The word “business” can refer to one’s occupation or trade. But it can also refer to what you concern yourself with. “That’s none of my business,” for example, means “that doesn’t concern me.” Given this second sense of the word, what exactly is our business when it comes to our lives? That is, what ought to concern us?
Toward the beginning of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, there’s a passage that highlights this very question. In it, Marley’s ghost appears to Scrooge. He expresses regret over the mistakes he made while still alive. In response, Scrooge tries to offer a bit of consolation. “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” he says. But being a “good man of business” is no consolation to the ghost. He immediately cries out:
“Business!”…“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Unfortunately for Marley, it wasn’t until after his death that he realized what should have concerned him. He may have done well in his trade. But there were plenty of other things to be concerned about. There was concern for the well being of others. There was concern for the development and practice of love, forgiveness, and generosity. There was concern for the common welfare.
“Success” at work does not guarantee success in life. And although our work—both what we do and how we do it—is important, it’s only one part of our lives. There are plenty of things that could and should concern us regardless of what we do for a living. And hopefully, unlike Marley, we’ll recognize them before it’s too late.