Duty in Life

Food for Thought

Someone I knew in my 20s, a talented musician, just died from a heart condition. He was ten years older than me and had a drug problem. The last time I saw him, he was bitter that most musicians can’t make a decent living.

One article I read about the music industry made a sobering conclusion: It’s nearly impossible for musicians to succeed in middle age because people’s musical tastes do not change after early adulthood. Musicians must become successful in their 20s and age with their audience. I think my friend was aware of this when I last saw him.

In the West, we tend to judge every story by its ending. A good person is supposed to live happily ever after. It’s a Christian bias stemming from the idea of the Last Judgment, although it should happen after we die, not immediately before. So, someone who had a soul-sucking corporate job all his life can still redeem himself by living a fabulous life in retirement.

The prospect of ending up like my friend is so scary that many people don’t pursue their passion. There is some wisdom to that. I myself haven’t taken many risks in life. When we judge ourselves on that, we look at what we did during our working age, not how we turned out in retirement. The latter has no bearing on how well we lived our lives.

My friend, who likely had drug problems still and died alone, couldn’t achieve much, but at least he tried. I feel that’s what ultimately matters, and I hope he felt that way on his deathbed.

I believe this drive is genetically programmed into us. Imagine if everyone played safe regardless of talent and passion. Natural selection wouldn’t work. Let’s say an asteroid hits the earth and destroys the global corporate infrastructure. Our office skills are rendered useless, and nobody knows how to do anything other than use Microsoft Office. The human species would go extinct. We need different people pursuing seemingly strange things even though their skills may never come in handy in our lifetime. The countless pursuits that end in failure are protecting the survival of our species. My friend completed his duty.

Today is my birthday. At 55, I’m still wondering what my duty is.