Desiderata is a poem loved by many for its wisdom and quiet optimism. This is the 6th blog in a series on the poem, as we mine its riches line by line.
‘Keep interested in your own career, however humble. It is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.”
I must admit, at first glance I thought what a strange piece of advice to give in this weighty, rather profound poem. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It’s right to be in this poem. Our job or career takes up a big part of our life (and by the way if you are a stay at home mum, I don’t think the author would mind if you swapped the word “career” for whatever phrase best describes your choice).
A whole cacophony of proverbs spring to mind. “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. “Be thankful for small mercies”. “From little things big things grow”. And I’m sure you can think of many more.
It’s all about perspective. We, as a species, all too easily get discouraged, and lose our perspective. Someone else is doing better than us, others are earning more, got that lucky break, are doing the thing they love, and I’m stuck here, in this job and going nowhere. Of course that’s a matter of perspective, because someone may well be looking at you and feeling the same way about themselves (they probably are, believe it or not). Like that saying “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Pulls you up short a bit doesn’t it?
But it’s very specific advice – your career. Now some of you have no career, you’ve just got a job to pay the bills. But isn’t that more an attitude than anything else? Working at MacDonalds for example (hard work and crappy pay) is part of your career if you so choose, and no, I’m not just spouting platitudes when I say that. You’re there for a reason aren’t you? To pay your way through college? To get a job under your belt so you can have job experience for the next one? Even just to earn some pocket money? It is actually part of your career path if you let it, and even if you don’t, your work experience at MacDonalds will have its benefits somewhere along the line whether you realise it or not. (This is not a plug for MacDonalds, by the way, who I regard as tight fisted and mean spirited with their staff, but it actually is a great place to learn to work).
So what about your career – “keep interested” in it. Stay at it, don’t give up. Don’t let it grind you down. Why not? Two reasons, one that the author doesn’t spell out but I think was in his mind (such presumption!) and one that he does spell out.
First reason – those who keep interested are likely to last the distance. People who don’t give up will spot opportunities that others don’t see, not because they are smarter but because they keep a degree of focus. They may not even see it as “an opportunity”, but just something they can do to make their job work better. Nothing great is ever achieved without cost, and those who complain about their job, or lose faith in themselves, tend to drift along, fulfil their obligations and find work a chore. But those who keep interested not only find work more enjoyable (a huge plus) but will actually be strengthening their grip on growth and promotion.
But what if you are in a job you hate? Well I suppose you could leave, but let’s say you can’t. I was in a job for 5 years that I hated, not the work itself but the pressure from certain cliques in the office. I could have left but it was at an important time in my life and my wife would have been deeply unsettled if I had moved on. I persevered, learnt a lot, kept clients happy (most of them), and finally moved on 5 years ago to buy my own business (which was the best thing I ever did).
I look back on those times and wonder how I survived. I have few happy recollections, and genuinely believe I feel younger today than I did when I worked at that place.
It’s all about attitude. I was by no means a happy camper, but I tried to make the best of a tough time. Keep interested in your job. Work at it until in the fulness of time something better comes along. Don’t be looking around at everything else. Focus on what you have.
And that brings me to the point that Desiderata does make – “it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time”. Be thankful for what you’ve got. You don’t know that next week you could lose your job. You probably know that many people in other countries are nowhere near as fortunate as you or I. Most of you reading this don’t live in a world where jobs are insecure, although I do remember reading about the grave difficulties that faced many Americans during and after the GFC – people that were once successful and earning good incomes, living out of cars with their wife and children because they had lost everything.
You’ve got a job! It’s something you have! If you don’t like it then look for another, but whilst you are there, treat it with respect, however humble, because it’s paying your bills.
It’s so easy to lose focus. To see others getting ahead, earning more, or to look around your job and see all the things you hate about it, real or imagined. That makes for a miserable life, and that’s something the author of Desiderata would spare us if we heed his advice.
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.