Why Goethe Loved His Day Job and What it Teaches Us

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Our society today portray a 'day job' in only one way. We see it as a mundane task we must do in order to save up enough money to live, or, to eventually leave behind one day as we move on to what we would much rather be doing. Goethe had a different view, he chose to work a day job for most of his life as a civil servant, rather than spend all his time writing.

So, why did he do this? 

Goethe was born into a wealthy, middle class working family. In his home in Frankfurt, he would see his father run off to meetings as an Imperial Councillor. Goethe and his sister Cornelia were given private tutors, educated at home. His father had an extensive library, with all the topics you could think of. The property also had a small garden, where they grew flowers and herbs.

In the 1700s, Goethe was living a life that was uncommon for most people. He went to university, travelled around Italy and even established a legal practice. When he was 25, he published his second novel which shot to literary fame. Today, its called the world's first 'best-seller'. Most of us today would see this as the start of his obvious fiction-writing career, and expect that he would retire from full time work and spend months in a cottage, writing other novels for his fans to enjoy - but Goethe did not do this. In his play Faust he openly criticises those that devote themselves only to one topic. Instead, Goethe continued with his career, and would eventually write on a number of topics including science (researching colour), esoteric studies, poetry, music and other areas. 

What was Goethe's day job?

By day, Goethe was a civil servant for the Duke of Saxe-Weimar. We see this as strange in our time today, because creative people usually don't do political work, yet for Goethe it make perfect sense. He was a celebrity through his writing, but that didn't really allow him to make changes that were physically tangible. He could educate people, and get them to see things differently, but he couldn't put any large-scale plans into action. During his time with the Duke, Goethe managed to influence the aristocracy to create parks for people, to build better roads and to help his province improve its quality of life.

You might expect Goethe's time in politics to harden him, and turn him into the kind of person that hates one culture over another. After all his years in politics, and with what he saw during those years including the French Revolution and the Seven Years War where the French invaded Germany, he had this to say:

In any case this business of hatred between nations is a curious thing. You will always find it more powerful and barbarous on the lowest levels of civilization. But there exists a level at which it wholly disappears, and where one stands, so to speak, above the nations, and feels the weal or woe of a neighboring people as though it were one’s own.
— Goethe

What can this teach us? What does Goethe's impressive love for his day job, and commitment to bettering the lives of others, say to us centuries later?

I think that Goethe's love for people, shows us the basic spiritual principle of simran. Simran is a concept from Sikhism, which can help give us direction in life. Instead of trying to escape life and our responsibilities because we wish to only live in an inspired world, we can come to merge both of the worlds. 

Goethe understood this concept. He found fulfilment in writing novels, plays, researching papers, advancing science and discussing concepts with other artists, but, he also found fulfilment in helping his community and living in the world as it was. Through his day job, he was able to give back to people in a way that mattered to them.

We all have a special talent within us that only we can fulfil, but we must remember to be present with life as it is. Instead of trying to escape the world, we have to learn to embrace both the inspired and the mundane. This, after all, is life.