Until You Die

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"The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart."

Albert Camus

On Labor Day, September 1, Executive Media will mark nineteen years of helping senior executives increase the impact of their communication with their constituencies.

For almost two decades, blue-chip organizations – like Avaya, Cisco, Fujitsu, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Humana, IBM, Motorola, Siemens, Symantec, US Airways -- have relied on us for speeches, video programs and large-scale multimedia events for audiences as large as 10,000.

In addition, for the past four years, I’ve indulged in the popular fantasy of operating a bed-and-breakfast and have two -- on Cape Cod and Vieques, Puerto Rico.

In the meantime I’ve been busy writing for myself for a change, and right now I have three books being vetted by professional editors:

  • Down the Edges, a novel that reveals what happens when evil comes alive in a sleepy Cape Cod town
  • Silently in the Dark, a novella that traces a homeless boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity
  • A Light from Within, essays centered on the odd and the ordinary

Works in progress are The Fat Guy in the Fat Boat, Clean Jokes, and a novel with the working title of Ex-.

It was a book called Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow that spurred me to leave a secure job in corporate management and start my own company in 1995. I soon discovered that work is not about the money, but the love. This was substantiated by a 2010 Princeton University study of 450,000 Americans, which found that when annual income is sufficient to meet basic needs, increased income doesn’t make people any happier.

In my two paradise spots of Vieques and Cape Cod – where everybody seems to be either vacationing or retired –-- all are taking their rest.

But I know a good number of people who are productive well into what are considered retirement years. Architect John Hix, for example, is designing and building houses into his mid-seventies. Trappist monk Gabriel Berton is providing spiritual counsel as he approaches 80 years of age. And Impressionist painter Ilona Royce Smithkin is painting, teaching, modeling and performing cabaret into her mid-nineties.

Work is more than a way to make a living. It is our participation in the ongoing creation of the universe. We are heirs to the work of past generations and at the same time we share in building the future for those who will come after.

Catholic social thought suggests that work is a good thing – for the individual and for humanity -- because through work we not only transform nature and adapt it to our needs, but we also achieve fulfillment as humans, in a sense becoming "more a human being.”

This view is at odds with the way I observed corporate culture evolve its perception of employees during my own career -- from “personnel” to “human resources” to “human capital.“ In other words, employees were viewed as owned entities, like buildings and desks and telephones.

The result, many times, is an employee population that identifies with Sisyphus, the mythical Greek who so infuriated the gods that they condemned him to an eternity of endlessly pushing a rock to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down.

Nobel laureate Albert Camus, however, found joy in this. He wrote: "The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." 

As philosopher Rick Garlikov explained it, the task is not to keep the rock at the pinnacle, but merely to get it there. So every time Sisyphus repeated the task he achieved success. 

Making the attempt, in other words, is never futile, because it determines and simultaneously rewards our character. 

It depends on who owns you and who owns your work, I guess. If you make what you do your own, why wouldn’t you want to work until you die?

In my next blog, “Adam's Curse”

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  • Peter Yaremko
    published this page in Blog 2014-10-27 12:00:26 -0400