Sunday Snippet: Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

From a very young age, we’re taught to make our way through school and to leverage this education into some sort of career. Maybe you get into carpentry. Maybe it’s computer programming, accounting or botany. Whatever it may be, this is your job. It’s work. And after you’ve put in your forty hours, you can look forward to the leisure time you’ll have on the weekend. There’s a definite line drawn in the sand.

It is through this clear distinction that we arrive at discussions of work-life balance and how you shouldn’t allow either sphere to completely dominate your life. Work too much and you’ll burn yourself out. Relax too much and you’ll never achieve anything. Right?

Society has reinforced the notion that work, the thing you do in order to provide for your livelihood and to fund the things you do for fun, must be difficult, unpleasant or even soul-crushing. People complain about having a case of Mondays or they might talk about looking forward to the weekend.

Why does it have to be this way?

Especially in today’s economy where telecommuting is increasingly embraced and people are known not only to change jobs, but to change careers several times over the course of their working life, why can’t you decide to do what you love instead? Why can’t you pursue your “vision of excellence” as both a means of personal fulfillment and a mechanism for which to pay the bills?

True enough, French politician and historian Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand spoke from a clear position of privilege. He was born into a family of aristocrats in the late 18th century and never really had to worry about keeping a roof over his head or food on the table. And perhaps this notion of “doing what you love” or finding your “passion” is something that is only available to people of privilege.

But the possibility is there. The opportunity for work-life integration is there, much more so today than in the era of French romanticism in which de Chateaubriand found himself. You can be a professional photographer if you set your heart to it. You can be a freelance writer. You can sell your handicrafts on Etsy or your unique t-shirt designs on Zazzle. Your “vision of excellence” can also be the source of your livelihood.

Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand was a political royalist (despite temporarily gaining the favor of Napoleon Bonaparte) and a defender of the Catholic faith. Regarded as the founder of Romanticism in French literature with such notable works as Atala and Memoires d’Outre-Tombe (Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb), he even had a steak named after him.