Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Comfort vs. Happiness


Reading, writing, preparing, grading, and myriad other activities have defined my day-to-day existence of late. Both gratifying and frustrating, this unprecedented demand on my time is nothing I ever expected to encounter, nothing I planned on and, honestly, not anything I ever dreamed I would have wanted in my life. My modus operandi for many, many years has been a quest for leisure, an inherent propensity to relax. To be happy. And though that propensity is still with me today, it is that very drive that had left me so unfulfilled for most of those years. While it is true that through the duties I had acquired over the years – that of being a father, a parent (not necessarily the same thing – a father is something a man is, a parent is something a one does), an employee and other roles that must be assumed as one navigates life – I have absolutely felt a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But those things had an obligatory nature to them; they were defined by cultural norms and historical ideals such that success is expected and only failure noted. And it should be noted that although I succeeded in those roles to an extent, failure driven in part by that same need for comfort existed as well. I thought I was supposed to be happy, but I rarely was.

Today that drive is manifested in my always-reliable nemesis, procrastination. Although I have been able to push through it enough to have succeeded in completing the tasks necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree and everything but my thesis so far in my quest for my master’s, that thesis has proven fertile ground my old friend to flourish. The truth is that as busy as I am, I still waste too much time not working on it when I should be. And the looming work ahead of me has proven to be anything but relaxing. The crazy thing is as simple as it is profound: This is all voluntary. I do not have to do any of this - this is decidedly not obligatory. I could just as easily, indeed, more easily find a regular job and work a nine to five routine and be perfectly content with that. In fact, it would be a step up from my former goal of not working at all, living the “good” life of leisure and comfort. And being a contribution to society in that capacity would be fulfilling in its own right. I know this today…

But it begs the question: Why am I doing this? I can only partially answer that question. It is, in part, because I am intrigued by the intricacies of what I study. I have addressed my fascination with human communication in the past and that curiosity is absolutely some of the reason, but many things that I have not immersed myself into at this level fascinate me. Part of it is a desire to teach and the independence a university professor is afforded in the administration of his or her curriculum; and part of that is the very direct and positive effect I can have on the lives of others. But that is still not all of it – quenching curiosity and vocational independence can be had without earning a master’s degree or (if all goes well) a Ph.D. It could be that due to the change in my perspective from one of entitlement to one of service I feel a need to catch up, but that is not entirely it, either. The missing piece is one that I can only feel… it is impossible to articulate. It involves a sense of purpose that comes from someplace indescribable. It is as through this is what I am supposed to be doing.

So the battle wages on. I don’t want to do this work, but I need to. I don’t need to do this work, but I want to. Though I feel destined to do it, that I am supposed to do it, I also know that I am not obligated to. While it serves me as well as others, am I selfishly fulfilling my own desires or am I selflessly making a real contribution to the world? Quite likely both… and neither. I have said it before and it is still true today, this was not my idea. I never planned to pursue my education to this level – in fact, I never really planned to pursue an education at all. Everything I did prior to about seven years ago was a means to an end and that end was comfort. Physical and emotional comfort. I never achieved it. Isn’t it ironic that, considering the monumental tasks I have completed and even more so with those looming on the horizon, I have never been more at peace? I battle procrastination every single day. That inherent laziness has not left me – it still tells me that it would be so much easier to just relax, but I know that’s an empty lie. There is no purpose in leisure; it is not what I am supposed to do. I am supposed to do the work to realize my purpose whatever that turns out to be. All I need to know is that I have one.

And I am almost always happy.

1 comment:

Imaginography said...

Ah, procrastination my old friend. I encountered very similar feelings when I was doing my Masters degree. I would put more energy into avoiding doing the work than I needed to do it. I got through it though and I know you will too. You are a determined person and anyone undertaking a course of study has to have this to see it through. Good luck!

Cheers, Bobkat (I have a new blog now!)