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  The Ishmael Community: Questions and Answers

The Question (ID Number 734)...

    This is a letter from a lost boy in search of his life calling. I read your book Ishmael and I thought I had found the one thing that could give me a rewarding life. I wrote a letter in response to the Author's note and it was returned to me saying that the current address was no longer in use. I was extremely disappointed. I then found the sequel My Ishmael and once again had hope. I feel like Jeffrey from the latter. I'm good in school, always have been, but I have never found any solace from a letter put on a page of paper. Now I'm a freshman in college still completely unsure of how I can find happiness in my life. I know that it is not working nine to five in a cubicle, or some other equally restricting career. Through my whole life I have searched for those illusive questions that everyone looks for but can find no answer. One of those questions are "How do we live?" I think that my life is meant to be in pursuit of a better American society. Now my question is how? If your movement could have use for a dreamer like me I would like to hear from you. I am willing to move to wherever I could be needed. I hope to hear from you in the near future.

    ...and the response:

    I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that I've heard from a great many persons your age who have the same problem as you. You must realize that there can be no specific answer to the question "How do we live?" that will be applicable to every individual. The only all-purpose answer I can give you is a general one. Like everything else in the animal kingdom, you must make a living. (In Beyond Civilization I spend a lot of time describing the tribal way of making a living.) Only the independently wealthy have their living made for them--by their parents or grandparents.

    So the question becomes, how are you going to make YOUR living? Obviously I can't offer any suggestions, since I know almost nothing about you. Only you know what your talents and inclinations are. You have to follow those. You have to aim at finding a way to do what you do best and what you enjoy doing most, because that's where you're going to find fulfillment and happiness.

    You say you don't want to do it working nine to five in a cubicle, but how do you know? It really depends on what you're DOING in that cubicle. I worked in educational publishing for twenty years--nine to five in a cubicle, surrounded by dozens or hundreds of others working nine to five in cubicles--doing work we were good at and were proud of. People who work at Cultural Survival and the Society for Conservation Biology work nine to five in cubicles, but they're doing work they think is important and rewarding. Even if it was my living room, I've spent the last thirty years working nine to five in a cubicle, writing my books. Publishers, lawyers, engineers, city-planners, government officials, psychiatrists, and architects all work nine to five in cubicles.

    I'm not advising you to work nine to five in a cubicle--I'm just saying that you need a wider view of your future. You can't just think of when and where you DON'T want to work. You have to think of what kind of work you DO want to do. Even concert pianists spend most of their lives working nine to five in a cubicle, with their pianos. You have to focus on what you do best and go for that--whether it leads to a cubicle or not.

    I'm afraid there is no "movement" I can invite you to join, but even if there were, I don't think this would be the solution for you. If you submit yourself to some movement or nonprofit organization simply because you don't know what else to do, you're not likely to last long. I'd guess that a great many Greenpeace workers come from the pool of young people who just don't know what else to--and I'd guess that they get burned out on door-to-door soliciting pretty quickly.

    I don't mean to say that finding a direction for your life is easy. It's the rare person for whom it's easy, especially at your age. Most of us have to try this and try that, just following our noses from one thing to the next until the direction becomes clear. You have to be patient with yourself--and keep in mind that almost everyone in our society has to go through this process. Some never even try; they take whatever comes along and make do with that--often for the rest of their lives. That's what you DON'T want to do!


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