To keep on keeping on.

In my dropped-out years, I lived in the Bay Area of California, more often than not hitch-hiking between Palo Alto and Berkeley through the weeks of the year. During the day, and often at night, I was the managing editor of a magazine born of the revolutionary zeal of the counter-culture; but often I would make my way into the bookstores of Berkeley, trying to understand more than I did. One iconic poster of the day, for sale amidst the books on Telegraph Ave, had a cartoonish hippie walking through the world, with the words, “Keep on keeping on.”

In a strange way, those words still run through my life.

It is surprisingly true that I spent about ten years of graduate study thinking about what it takes to “keep on keeping on,” to deepen one’s vocation over the years of life— rather than discard it, in the end choosing lesser reasons for being. And since those years of study, I have written and written again, speaking in many places to many people on the same question. Why do some keep at it? and some not?

Most of 15 years ago, I met Matt Kaemingk, an undergraduate who was part of a learning cohort at his university. The school had made a proposal to the Murdock Trust for a curricular revision, calling it “Lives of Lived Commitment,” and in part it was informed by my writing. He went onto more study, first one degree and then another, and moved home again, back to the Pacific Northwest. We kept up through those years, him coming to see me in Washington, DC, looking in on my work here, and me seeing him in other places, still interested in the vocation that was emerging for him.

Two years ago he asked me to address the launch of the Cascade Fellows Program, and I invited one of my former students to join in, her own life an embodiment of what he intended to bring into being in Seattle. A year ago I returned, speaking at the end-of-the-year gathering of the Fellows, and this past weekend I did the same. Both times he hoped that I would speak into the “keep on keeping on” dynamic, challenging them to see their vocations as a pilgrimage that runs through life, one allowing them to understand more fully who they are, what they do, and why.

In different ways I did that. Over five talks I reflected on what I learned in the study that became The Fabric of Faithfulness: Weaving Together Belief and Behavior, a book which has grown out of my life— knowing and loving people who have kept at, and who have not. The stories are always different because people are always different, and yet there are common themes that thread their way through our lives, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve that we are. We spent hours talking about them, wondering what they would mean for life over the course of life.

In this world full of wonders and wounds, we never arrive. Days become nights, weeks become months, years become a life, and along the way, for everyone everywhere there are disappointments, there is suffering, there are heartaches, even as there are days of blue-sky sunshine, honest smiles full of surprising graces, and signposts of the world we are all longing to someday be.

The challenge is to keep on keeping on, deepening our loves over time, prizing things that matter, learning to see and hear and feel what is real and true and right— and of course, necessarily, letting go of that which isn’t worth loving and doesn’t really matter, because in the end, simply said, it isn’t real, it isn’t true, it isn’t right.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

Meet Steve