Life today has left many of us behind. One is obliged to do someone else’s work, while another remains without work, unable to realize his talents. To the questions of how this could happen and whether it’s possible to remedy the situation, Archimandrite Melchizedek (Artiukhin), rector of the Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the Church of the Holy Protection in Yasenevo, Moscow, answers.
Many people nowadays face the problem of finding their place in life, in a job, in professional and educational work, and in the realization of their talents. These things do not always converge, and we see that often they do not: a physicist works on the computer, a writer mainly works outside his specialization… But if a person has a work skill which he does well and professionally, he will not remain rootless.
Leave your children a labor skill!
I began reading a book about Elder Paisios not long ago. His father was a carpenter, he was able to survive in a village: he could do not only carpentering, but he could make a plough and carpentry tools. There were no Walmarts or Ikeas or Home Depots then. People did everything themselves, and this was a principle of their survival. The father taught the son his profession, and the son absorbed the trade of his father and moved forward. And thus Elder Paisios’ father taught him the carpentry trade, and Elder Paisios—and it came in handy his whole life—could build a cell, make a stool, table, closet, bed—essential items. He had a skill for specific work. Elder Ambrose of Optina said, “Leave to children the correct faith, an example of a gracious life, and a labor skill, so they’ll be able to earn a penny for bread,”—a labor skill! Now there are economists, lawyers, and security officers all around, but who can do anything with their hands? As concerns painters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, we need them in our church now. “What do you know how to do?” “Count.” “Count what?” “Money.” You have to earn it first, and any fool can count. I count too! But try to earn it with your hands!
Something about everything and everything about something
The problem of superfluous people—where did it come from? People had specialties, but suddenly, when there is a series of cutbacks—they cut here, they cut there—people are left without work, although it’s unlikely that someone will just cut or fire someone who is a talented specialist in the full sense of the word. The Optina elders and wise people in general had a slogan: “Every person should know something about everything, and everything about something.” You should be able to do something very well, such that no one does it like you!
Once some men were working on a rich man’s car—one professional, a second, and they couldn’t fix it at all, so they invited another. He arrived, looked at the car, felt around, listened, fidgeted with some parts, then took a hammer and hit three times, and the car began to work. He said, “That’ll be $150.” “Why on earth does three whacks cost $150?!” “You know, to correctly hit the car in the right spot, I had to study seven years. That’ll be $150.” The others were smart, and professionals, but they couldn’t do it, and he could, because a person should “know something about everything and everything about something.”
Many of the icons adorning the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Yasenevo were bought at the Vernisazh flea market here in Moscow. I met an antiques dealer there, and I was amazed by the beautiful and unique things that people can make from wood, copper, brass—samovars, locks, bolts, sinks, dressers, mirrors! They all took time—they weren’t just stamped. The craftsman doesn’t rush and sells his handiwork in a dignified manner for a worthy price, and people pay this worthy price, because they understand that they’re masterpieces. And people pay a ton of money now—for what? For the talent of working with your hands. And what will they pay for a Shatura?1 Will it become an antique? Stuff is considered antique when it’s more than fifty years old. Shatura furniture will fall apart before that and won’t survive fifty years! But items made by a professional will survive!
Develop a talent from an early age
There is a children’s show, “The Voice: Children.” They showed a girl who sang “Kukushka” by Tsoi, and all the judges were delighted to choose her while she was still singing the first verse, because she was talented. But “what is talent?” they asked one remarkable, talented person, and he answered, “It’s 10% overshadowing from above, from God, and 90% work.” Bach said, “If I don’t play for one day, I begin to hear it; if I don’t play for three days, my wife begins to hear it; and if I don’t play for a week, my relatives begin to hear it.”
Skill, skill and work—this is what talent is, this is what genius and professionalism are. If you had walked along a single path since childhood, if you would have had one goal, if you had studied, studied, studied, then you wouldn’t have become superfluous! And when did you reflect upon it? When did you lose your job? Why haven’t you thought about it since childhood? If you sow nothing, you will reap nothing.
Returning to “The Voice:” my friend babysits a young girl who is nine years old. She watched one episode, a second, and then threw a tantrum to her mother: “Mama, mama, I’m nine years old, and what have I accomplished in life?!” Amazing! At just nine years old she came to the realization that if you want to dance, to sing, to recite, to do gymnastics—what else do they do?... you have to start working in childhood! It’s a shame we don’t have professional competitions to show how to do woodburning, how to sculpt with your hands, to draw something in just a few seconds… “And how did you learn to do this? “When I was three my papa taught me to make a pot from clay.” “And you did this in five minutes. Amazing!” “That’ll be $150!” To be worth a lot it has to be good, and to be good, you have to study!
