Never Be Complete — Die Writing Your Gatsby
by Max Warren | Harvard Law School
“May you die with all your work complete.”
That’s what the Creedish—the fictional cult in Chuck Palahniuk’s fantastic novel Survivor—say to one another. Amish-with-a-twist-of-crazy, this is one of the only things they’re permitted to say to one another when two of them meet anywhere outside their reservation. It speaks to their belief in the redemptive quality of hard work and the redemptive quality of a life spent doing trivial, menial tasks day-in and day-out. With all due respect to this fictional religious sect, that’s just the kind of message this generation doesn’t need to hear.
I’m of the belief that your work should never be complete, but I’m of a lot of beliefs that people seem to find a bit off, so let me start by defining my terms.
I think a person’s work is their passion—and that’s not to say that their job is their passion. I mean that whatever your passion is, then that (and not what you do for a paycheck) is your life’s work. Maybe you’re one of the lucky few that have made your passion into your career—don’t rub it in our faces. So that’s your work: your passion, your yen, your raison d’etre.
Now, what does complete mean? Simply enough, it means “finished” or “lacking nothing.” In the context we’re looking at it, then, it would mean that your life’s work, whatever it is, is finished. You’ve done it perfectly. You get to rest.
Doesn’t that sound horrible?
I’ve written before, in other places, about all the potential to change the world that I believe this last generation of ours has. I believe that we sit at a very particular vantage point in history—a cultural and technological point that gives us perspective and an opportunity to make the world in our image. I believe that in order to do this we all need a passion; we need to live with gusto. If that’s the case, why should we ever hope to finish our work? It’s what keeps us going.
I’m going to take myself as an example. Writing is my passion. It’s what I’m good at, and it’s what I love to do. I’ve known I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16 and have yet to doubt it since. Specifically, I want to write novels, novels as good as American Gods or The Sun Also Rises or Less than Zero.
Now, let’s say I do it. Let’s say I write my very own Gatsby—and it’s counted as such by both my standards and everyone else’s. Then what? I could hang up the spurs and say, “That was my best, and it was satisfying. I’m content.” I could put down the pen and, on my deathbed, probably not regret it.
Or I can push. I can try and top myself. I can say, “I’m just getting started.” I can refuse to be finished.
Truly, that’s what I hope for. I don’t care one bit what great things I’ve done before; when I die, I want to die with my pen in my hand, writing my Gatsby. I never want to be complete, because to be complete is to be content, and to be content is to stop, and to stop is to atrophy and waste away. I decline to accept that offer.
I believe that we, as a generation, are beset by chances to hang up the spurs in victory or to throw in the towel in defeat. We’re in a world where our generation is suffering devastating youth unemployment and where we’re being pushed aside and ignored. But, at the same time, if any among us manage to do everything exactly “right” we can pull in jobs starting at $160,000 a year—which makes it sound sort of easy to hang up the spurs. There are so many ways for us to lose our focus, whether it’s through disillusionment or complacency.
But what if we we don’t? I say never stop. Never be satisfied. Keep pushing and keep fighting that good fight. Whatever your passion is, whatever your life’s work is, never be finished with it, because our generation really does have a chance to change things. We’re the ones who will choose presidents, make policy, and shape this world in the years to come. We have all the tools, we’re on the cutting edge of all new technology, and we still have our ideals. Most importantly, we have the momentum. We’re winning.
May you die a work-in-progress.Max Warren is a guest NGJ Contributor, and a 2010 graduate of the University of Florida. He is currently studying at Harvard Law School, class of 2013, and is an aspiring novelist.