I wrote recently about how our work is profoundly shaped by the telos or end-point towards which we point our practices. Teaching, parenting, leading, business, law, writing, art, coaching, politics – each have more or less appropriate end-points. The telos towards which we aim has much to do with whether we ever discover the rich seam of skilfulness, artistry, practicality and contribution that our practices and efforts make possible.
As well as the appropriateness of the telos for the practice concerned, you can also think about the ambition or scale towards which you’re aiming.
Teaching is one kind of activity if the telos is bringing about an enlightened, educated society; and a very different kind if the telos is looking good or being at the top of a performance chart.
Business is one kind of activity if the telos is serving others and making new ways of living or relating or work possible; and quite another if the telos is having a big bank balance.
It’s not that performance or money are unimportant here. But the ultimate end towards which you aim your practices can have a huge effect both on what’s possible and what kind of person you get to be in the midst of acting upon them.
One way of thinking about this is that you can aim your practices towards end-points of different size.
You could choose an end point that is primarily concerned just with you (looking good, having lots of money, being liked, making a name); or one that includes you but also adds people you care about (your family, your company, your community); one that includes both of these and adds the society in which you live; or one that in some way addresses all of these and adds the needs of the world as a whole.
And, ultimately, you can choose a telos for any practice that, if you wish, is aimed towards life itself, which necessarily includes all the previous categories.
And if we were prepared to be that ambitious in our businesses, organisations and personal lives, we’d take into account wholly new categories of concern about which we’re, mostly, hardly thinking right now.