I’m sorry I didn’t come on time, but I’m glad I’m not late
At nine years old this girl understood that she was already late! And what can we do when we ourselves turn out to be these late, superfluous people? When we’ve been cut? When we wanted the whole world to bow down at our feet, before our talent, but the world does not do this—what should we do then? There is an eastern proverb: “I’m sorry I didn’t come on time, but I’m glad I’m not late.” It’s never too late to start all over again. People study English when they’re sixty or seventy to lead English-language excursions around Moscow (and such specialists are needed). The optimist studies English, and the pessimist studies Chinese. If someone learns Chinese, even broken, he’ll have a job. There’s half a billion Chinese people. I was at the Lavra, and they have “toilet” written in Russian, English, and Chinese there. I saw with my own eyes a sign at the Lavra written in Chinese! If someone doesn’t have a specialty—learn Chinese!
Do what you must, and what will be will be, and what will be is whatever God gives
It’s never too late, finding that life has left you behind, to begin seeking a specialization by which you can feed yourself, or go study again. Perhaps you could go to culinary courses and learn how to make pastries. On birthdays we give flowers and cakes, because we don’t eat flowers—it’s just lost money—but we give cakes, especially if you are going to eat half of it yourself. It’s practical and nice. They’re beautiful and edible. You can always find something in life.
The legs feed the wolf. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Happiness is a little bird, and it flies to where there is food. You’ve developed a skill, plus prayer, and the Lord will send a person who will take you and your skill. As the Optina elders said: “Do what you must, and what will be will be, and what will be is whatever God gives.” If you don’t do what you must, then from where will come that which God gives? God gives to the soil you have prepared. God provides the rain, but planting the seed and plowing, and weeding the field—is up to you. Nettle and burdock grow on their own, without any work, but tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and radishes need weeding, and even the simple carrot needs care.
A man, suddenly finding himself unsettled in life, reaping the fruits of his slothfulness, obtuseness, lack of focus, lack of sense of purpose, inactivity, laziness—but what’s the point of talking about the reasons? We should speak about the reasons with children, explaining that if you’re going to be like that—earning only C’s—well, you get it! Once a teacher was speaking with one guy who overslept, missing one class, a second, a third: “Son, where were you?” “I overslept.” “And two days ago?” “I overslept then too.” “Son, remember this your whole life: those who sleep have only dreams.” We should see life like this: everything comes by talent and hard work.
Never give up
And what to do if life’s circumstances don’t work out for us? Study again! “I’m sorry I didn’t come on time, but I’m glad I’m not late.”
Once two frogs fell into a jug of milk, one went glug glug, and drowned, and the other began to paddle through the milk with his legs, beat it into a lump of butter, pushed off of it and jumped out of the jug. Tell those people who have thrown up their hands that if you try to begin again, there are two ways things could unfold: It will all either work out, or it won’t. If you don’t start trying, then there’s only one option—it won’t work out. Therefore, if you suddenly find yourself without work you must try everything, undertake everything.
Then there are personality and relationships to consider. Maybe you’re talented and super professional, but you’re an arrogant, cantankerous, or uncommunicative person—“a difficult personality” as they say. Who will be left of the two—a professional with a bad character, or a normal person? Someone who values professionalism more will keep the professional. But if there’s a team with interpersonal relationships, then character is more important. A lack of warmth is worse than heart failure. Professionalism is necessary, but personal human qualities are necessary for getting established and staying relevant.
A good person never remains without work. The Psalms have some words about those who live by the will of God: Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread (Ps. 37:25). So if someone is begging bread, perhaps there is a share of his own unrighteousness in this? The reasons are in a man’s past and within him. But it’s never too late to start a new business, to start to learn something practical. “Luck” in our lives is from God, and God does not abandon His own. Of course, good people have school friends, army friends, (of course God forbid) prison friends, neighbors, and relatives, and maybe one of them is on the fast track; and as the front end of a train hooks the other cabins, maybe you can bring some benefit to your friend’s work. If a good man is unlucky with money, he’s still lucky because he’s just a good man. Because of his goodness God will send him people who won’t leave him in hard times.
Danger and opportunity
“Crisis” in Japanese is denoted by two symbols: “danger” and “opportunity.” When a father lets go of his child in the water for a few seconds in order to teach him how to swim , what is it? It is danger, it is a crisis, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for the child to swim on his own. And the Father will support you!