YOU START OUT scared stiff, with all your fears riding shotgun. Will I make it? Is it worth it? Will there really be a just reward? But it’s the question that comes later -the question that would seem the easiest to answer -that is the trickiest of all, because it’s the question that we all have to answer for ourselves: How much is enough? How much what? Fill it in for yourself: success, achievement, money. Often, we deal with the question in the same way a hot New York model did when she was asked how much is enough. She said that she wasn’t exactly sure, but she added that “more” would definitely be part of her answer.
Like the model, we plunge on somehow, automatically assuming that “more” is the only acceptable answer. To suggest anything less is comparable to admitting to fast-lane devotees that you like to sleep a minimum of 14 hours a night -they begin quietly moving away. Where’s your blind ambition, boy? If we don’t answer “more,” we just ignore the issue. There are, however, at least two among us who have thought about the issue and its implications. What they have to say is worth our time.
David Hicks, the new headmaster of St. Mark’s School of Texas, represents what a civilization can produce when everything works: the family, the schools and the values and will of the individual. His response to the question, “How much is enough?” was reflective and philosophical, and it revealed what students and faculty might expect from his leadership. First, he believes that nothing will ever be enough for those people who allow themselves to be defined by material things. In other words, you can’t find your own meaning in the things you possess. Hicks believes that any measure of contentment a person may attain can only be achieved by reducing and limiting the desire for material things. He believes that a school should be the ideal environment in which to deal with the issue of how much is enough. He wants the school to help students transcend the world of material things by provoking inquiry and discussion. While high scores on college entrance exams may be one result, they will not be the final goal.
While visiting Crete, Hicks once saw the obscure grave of Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis. On the small cross above the grave were inscribed three sentences: “I expect nothing. I am not afraid. I am free.” Hicks believes that those direct, simple phrases contain the answer. When we are free to be the best we are capable of becoming, we are unafraid and beyond the allure of those things that, in the end, will only entrap us.
Dr. Hal Urschel, a distinguished cardiac surgeon, has thought about the question because it’s a natural, unavoidable concern for those in his profession. Urschel believes that his colleagues’ responses to the question, “How much is enough?” are as individual as the surgeons themselves. At one extreme, there are those doctors who are truly and completely obsessed, who believe that the question is somewhat foolish because, for them, nothing will ever be enough. They believe that they can never achieve too much because there is so much that needs to be done. The need for sleep irritates them. They see themselves as being in a race with their own mortality.
At the opposite end are the surgeons who are less compulsive, who lead more measured lives. They may be even more competent than their obsessed colleagues, but their ambitions are more contained. For those doctors, “enough” is a result of trying to achieve a balance between doing good work and pursuing other goals that can make life more complete.
In the end, we concoct our own prescriptions. For baseball legend Ted Williams, “enough” was to have people say when they saw him in the on-deck circle, “There’s the greatest hitter who ever lived.” For football great Bobby Layne, Joe Na-math’s father in spirit, “enough” would be to run out of money and breath at the same time. Writer E.B. White talked of constructing a sentence that would last a hundred years.
When honestly asked, the question,”How much is enough?” can serve as amirror to a person’s life. The answer that isreflected back can confirm a direction orcan furnish the impetus to alter one’scourse. Perhaps the question’s most important role is that of a check on whetherour own pursuits are worth anything evenapproaching the prices we pay for them.But for those people who value invulnerability and the safety of an unexaminedlife, it’s probably a question that is bestleft alone.