Our Quest

Last week we followed the journey of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims on their quest to find a new land of promise.

The word quest comes from the Latin quester meaning to ask or seek. It is usually a long or arduous search for something. (Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press.) At its root “quest” implies a question we are trying to answer in our lives. We see this often expressed in the Bible, Greek mythology, or literature. There is a hero/heroine in search of a “forever” answer in a heroic conclusion to find self. Who am I? What are my gifts? What was I meant to do?

For many, quest is not finding a magic potion and live forever but to find and do eternal actions of virtue. Think of The Epic of GilgameshThe IliadThe Odyssey, or The Aeneid. Like our role models, all of us have many journeys or a specific odyssey to fulfill. Winston Churchill noted it this way.

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

I believe there are MANY such moments in our lives.

Consider your Desires

What comes first in your life? Do you have desires you are silently guarding at the expense of others?

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek? A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy. Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week? Or sells eternity to get a toy? For one sweet grape who will the vine destroy? Or what fond beggar, but to touch the crown, Would with the scepter straight be strucken down?”

―William Shakespeare, “The Rape of Lucrece”

Pure motives

What is your quest or holy grail? What is your motivation for this quest you are on? How do you know if it is noble, heroic, or magnanimous? Or is it just a “wild goose chase?”

The valiant, heroic, and courageous are frequently found at the intersection of the right question and discovery, talent, and preparation. Those opportunities are a gift from Providence for you to discover something eternal that will live far beyond mortality. The best you is frequently found in lifting others to find their own destiny. To be what is called happy the Polish Poet Cyprian Norwid wrote “one should have something to live on, something to live for, and something to die for. The lack of one of these results in drama. The lack of two results in tragedy.” (Noble Purpose: The Joy of Living a Meaningful Life by William Damon pg. ix).

You also hear it expressed this way, “that is the hill I will die on” or “that is the sword I will fall on.” So, what is your hill, sword, or cause?

Purpose and Passion

What we do with our limited time each day provides clues for us. Assuming you applied our economic lessons from last month, you have something to “live on.” Your task then is to determine if your chosen grail is worth living or dying for. Those usually revolve around family, friends, or faith.

While traveling or attending business events I am frequently asked, “What do you do for a living?” I often reply, “I have been trying to figure that out for the last 60 years!” I say that tongue in cheek, but I also really mean it. Our “real” job should go far beyond the economics of “a living” or existence. My follow up questions back to them are often:

What is your passion?

What adjectives would friends use to describe you?

What do you do in your spare time?

Our quests are captured in the collage of paint and beautiful strokes that create our canvas of life. The footprints we leave behind inform our past, present and future.

Discovery and Agency

Many quests are seemingly endless, yet never fully completed. For me those include: discipleship of The Lord, finding a soulmate, creating a family, interminable education, creations, building a home and businesses, establishing an academy, serving others and self-improvement. I note that I may be involved in many quests simultaneously.

Teaching is another example of a quest and likely leaves a legacy that gives “forever.” Teaching is a part of what all of us do whether in word or deed. Being a parent or grandparent is another. Being a community builder is yet another. This is how you find and give eternal life. As you think about your odyssey, your list will be seemingly endless. It is likely your quests will coalesce around purpose and mission.

“This is my quest, to follow that star, no matter how hopeless no matter how far.”

— “The Impossible Dream,” Man of La Mancha


I have always loved the fable of Pinocchio who was given the opportunity, as a puppet created by Geppetto, to attend school in the hope that he would one day become a “real boy.” His best friend and faithful guide is Jiminy Cricket who acts as his conscience and teaches him how to wish upon a star, and choose right over wrong by listening to his inner voice and his mentor’s voice.

But becoming a real boy would require an act greater than self. Pinocchio also has another aid, when he fibs his nose grows. He thinks this a nuisance; but it is a part of conscience. Pinocchio eventually rejects the counsel of his little friend Jiminy and follows his alleged friend Lampwick to the circus who promised him a new way of life enjoying the circus ways of no responsibility with nothing but fun, excitement and “finding himself.” There he drinks and smokes cigars and comes to the realization as he looks at himself in the mirror that he has sprouted ears and a tail like a donkey. When he begins to speak, he even talks and heehaws like a jackass. He now belongs to the circus ringmaster–for that is what he has become, a slave to his base passions. His quest to become a real boy was broken.

As he looks at his life, he longs to go home to Geppetto and go to school. His father, who is distraught at the loss of his son, goes out to find and rescue him and is swallowed by a whale. The ringmaster eventually discovers that Pinocchio is not a boy but a wood puppet and tosses him into the sea where the same whale swallows him. There in the whale Pinocchio discovers and revives his father and builds a raft for their escape. He builds a fire, and they exit the blow spout and make it home. His father thanks him and notes that he had done a selfless act by being courageous, generous, and honest. These are traits that Jiminy had taught him. When he awakes the next morning, to his joy, he has become a real boy. It has some beautiful biblical echoes of Jonah and his quest.

Here is the music for our quest both in music and lyrical form.

"The Impossible Dream (The Quest)"

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow,
To run where the brave dare not go.

To right the unrightable wrong,
To love pure and chaste from afar,
To try when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star.

This is my quest,
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless,
No matter how far.

To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march
Into hell for a heavenly cause.

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will be peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage.

To fight the unbeatable foe.
To reach the unreachable star.

Enjoy the journey!

—Dr. Dean Forman

What’s your takeaway?

What quests have you already identified in your own life? What connections from your prior quests will inform your next one?

Image Attribution: Internet Archive Book Images, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

Published by Dean Forman

I am co-founder and CEO of the John Adams Academies, an institution that is perhaps the most unique charter school system in America today. The Academies’ curriculum is designed to give its students an American Classical Leadership Education®. This is an education that pursues truth, beauty and goodness and turns its scholars outward in search of those whom they can serve in becoming servant leaders. This website is dedicated to sharing the concepts of an American Classical Leadership Education with its readers so that more citizens can benefit from the truth, virtue and wisdom of the past. The thoughts and opinions I share on this page are my personal views.

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