This I Believe

Gerald - Staten Island, New York
Entered on November 9, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: work

I believe in burning the candle at both ends.

As a child, I read a biography of the great medical missionary Albert Schweitzer. When a friend told him he couldn’t burn the candle at both ends, he drew himself up to his full height. “You can,” he replied, “if the candle is long enough.”

When my mother suggested to my sister 35 years ago that she couldn’t burn the candle at both ends, my resourceful sister turned up with a 3-foot-long candle bent in a U-shape with identical wicks at each of the ends.

I don’t think burning the candle at both ends is the same as being busy or multitasking. Lots of busy, capable and productive people are happy with one end of their candle burning.

I would also like to think that burning the candle at both ends is not just being a workaholic, with its overtones of pathology.

I like burning the candle at both ends. I like having lots of irons in the fire. I like having lots of projects on the front burner. It is significant that all these expressions are metaphors involving fire. The way I want to live can certainly be compared to the intensity of a flame.

I’m not reckless. I’m not looking for the thrill of cheating death; I’m looking for the self-forgetful delight of throwing myself completely into what I’m doing. I want my everyday experiences to consume me.

Of course I work too hard. That’s the point. What is more satisfying than biting off more than you can chew, then losing yourself in it until you find a way to masticate it? What is more fun than making your job so big that you can hardly keep up with it?

I can’t say I’m easy to be around. Judging from the responses I get, my approach can exasperate my nearest and dearest. I depend very much on the patience of those who love me, and I can take their patience for granted. Although I see that, I still can’t figure out how to say no to any new project that looks interesting.

I perhaps value the intensity of life more than its duration. I’m not careless or dismissive of the gift of life. On the contrary, it’s too precious to waste. Maybe how I live is more vital to us than how long I live. My father’s short life touched people with an intensity they remember half a century later.

It’s good that not everyone wants to burn the candle at both ends. But for those of us who do, it’s the only way we can be our best selves.

And this I truly believe.