I’ve been thinking a lot lately about enthusiasm and how it helps one’s career – and life – move forward. Recently at work, I was processing a box containing a number of speeches. The fonds in question concerns the personal papers of a former judge. I read some of his speeches to get more of a sense of who he was, since I hadn’t heard of him prior to this project. In a speech he gave to a professional association, he ended with this:

I leave you with my favourite comment by Stendahl, which, though it loses something in the translation, I cite as my own: “I have had the joy to have, as my profession, my passion!” I wish you all the same joy!

And it seemed kind of like permission to let myself be enthusiastic… because frequently, I feel guilty about being able to work doing something I enjoy. That I don’t have to have a job like bus driver, garbage collector, dishwasher, nurse’s aid. Several years ago I did work as a dishwasher, actually, but that’s really neither here nor there…

I remember one evening at work this past December, talking with my boss about our respective plans for Christmas. He said he was looking forward to having a “proper holiday”, by which he meant taking two weeks off from work and spending more time with his family. He hadn’t had a day off in the past six months, what with starting his own business and all. “Wow, that must be difficult,” I commented. “I can’t imagine going that long without a break.” I was stunned by his response: “Well, I love what I do, so it’s not really that hard.” That got me thinking – when was the last time I was so passionate about something that it pushed me forward and helped mitigate the bad days? The thing that sprang to mind was from six years ago.

Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy working in archives. I do. I love history, and I love the idea of preserving and passing on culture for future generations. In writing this, I realised I’m not really sure why his response surprised me so much. After thinking about it for a bit, I realised I haven’t really focused on enthusiasm as motivation, instead regarding it more as icing on the cake. “Well, if I love my job, great, but that’s not what’s important.” Which, of course, is true to an extent… but I guess I had forgotten that enthusiasm is a big help in keeping your life flowing in a forward direction. Especially when, like me, you don’t have a spouse and children who also add meaning and enthusiasm to your life.

That passage in the speech reminded me of a quote I came across back when I was doing my undergrad. During a course on French literature, I was introduced to the writings of Germaine de Staël (usually known as Madame de Staël), a French-Swiss writer from the 18th and 19th centuries. I had saved this quote because it really struck me (without citing it, though! what a bad librarian I am):

Le sens de ce mot chez les Grecs en est la plus noble définition: l’enthousiasme signifie Dieu en nous.

Freely translated by me, it reads, “The sense of this word among the Greeks is the best definition: ‘enthusiasm’ signifies ‘God in us’ (or in less flowery language, “The literal Greek sense of the word gives us the best definition: enthusiasm means God in us”). Looking back, I can remember that that is what it felt like to be enthused by something… a forward-moving, creative kind of energy.

So now that I think about it, enthusiasm is probably the most practical thing I could aim for in practising my profession. And the most practical thing any of us could aim for.

What do you think?