Meaning, mission, and our valuable time

Out of all of the things we do, which activities relate to our mission, and which operate silently in the background? A weekly visit to church, a diet or exercise plan, or a creative hobby could be one person’s lifestyle but another’s scaffold, holding space for other meaningful things. The question could be parsed: is our mission personal, communal, or professional? If these diverge, do they overlap, remain discrete, or enable each other?


When people describe their ideal personal and professional lives, no matter how related, they often seek the intersection of meaning and happiness, and focus on a job for at least part of that, as jobs occupy so many hours. For some, employment is purposeful, while for others, it steals time from purpose.

Finding your balance point can be as challenging as seeking purpose itself. Meaning doesn’t arrive only in one big chunk, nor does it exist in direct proportion to time. It’s unsurprising that sweet, small moments, or quick challenges are as important to our sense of purpose as our 40-hour-a-week lives. And, as we routinize things (like food shopping, diet, exercise, even work or hobbies, depending on your life balance), they can come to support our sense of a meaningful life instead of operating as meaning themselves. Alternatively, we may find that we need to become experts at certain routines and expand their space in our lives, so strong is the sense of connection.

If you are reading this, you might ask: what routines bear personal meaning? What challenges do you hope to “turn routine”? And what larger impacts do you hope to have that, combined with the efforts of others, can be greater than yourself?

Magnifying our impacts through collaboration is one goal of the workplace. Honing expertise to maximize impact is one goal of work for those who work alone. In this vein, I separate work from hobby, which animates the personal space and engenders connection and community. Hobbies that transform spaces might be rightly described as work within a community. What lends meaning to you, and what lends happiness? How do you prioritize your work, communities, and hobbies?


Reading: The Defining Decade by Meg Jay

“To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” –Leonard Bernstein, composer, as quoted on pp 188 of The Defining Decade, why your twenties matter and how to make the most of them now by Meg Jay, PhD

Intent on healthfully jump starting her readers, Dr. Meg Jay explores which choices, made in your 20s, engender future greatness and satisfaction. Lingering past 25 in the service industry or retail often doesn’t. I cringe a little; this isn’t a universal truth. But for Jay’s therapy patients, who are used as case studies in the book and who struggle with work and love, underemployment surfaces repeatedly. A poor attitude, failing to make choices, and not taking chances are other examples that fall short.

Jay advocates for a determined, future-oriented mindset, based on a sense of self. Though it seems counter-intuitive, this isn’t so at odds with “living in the present,” an idea enjoying its moment of grace in our public consciousness. In fact, a lot of Jay’s book seems aimed at destroying the idea that fulfillment comes from the black and white separation of your 20s (present) and 30s (future): That you should travel and party in the 20s to find your True Self, root and focus in the 30s; Focus exclusively on friends in the 20s to avoid marrying too early, find committed romance in the 30s; Explore identity through odd jobs in the 20s, so as to not get stuck in a consuming office job, start a career in the 30s.

But, Jay says, the 20s are a time for rapid brain development. Considering the 20s a decade detached from your larger life path, and opting out of long term commitments and challenges, could be a huge missed opportunity during this period of growth. Jay argues that while some exploration is good, investments will be bountifully returned and you cheat yourself out of your own time by not employing focus and goal setting. Jay advocates for making bounded choices that further personal development, so that limitless possibilities don’t become flat dead ends. That your 20s to 30s are a continuum makes sense. Committing to and taking yourself seriously, personally or professionally, doesn’t turn you humorless.

Until American work culture includes the month-long summer holidays of the French, it will seem hard to advocate jumping in as though work is a silver bullet to the challenges of personal development in your 20s. But Jay still says to go for it. I don’t think she’s saying ‘do what you love,’ but to challenge yourself to engage long term in places you can grow. Jay argues for creating “identity capital:” investments in ourselves and our knowledge base through which we gain a pathway to connect.

To clarify the focus of the book, I don’t think Jay is trying to blame people who stall because they have a hard time gaining work, being fairly compensated, finding time for themselves, or meeting people because of the economy or other circumstance. It seems more about the ways people do and do not self-support when possible. Overall, I found it to be a thoughtful read, from someone who wants people to succeed, that made me want to reflect.

“If you can regard your thoughts and emotions about whatever you’re procrastinating on as passing weather, you’ll realise that your reluctance about working isn’t something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity,” Burkeman writes. “You can coexist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and work anyway.”

–NY Mag, “How to Boss Yourself Around” August 5, 2015


When I look into the eyes of a mammal I feel recognized and I recognize them so I can’t eat them. –Laurel Braitman in the opting out of a sacred and ancient relationship with eating meat.

When animals arrive at the slaughterhouse, they can smell the death before they get off the truck and they know why they are there. And some accept their fate and know its their end and they walk off the truck calmly with a lot of grace. And others fight and kick the whole way. Taking an animal to the processor is the hardest thing I do as a farmer.
–Jeff Dickinson

We sentimentalize wildlife which is the farthest from us and we sentimentalize our pets but farm animals which are in between are foggy to us.  None of us enter into these relationships (with farm animals) as innocent. It’s problematic; it’s not an innocent relationship. –Michael Mercil

A panel screening at the Wexner Center discussed our relationship to farm animals after screening Michael Mercil’s documentary Covenant, 2.7.12. I’m cleaning out my email inbox and these were notes I sent to myself. It’s not an innocent relationship.

Memory Lines



Memory lines–Mystery of History, right? (I know.) Here’s a memory line photo from today in Columbus, seen from the cafe level at the Wex. The line is the curved, hilly shapes from Groundswell glass, cleared out for reinstallation.

adjusted fr other blog, org on Apr 3, 2013

Unidentified Female

Saw the transcriptions for a training session at my work today, which took place with our group of thirty-some volunteers, primarily retirees. Training is a lecture peppered by commentary and questions. Everybody’s got a good question; excitement levels are high! My favorite quotes from their collective fabulous and weirdly amalgamated transcripted persona, “Unidentified Female,” below.

Unidentified Female: Louder

Unidentified Female: Is this whole gallery female artists?

Unidentified Female: We’re doing okay.

Unidentified Female: That’s the music…

Unidentified Female: Like you make a cigarette.

Unidentified Female: It’s more of a ballet.

Unidentified Female: [unknown question]

Unidentified Female: It was in the New York Times.

Unidentified Female: Sunkissed, I like that.

Unidentified Female: And that’s the whole gallery.