Henry Ford once said he wanted employees who have “an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.” It’s incredibly revealing because Ford — who virtually made ‘teleportation’ possible — seems to acknowledge there are limits to human capability. Yet he refuses to live by that premise; he refuses to be satisfied.
I bring this up because it occured to me today that I’ve been a working adult for several years now, and I’m still not satisfied. Not even close.
In the workforce, I run into people who are perfectly satisfied where they are. For them, limits are an anchor; limits inform them on what is and isn’t possible; limits fence the world and provide comfort. Sure, it’s an enabler of satisfaction, which can ultimately leads to deceleration. On the other hand, it’s also an enabler of a good night’s sleep. Everyone needs a good night’s sleep.
So this made me wonder when a human being like me makes the transition from staying awake all night — staring at the ceiling and thinking about how to re-shape an industry — to being satisfied. And then I see people like Henry Ford, and I think perhaps that transition isn’t mandatory. It’s just easier.
Often in religious rhetoric, people are described as ‘thirsty.’ Ultimately that thirst is satisfied spritiually, but sometimes there are people who get a sip of water and still remain thirsty — they still want more answers to the fundamental meaning of reality. The Bible if filled with people like this. They are the ones who struggle the most.
So I don’t blame anyone for being satisfied; sometimes I envy them.
I once taught at an adult literacy program, and a 21-year-old kid told me he wanted to be a veteranarian’s assistant. I asked him why he didn’t just want to be a vet, and he said, “Well that would be nice. But I don’t think I’m the kind of person who can do it.” I told him that was heartbreaking and sad — that he could be a vet if he wanted. But he said, “No, it’s OK. I really don’t think I could do it. Plus, I think I’d be happy as an assistant.”
I don’t blame anyone for trying to be happy, either.
This is tough for me. I’m tempted to say I never want to be satisfied. But that’s not true. I want to revel in the joy of accomplishment and relax in the bliss of full completion. And that only occurs when there is a limit — a finish line — which, right now, feels like admitting defeat.
So I’m left with this dissonance between wanting to feel the sensation of finishing a race, yet also wanting the race to never end.
I talked with an accomplished co-worker today who is retiring in two weeks. I asked him if he’s going to take a long vacation. He said, “I’ll take until January. By then, I’ll need to get back to work doing, well, something.”
While searching for the exact Ford quote I used at the beginning of this piece, I stumbled upon another one, which might shed light on how Ford framed his dissonance of limits and satisfaction. It goes, “Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.”