Four tasks for a full life

I want to delete my previous post – I think it is too shallow and doesn’t offer nearly enough by way of an answer. But I am leaving it untouched because it is what it is. The quest to deal with the significance of becoming a Hemingway Man is starting to become something of an obsession of mine. Earnest Hemingway once supposedly wrote you have to complete four tasks before you attain manhood – write a novel, plant a tree, raise a son and fight a bull in no particular order or importance.

I have taken some time to think through Hemingway’s four tasks and I have always thought I could offer something better. I know it is daunting when you face down a giant such as he and say ‘is that the best you can do?’, but courageously or foolishly I think I can. The Hemingway Man is stunted and his tasks although praiseworthy are superficial and even self-indulgent. Moreover I’m not convinced that becoming such a man is a commendable life quest anyway. In these politically correct times it is a troubled goal that excludes half the human population.

In its place I offer four life tasks, more comprehensive with no manhood as a reward but rather a full life.  Build a family, create a livelihood, cultivate a personality and dream a big dream. Complete these four tasks well and you will have a full life. That is why I want to delete my previous post; I believe that raising a child is only a chapter in the book of building a family. An important chapter – no doubt, but there are others. Sustaining lifelong friendships and building a home make up parts of this first book. They are also important chapters.

The second task is to create a livelihood. This is not merely holding down a job to pay the bills; this is doing your life’s work. Separate the work you do from the money you make and understand the two separately. This is an appreciation of real wealth and what it means to be an artist in your toil. The form, rhythm and music created by daily sweat are the building blocks of livelihood. Real wealth is not how much you have but rather how little you need, the value of things more important than the price. To make a living is one thing but to do your life’s work – ah yes, there is where real livelihood resides.

The third task has everything to do with self-love. Cultivating a personality is a journey with no destination. Reading, thinking and training form part of a work that is always in progress. The growth of a soul, strengthening the body and the spirit all the while sharpening the mind is the subject matter of cultivating a personality. This is not self-improvement – for that assumes the personality’s starting point is wanting. This cannot be if you love yourself, it is a gradual process that includes harmony and balance as much as it embraces spontaneity and humour. As a garden is tended so is a personality cultivated.

The final task embraces a much larger conversation than the one you are having with life right now. Dream a big dream. So many great works, so much compassion and great accomplishments have come to our experience because somebody had a big dream. All our lives have at times been propelled by a vision greater than our own experience. Serving a community forms part of this task – it is the practical side of thinking big.  Entering the silent white space that is creative helps us to see things not as they are but as they can be. It is unfinished business on a grand scale.

So Ernie – this is my case; I offer you four tasks for a full life. I know that they are all difficult to perform, but with application and skill I know I will make it.

Now, about you fighting this bull…


About Tom Cottrell

Tom is a struggling author, pilgrim and citizen of Planet Earth.
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