As I walked away from my car in the lot this morning, the attendant in the parking lot called out to me in parting, “Don’t work too hard.” It struck me that this friendly instruction, so casually offered and so commonly shared, is actually a complicated one to be the recipient of, especially when trying to do work that matters.
At TED this year, Dan Pallotta (whose groundbreaking book, Uncharitable, launched a new understanding of non-profit work) gave a talk about dreaming big, of working hard on deeply felt visions, setting moonshot goals and deadlines, but also of the need for a balance for those of us who feel deeply the importance and the criticality of the work we’re doing. He highlighted in a way that’s rarely done the challenge of weighing a sense of importance and urgency against the also significant work of making our own lives and families the best they can be. He quoted Thomas Merton, “what can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves,” and encouraged us to dream as boldly for our inner lives and our relationships as we do for our work: “Somewhere that transcends all the wondrous things we can and must do, lies the domain of all the unbelievable thinks we could be.” (His talk from this year is not published yet, but keep your eye out—it’s worth watching when it is.)
So how do we find the contours of meaningful doing and create the space for meaningful being? It requires constant striving and constant reflection, as well as discipline and dedication. And, I’d venture to say, some pretty hard work. I’m game, are you?