The introduction to the newly edited version of the classic book on ‘Vocation’ by Edward Griggs.
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We want to spend our time doing something worthwhile. The typical jobs in which we find ourselves seem to be full of the mundane and the uninteresting. We lurch from one weekend to the next; from finishing one holiday to booking another. And often lack of enjoyment can show itself in shabby work.
And we feel trapped. The need to earn to meet our living costs means we have little time to get ourselves free.
There is no simple solution to this. The magic formulas just seem to work for others. But there are those who have reflected and written helpfully on these issues – not with glib advice, but with deep thoughtful correctives. And they wrote from the height of the industrial age when work was more mundane, the hours were longer, and pay was worse.
One classic, published about 100 years ago, is ‘Self-Culture though the Vocation’, by Edward Howard Griggs. Griggs was a professor and writer. He was one of the most popular lecturers of his day. The New York Times said of his writing that ‘he has an easy, flowing style, rich in imagery, full of allusions to history, literature and art’.
As you read this book you will know you are sitting at the feet of a scholar with quotes from Plato and Aristotle as well as popular writers from his own day. You will admire the writing as a work of art. You will enjoy reading and want to reflect and reread.
But above all Griggs helps us to look at our work in a new way. He points us to the need for a ‘liberal cultivation of the mind and heart’. This is what he means by ‘Self-Culture’. Work, no matter how mundane, done in the right way is part of a cultured life.
And work is a calling, a vocation. We must render a service to others. Work must be reconnected to vocation.
Griggs does not just deal with the ‘higher aspects’ of work, but raises the day to day problems; the mother who stands washing the dishes knowing that within a few hours the whole process will have be repeated; the job which consists in the mechanical repetitive task. How enticing is a chapter entitled ‘Dead Work’?
The book reaches a real climax in the final chapter ‘Work: a way of life’, but don’t cheat. Prepare yourself for it by savouring all that comes before.
Perhaps to finish, a quote (many could have been selected) which gives a taste of the book:
‘The best work, however, comes neither from the commercial nor the professional spirit, but only from viewing our vocation as an opportunity and a mission, as a way of life for ourselves and others.’