How many people do you know who have quit a high-paying corporate job for one that pays $35 a month? In fact, how many people do you know who have walked away from a prestigious job for any reason?
If you’re like me, probably not many.
Which is what makes Father Jim Martin’s In Good Company: The Fast Track From the Corporate World to Poverty, Chastity and Obedience such a cool read.
Right now, I’m about two-thirds of the way through this book, which describes Martin’s unlikely transformation from ambitious Wharton School of Business grad to disillusioned GE corporate finance executive to fully engaged Jesuit priest, with a salary of $35 a month. (Full disclosure: Martin, who is no relation, generously endorsed my own book).
The fact that his book is a dozen years old (he’s written several amazing ones since then) doesn’t impact its freshness or urgency at all. In it, Martin shares a timeless quote from novelist Louis Auchincloss:
“… a man can spend his whole existence never learning the simple lesson
that he has only one life and that if he fails to do what he wants with it no one really cares.”
That’s a painfully accurate observation, isn’t it? And it begs a tough question: What are we going to do about it?
Take a leap.
The leap doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Martin’s, so audacious that it turns our world upside down. But there is a lot to be said for pushing ourselves out into the margins in some way, for voluntarily seeking out discomfort and disorientation. Because that’s often what it takes to have the life we want.
I’m out in the margins right now, in fact, though I haven’t left town or found a new job or started training for a triathlon. But I am trying to do something that I’d really like to do with my life: reduce an obsession with productivity (I’m self-aware enough to know I’ll never totally let go of it) and cultivate more attentiveness instead.
This endeavor, I’ll freely admit, isn’t exactly like swapping Brooks Brothers suits for a job in a Jamaican slum, which Martin actually did. Still, for me, it’s daring in its own way.
I’m consumed with getting things done. Maybe you know what I mean. It’s how I juggle a young family and a busy day job with a book and a blog and a newspaper column. But even when I’m not doing those things I still feel like I should be doing something – folding laundry or sorting through mail or unloading a dishwasher or, at the very least, making my kids do these things for me. The more I do and the more tangible the results, the better I feel about myself.
And that’s a problem – one, in fact, that Jesus warned Martha about as she scurried around trying to bring refreshments for Jesus, resentful of her sister Mary who sat listening at his feet. “Martha, Martha,” he tells her. “You are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”
Trying to embrace that one thing, an attentiveness and openness toward faith and learning, is one of the big things I want to do with my life. It means saying no to some new possibilities, carving out more time for prayer, focusing more on the needs of family and close friends, assessing the value of my days differently. It’s my modest big leap. What’s yours?