After reading Michael Lopp's excellent post The Makers of Things referencing the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge I was reminded of a poem. Not coincidentally, it's named The Bridge Builder and while I've mentioned it before, I think it bears repeating.
The Bridge Builder
by Will Allen Dromgoole
An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near,
"You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You've crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?"
The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
"There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him."
What I like most about this poem is that it touches on a reason we do the things we do. For example, when Washington Roebling became bedridden, why did he keep running the project rather than hand off the job to another? What was his motivation to carry on? We may never know, but for each of us, we can know our desires, our reasons. This is especially important because in the end we will get what we desire.
There are perhaps as many different motivations as there are people. Since we are complex beings, there are probably a multifaceted set of reasons behind our thoughts and actions. More subtle still, one reason may not even dominate in each context, every time. Some might work for a reward in money or fame. Others might do the things they do to impress others or to be a part of the "cool crowd". The desire to be well liked can be a powerful motivation for great effort. Some might create simply to provide for their temporal needs and for no other exalted reason. For them, the work they do is simply avoidance of pain. Others still create out of a sense of duty to their family, friends or traditions. Some simply want to see that they can do something and take joy in finishing a task well done. While some might laugh, others do the work they do out of a sense of love, a genuine desire to help. For me, when someone creates something, anything, it is always wonderful, but more impressive, are the reasons coupled with the creation.
Another aspect to creative motivation is that different desires yield different results and staying power. When you are called to lead a team, (or more difficult lead yourself alone) to work through the impossible, you can not be ignorant of the motivations needed commensurate with the work at hand. However, discerning these delicate human desires and their creative force can be a powerful tool when confronted with the problems and setbacks that will undoubtedly come.
Ultimately we choose. We choose to build, to create, to do the things we desire. We make the little choices, as small as lifting a bucket full of mud from a river bottom and as large as trusting that a bridge pier will stand the test of time. Small and big and everything in between reveal in us our inner creativity and deepest desires. Recognizing this brings a somber circumspection to the tasks of each day. The wonderful thing is that it's all in there, in each of us, to quote, "Trust me when I say that I can close my eyes and see the end result, and when you can see it, too, you will be amazed."