What we Forgot

We are responsible for each other

or most of my life I’ve been pissed that I had to work. Not that I had to spend time doing a job or career, but that upon my birth a deal was made that required 40 or more hours of my week. I certainly don’t remember making this kind of deal, or maybe I just forgot. Either way, I have had a chip on my shoulder for as long as I can remember about ‘having to work’.

Call me lazy. Call me a snowflake. Call me entitled whitebread. I don’t care. But I do care. . . . .

And so because I care, at least about the appearance of laziness, I got a PhD and became a college professor. I sort of doubled down to prove a point or something. I didn’t really feel connected to the job, or even to my field of study, but I had made a kind of compromise with the universe. Though i was too afraid to totally buck the system and naval gaze my way to an alternate existence, I conceded to work my 40 hours, but I was going to do it ‘my way’. I honestly feel like I finished some video game that was only kind of fun. I learned the rules, enjoyed the gameplay, mastered the levels, and persisted long enough to see the end credits.

At that point, I still didn’t like the idea of having to work to live, and I admitted that I didn’t like my ‘awesome’ PhD job. But I did understand that we need money in order to pay our bills, to do and get the things we need, to ‘do the living’ part of the equation. I get that. I’m not that naive. So a second strategy I implemented was to minimize what I needed to live. To minimize the money I would need to pay my bills. To minimize the bills.

So I did all that. I made what I though were some compromises with the universe.

I passively shared that, if I were ‘required’ to work my 40 hours a week (because, NO WAY was I going to work more than THAT), I would do so in a job that provided some degree of autonomy or perceived freedom, and that I would resolve to live on less because that autonomy did not come with a big salary. I thought I had figured it out.

Of course, I hadn’t. I wasn’t naive ENOUGH, or motivated ENOUGH, or good ENOUGH, I guess.

At the very beginning of my successful career. I quit. To become a stay at home parent. Like the 70s mom who raised me.

But for a over a decade I struggled in that role, too. Through a divorce and multiple failed re-entries into the part time work force. Despite all my attempts to ‘balance’ my work and life. To ‘get my needs met’ and to divide my time equivalently between my family and some sort of ‘work’. I failed. The balance just wasn’t there for me. This new life still felt like work.

Until I surrendered. This morning I realized — and this is what inspired me to write — I felt a larger purpose. I understood what my ‘work’ was supposed to be. It’s like I UNforgot.

You see, I still think our idea of ‘work’ is a crock of shit. I think the accolades and definitions of success we associate with a ‘career’ are bonkers. We measure success in terms of money, cars, and material things. Power. Accolades. And we fail to see the true cost of these things. We fail to see our restlessness, though we sometimes can’t ignore it. We fail to admit the way we have treated the earth. We forget our connections to each other and the very universe in which we live. Sound too woo-woo? That’s because you’ve forgotten, too.

But for some reason I remembered. Despite trying every day for the last decade, wondering how I could find a job that would earn me the money and gain me the power and the accolades to feel like I had done something meaningful with my life. Despite trying incredibly hard to conform to the very system I have despised since birth. Despite, or perhaps BECAUSE OF, these failures I realized I had also forgotten.

What I have remembered over the past few months is that we are connected to the universe as a family. Changing my ‘work’ from an academic to a parent and husband was the universe slapping me across the face. It was God telling me I was on the wrong path. The decision to quit, at the time I thought was both cowardly or incredibly brave but most certainly insane, was a move TOWARD something and not AWAY FROM. It was a move that taught me about our real work. Our REAL accolades. Our REAL currency.

Because my training as an ecologist and evolutionary biologist taught me about our DNA and how we have evolved to become the most curious organisms to have ever lived (that we know of, anyway — always have to leave room for the unknown). Somehow, over millions of years, we have arrived to this point in time where we ponder things like work-life balance and whether we buy a red or silver Ferrari. Somehow we have reached what could be considered the epitome of evolution.

Yet we struggle with the people that we ARE and the people we feel like we SHOULD BE.

And I still blame the whole ‘work’ thing for this conflict.

This morning I felt an urgency surrounding our DNA, our work role, and the direction of human evolution. Yeah, that sounds pretty heavy, but it’s really pretty simple. I believe it is our duty, or ‘work’, even, to appropriately steward our DNA through our evolutionary future. At the very least, it is incredibly awesome that our ancestors have done this for millions of years. And sure, some things changed around 12,000 years ago when humans became less nomadic and more agrarian. And changed, again, with the industrial revolution, and, of course, more recently with the exponential development of cyber technologies . . . . . ok, breathe.

Because that’s a lot, but it isn’t. I see now that as we moved along a more progressive path in the sense of modern work, we moved AWAY from several other key human elements. I forgot about my connections to people and the universe. I forgot about my responsibilities to my biology.

We OWE it to our ancestors to correct these mistakes and reconnect to our evolutionary history.

We are, at the simplest level, stewards of our DNA, a molecule that I beleive is somehow linked to our consciousness. And this consciousness is shared through our connections to each other and to the universe that birthed us. And these relationships are familial. And now that I understand the role of being a parent, and a son, and a husband, and a brother . . . I see that we have similar relationships to each other and to all of the elements in the universe. And these familial roles require a bit of our attention. We are indebted to those who came before and those who are here now to full appreciate and acknowledge the absolutely amazing nature of our biology, our DNA, our evolution, and our relationships. These connections are critical to our future. And they always have been.

We just forgot.

So the last piece to remember is time. Evolution is an artifact of time. Time provides us with a direction, and facilitates the only truism humans can rely on; change. Time is change. Our DNA has evolved to navigate these changes. To nurture our DNA is to fully realize both our individual uniqueness and our absolute connectivity to all things. Our awareness must simultaneously manage our individual selves and each other. Herein lies our WORK. Herein lies our PURPOSE.

It is so simple, it is naïveté incarnated.

But it’s no one’s fault.

We just forgot.

Neo-indigenous philosophical ecology. Former evolutionary biologist and personal growth junkie podcasting about the Are vs. Should Problem www.chrisburcher.com