In the middle of another organizing project, I found notes from a few years ago when I was captivated by the idea of summum bonum, a Latin expression introduced by the Roman philosopher Cicero that means the highest good. I thought it would be amazing to write a memoir of the tastemakers and talents I’ve met through my career…people I admire who have focused on the highest good in life and work and art. For each I’d photograph the spaces where they live and work that drive their private inspirations.
Like many things that didn’t happen. Life overcomes.
The highest thing isn’t prescribed. It’s unique to each of us. Our best life begins when we begin to see ourselves authentically.
Who am I?
Who am I not?
What are my best strengths?
How am I uniquely gifted or talented?
What matters most to me?
If I had only one year to make a difference in my life and work, what would I do and how would I prioritize my time?
Our honest answers create a filter for decisions, activities and opportunities and a summum bonum pathway for joy. My father is a master problem solver. He can sift through data to find the pieces he believes will achieve a favorable outcome, and he has the grit to lean in and facilitate people and circumstances to connect them. Courtney is an indomitable scholar. Where that lines up with interest and passion there will be no limit to the things she can achieve in her lifetime.
Life overcomes. I remember a time when work was a vertical wall. A young team member not even out of her 20s said, Do the hardest thing first. It makes sense that to do the highest thing we have to do the hardest thing. Maybe that’s really as simple as leaning in to a difficult relationship. Maybe it means demanding excellence in an environment where lackluster is the norm. Maybe it means giving up a few comforts. I’ll be the first to admit I like my cocktail, pajamas and medical drama television series or a good book more than I like going the second mile to do the hardest thing.
How many times have we heard the words from Matthew, Whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. In first-century Palestine, Romans had conquered most of the Mediterranean world. By law, a subject from a conquered land could be conscripted by a Roman citizen or soldier to carry his load for a mile.
So it is with summum bonum. Weight of the world that in some way may not be easy or comfortable to carry.