Remember Why You Started

Remember why you startedOne thing I really enjoy is the reading of old self-help books.

By old, I mean ones written between 1850 and 1920. The advice they give is often more clearly grounded in tangible acts of virtue than much of the modern, feel-good, you’re OK, I’m OK variety. The best resource for these treasures is Google Books.

My latest find: How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (1910), by Arnold Bennett.

It is part of a more complete book called How to Live. Bennett offers everyday advice on how we can live and not just exist within the limits of a 24 hours day. He is writing at the turn of the century and for an English audience, but the message is surprisingly relevant.

Much of the population was moving towards working in an urban jungle of cubicles and offices and they were leaving behind much of what he argues made them “men.” People worked to make money, but their day-to-day lives consisted of waking up, going to work, going home, relaxing, going to sleep, and repeating the whole thing the next day.

Which of us lives on twenty-four hours a day? And when I say “lives,” I do not mean exists, nor “muddles through.” Which of us is free from that uneasy feeling that the “great spending departments” of his daily life are not managed as they ought to be?

Basically, he didn’t believe they were really living. And to a large extent, not much has changed in the ensuing 100 years.

I would argue that meaning can be found in work. That is actually a prevailing theme of this site, but I would not disagree that many of us toil away without a lot of joy in what we do.

Bennett says the solution is to use our leisure time for self-improvement: reading, studying and other  classical pursuits. These are of course all valid and useful endeavors. But this doesn’t really solve the problem of not enjoying our daily work.

To lead truly full lives we need to both use our leisure time well and find something meaningful in our actual jobs. As a veteran educator there are certainly times when I get a little frustrated, but then I stop and think about why I started this journey in the first place.

The reasons have not changed. I still love working with kids and I am still passionate about my discipline. Generally, what has me feeling frustrated are the peripheral issues. Things like mandates, standards, evaluations, paperwork.

At the end of the day they don’t matter.

Remember why you started.