The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.
William Butler Yeats, 13 June 1865 – 28 January 1939
I came across this poem some time ago and was reminded of it in a recent discussion in my Vistage groups about “what matters”. Today we constantly talk about achieving balance; we perceive that it is the stress of modern times that creates this challenge. Yet this poem was written in the early 20th century. A reminder that this quest is the human condition, a daily challenge of choice. Here are the questions that come to mind:
- Must we choose between success in life and work?
- Or is it the search for perfection of one or the other that forces the choice? e.g. Albert Einstein was portrayed by his biographers as a poor husband and father. Was he, or was this the judgement of the biographers?
- As we search for meaning in our lives, must we distinguish between what defines “life” and what defines “work” or is it possible to simply pursue what matters to us?
- On this day devoted to mothers, what are you telling or demonstrating to your children about this question?