare Pavese

Dorothea Lange’s photographs of migrant workers during the great depression (Phaidon publication)

The creative works of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray