It seems to me that this silly guy [James Ogilvy]Â and his silly ideas [Living Without a Goal]Â have gotten under your skin more than they merit...
Ok, yes, that's true. I pointed out to Kenny that his "silly ideas" are pretty common, although largely unconscious, among the majority of non-religious Americans: "There is no absolute meaning or purpose, but somehow I can patch together a life that will fulfill me. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something." I wanted to stomp on that philosophy while I had the chance, with it out in the open.
But -- true confession time -- the real reason I've spent so much time hashing this book is because it tempts me. Everyone who follows a vocation has times when they wish to God they could live a normal life like everyone else. The calling that inspires them starts to feel like a burden, a chain, an impediment to their freedom and happiness. I don't think Ogilvy's book would have gotten any traction in the first place, unless people felt (or suspected) the burden of living up to a Goal. So when a voice from some postmodernist philosopher or self-empowerment guru whispers in your ear, "Imagine what life would be like without any obligations or duties . . . what would you do?" -- don't you think we'll lean a little closer? Just to savor, for a moment, the notion of "free time," and just doing whatever you felt like doing?
It is an illusion, of course. No one forces us to do anything -- we choose every role, duty, obligation, and commitment in our lives. Sometimes we forget why we were committed to something, which leads us to think ourselves in a straight-jacket when in fact we are wearing a life-preserver. Claudia Horwitz does a pretty good business with her Stone Circles organization, catering to the burned-out activists who struggle to sustain themselves in their work. The cure is almost always some combination of rest and reflection. We let go of our work, just for a moment, examine what we really want in life, and almost always find ourselves pulled right back to the life we already living, once again choosing to accept the Work we have undertaken.
Walker Percy identified the solution long ago in his self-help satire, Lost in the Cosmos: "The cure for depression is suicide." Once you have seriously considered checking out permanently, you realize that every day on this planet is a day you've chosen to be here. Suddenly everything that was a burden becomes a gift, and you walk a little lighter.