A few days ago I read an article by Miya Tokumitsu, “In the Name of Love“, in which she waxed indignant against those who think the motto “Do what you love” is good advice for attaining professional success. If I understood her properly, she thinks it’s an elitist affirmation, because only a few egocentric, privileged people can attain this in their lives, while the vast majority of humanity is reduced to slavery doing odious jobs. It seems to me that Ms. Tokumitsu is confused, perhaps because she is not seeing the reality of human work clearly.
Every morning, when I get to the University, I cross paths with half a dozen of what we used to call “cleaning ladies”–they were older than I then, though nowadays they are much younger and always dress well–who are finishing their work day. I like seeing how some of them, when they leave the building, light a cigarette and enjoy the freshness of the morning, with expressions–it seems to me–of satisfaction on their faces for the work they have done. I always think that their work has probably been greater than that which I am going to try to do that day: the cleanliness of my University is proverbial, but this isn’t so true of the classes I will teach or the texts I will attempt to write. I learned from St. Josemaría many years ago that all jobs have the same dignity and that, in any case, the most important job is that which is done with love. Since love can be measured by quantity, I ask myself every day who it is that invests more love in their work: them or me?
The invitation to write about “vocation as the discovery of one’s own identity” has been a good occasion for looking at these ideas again. I hardly ever use Twitter, but when I opened an account I liked the fact that the system obliged me to identify myself. I uploaded a photo, entered my name and wrote a blurb about myself: “I am a professor of philosophy, and I like to think and invite others to think and to write“. It was like a written selfie: this is what I am and what I would like to be. It is my vocation. I do not seek to be famous, an intellectual, or one of their academic substitutes. I love being a modest university professor who aspires to persuade his students of the importance of thinking, of reading, of writing, of friendly communication with others. I am convinced that it is only in this way that I can attempt to change the world in order to make it a little better, more human place.
Although in academic life there are always difficulties, tiredness or even, at times, there are bitter pills to swallow, I can say that “I am doing what I love”, what appeals to me, but above all, I love what I do, including the less enjoyable aspects of my work (grading exams, assigning grades, dealing with complaints, filling out administrative forms, etc.). It is not that I am simply having fun, but rather I am passionate about my teaching and research work, and I habitually enjoy what I am doing, since I live with the hope that those who hear or read me will go much farther than I have. I recently received a note from a student of Prof. Graciela Jatib, in Tucumán, in the north of Argentina, which is pretty much the end of the world: “Happiness is not doing what one wants, but rather to love what one does”.
Indeed, to love what one does fills the hours of work with joy. It gives them a marvelous enchantment because, since this way one keeps one’s soul open to unexpected novelties, and tiredness–which always inevitably appears–can be received almost as a prize or trophy. As Antonio Gaudí wrote, “it’s a bad situation when a job is carried out like it was forced labor; I feel compassion for those who work out of obligation… one of the most beautiful things in life is work that one enjoys”.
Like the artist who is delighted at the end of the day about the work of art that she has created out of her effort, the person who loves his work can come to see his life as being a work of art. This is my vocation and it is what I also see in the eyes of the women who light up a cigarette on leaving the University early in the morning, after four or five hours of intense work cleaning classrooms, laboratories, hallways and offices with love.
Pamplona, April 2, 2014