By Matt Gordon
Ever think about what you’d do if you didn’t do whatever it is you do now?
Many of us take jobs and then, by fear or doubt or sheer materialism, turn them into careers. We have a few dreams that masquerade for a time as pursuits, but then we relegate them to hobbies, then things we’ll do when we have more margin, like when we retire. Eventually they just become things we used to do or desire. But we keep that mostly quiet because it feels like failure.
I wonder why we are this way? It certainly isn’t contentment. And I say that as a person who is quite content and challenged in vocation. I like my job, sure enough. Even so, something rankles against me about being finished in some way. Even from a place of satisfaction, I fear being too easily satisfied. It is a reverse trolley car scenario of sorts. Those dilemmas always hinge upon making a choice or acting in order to permit/prevent levels of badness. But what of goodness? Even doing a thing passably well is only fine if the option for doing something immensely wonderful is not available. Give one kid an ice cream cone or five kids five ice cream cones? Brain-freeze or not, that is a no-brainer.
Yet many of us stop thinking of the bone-igniting goodness that could be conceivable for us. Which means we stop dreaming of any future possibility that isn’t birthed by a hypothetical retirement in some far off future. And the seeds of resentment flower into bitterness.
I guess what I’m talking about, when we come right down to it, is living. We are too busy doing and buying to allow for the opportunity of fullness to happen. We want to buy so we must work. We cannot cease the former so we are locked into the latter, the dreams of being a teacher or going back to school or being a park ranger die instantly, and we arrive at the same death just on a slight delay. We crunch more numbers, drive to work, clock in, clock out, drive home, zombie through the weekend, Sunday scaries, and then go at it again. Flogged to death by a series of weekly blows. A song from my formative years says, “Could I have been anyone other than me?” We have ceased asking that because we fear the comfort-shattering potential action the answer would demand of us.
But what if that answer was less a demand and more of a gentle invite?
I was on a dock with my oldest boy this weekend, trying to coax him to jump into the lake below us. It was meaningless. But simultaneously chockful of meaning. That adventurous step that could awaken the wild within him. A step and a leap, a freedom, and then a wet immersive embrace—a new world . . . a dangerous, gleeful possibility.
I thought of persuasion and passion. I thought of yelling and underhanded tactics, luring him to the side and giving a paternal push. I thought of letting him off the plank altogether. I thought of all these things, and then I thought better. I made eye contact, took his hand, and stood beside him, showing him choice and chronicling the possibility. The water and risk and growth and wonder.
In the end it took those things and a Popsicle bribe. But his little body flew and splashed, gloriously. He swallowed some water and coughed a little too. But he smiled and leapt again. And again.
Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our leap. We clock in to work and have clocked out of life. Fear and doubt, materialism—they keep us docked and dry. Perfectly safe from the potential of bad, but also from the possibility of soul-deep good.
This is not a call to quit jobs or work less or prioritize better or optimize life. Wait. Yes it is! It is precisely that. Perhaps we don’t quit for good, but maybe we quit momentarily—long enough to free ourselves from the rote shackles of spineless living? Certainly we don’t work less—but perhaps we work better, choosing treasure beyond the bottom line? Maybe we look at our dreams—not the I-want-to-be-famous variety, but something deeper and better than that, a life abundant: caring and connected and, somehow, cosmic.
Many of us don’t know where to start. Or at least we think we don’t. But we do. We start at the dock. We invoke the innocence within, birthed from the Creative above. And we question where we would leap if we could? Would it even be worth it? Can I even do it? Some of us need to dip our toes in first. Some need to lay eyes on the Popsicle to come. All of us need a kindred spirit holding our hand.
We stand on the dock and we look up, in, and then out.
What would I do if I didn’t do what I do now?
I lean and look and breathe what longing leaps forth.