Many students and faculty come to Seton Hall for different reasons. Some come here for the Nursing program or the Business school. Others are drawn by the proximity to New York City and all the opportunities that brings with it. Several come because it was the closest NJ school to their home, and others were drawn here to be involved in sports or for the basketball team. For the faculty, some came here for the tradition of the school and others for the job security.
Among these various reasons for coming here, or being anywhere, really, it is important for each of us to have some purpose that drives our desire to stay there. If you lack awareness of that purpose in your life, maybe it’s time for you to set aside the opportunity to discover that “why,” or at least some immediate interests that may help you find it. The answers to the central questions of our values and the way we spend our time require an investment of our attention. Every step we take, defines a little more of who we are. Like a sculptor, chiseling a block of marble, every hammer stroke contributes to the piece. Yet, it is the cumulative strokes that create a masterpiece.
But, life has a way of getting complicated. Every day we arise and quickly come to terms with the reality of our existence or just start going about our day: showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast. Then we plan our day, or don’t “plan” it, which would still be a plan in its own way. We conduct so many activities and for so many different reasons. We go to class, to work, to meetings, to meals, and, maybe, to spend some time with our family and friends. Then, at the end of the day, we are generally drained. We reconcile ourselves to go to sleep and prepare to “soldier” through a similar day on the morrow.
We fill our days with these many different activities. Some suck the life out of us. Some are not so bad. Some are enjoyable or provide meaning to us as we do them. Further, it seems these moments of meaning provide a significant amount of the rationale for doing any of the other activities.
For instance, why do something that sucks our life away if we have no life to “live” afterwards? Or why even do “mundane” activities if there are no moments that captivate our hearts beyond what is just “blah?”
Curiously, it seems that “actually living” the moments that provide meaning and significance to our lives are at odds with some prevailing social, cultural, and economic trends of modernity. In one shape or another, life has a way of raising some of the following questions: what importance is time with family or friends, when those precious hours could easily be spent studying or working on the seemingly unending work to finish? Why actually study the things you enjoy studying when familial and economic pressures prevent you from doing so?
To others, why involve yourself in only things you enjoy when you need to build your resume or prepare yourself for the next promotion? Lastly, why would you spend any of your precious time in deep thought or prayer attempting to come to grips with who you are and how you are meant to live among others when there is so little time in the week?
In response to the burgeoning workload placed before us either by school or by employers, I think it is appropriate to keep in mind that many of us are young, yet not too imperceptive to realize we will not get these years back. Further, demographics also makes it likely that the time we have with some members of our family we will not have the opportunity to make up later. Therefore, I cannot overstate the importance of making time for your family and friends. I am not saying do not study or go ahead, blow off your work. Rather, that one should recognize these tasks as elements of our life, not our life. Study in due diligence, get your work done, but ensure you make time for your family and friends, you will not get a chance to make any of this time up.
In response to the unsolicited pressures that “orient” our attention away from the subjects we find fascinating or the activities that we enjoy, it is helpful to keep in mind that what we study and what we read become a part of who we are. Therefore, if we “consume” content so to speak that does not captivate us, we may potentially become “bored” with who we become. Further, over time when we make daily decisions at odds with the values we “think” we hold, which differ with the actions we take, one day you may reach a point where you are unable to recognize yourself in the mirror. Cue the midlife crisis.
However, the feeding of this disparity between expectations and reality should not be built up in the first place. For starters, it seems imperative to address the generic cliché pitched to many of us that we will “change the world.” Undoubtedly, there probably are many people in my generation and perhaps even in my class who may come up with the next component of the digital revolution or the cure for cancer. But, it is statistically unlikely, therefore, it is a counterproductive aspiration for most of us. It might be a better orientation to focus on making an immediate impact in one’s own family life or on your street first. These “smaller” visions require self-discipline guiding daily choices.
Gordon B. Hinckley wrote: “The course of our lives is seldom determined by great, life-altering decisions. Our direction is often set by the small, day-to-day choices that chart the tract on which we run. This is the substance of our lives – making choices.” Therefore, even in the activities that seem insignificant, attend to the aspects of choices in each day, and these decisions over time will set the direction for your life.
In response to the criticism that self-awareness is a waste a of time, consider that very few on the spot could robustly answer the question, “Why did you get out of bed this morning?” When I say “robustly,” I mean more than just a class or a meeting motivating you to wake up. I mean that, in a moment, they articulate the cause and belief that jettisoned their bodies out from under the covers when their alarm went off, because they want to seize every moment out of life.
In general, we don’t take the time to formally understand ourselves, which leaves many of us defenseless against the prevailing cultural and economic attitudes that will then “make” all the important decisions in our lives for us. For example, why are money and good looks such ingrained parts of what we understand to be “successful?”
Perhaps it is because we are bombarded everyday with images of what we should look like, how we should think, and what we should aspire to be. That distorted sense of perfection draws others into our lives who merely feed this unnatural attitude towards our body image or an unwholesome relationship with money.
Yet, modernity is a mix, which requires us to think deeply and engage critically with the questions of life. I do not need to see another Facebook post or Instagram photo, but I do need to know my purpose. That purpose will be more than just working for a paycheck. More than just what others think of me. Perhaps, even more than I can think of myself. Therefore, it’s time to put down the phone, say no to extra commitments and live for the reality we were meant to live in.
It’s time to fight for an existence that gives us the ability to be who we are meant to be in a world mediated with meaning. From the depths of your heart, there is a thirst for truth, a desire for justice, and a love for beauty. It’s time to answer those desires from within to help you be responsible in your actions. But, also courageous in choosing the activities to spend your time on. Allow this courage to renovate your priorities and allow you to put first things first. Be open to those “silent” invitations calling you to a greater awareness of yourself and the Mystery ordering the outcome of your life. It is only then, that you will be able to stop seeking among all your different commitments. From there, you can actually start finding who you are meant to be.
“Resign the present and the future to Him who is the author and conductor of both.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo courtesy of Galen Crout on Unsplash