A dream situation: unbelievable pay, a job where I excel, lovely smart coworkers, a great culture, autonomy, leadership, and respect.
But is this really a dream, in a lifelong sense?
Maybe for a bit. But, in the long run, emphatically, no.
I’m not suggesting money is evil. I’m not suggesting regret, or eschewing work in general. Instead – I am offering this challenge to anyone who is motivated by a similar dream… the most precious resource you have is your time and freedom. No amount of wealth or possessions are worth sacrificing the majority of your freedom during the prime years of your life.
Climbing the Mountain
It took two decades – pouring ungodly hours into learning my craft and finding the right opportunity to use it. The kind of hours (spent over years) that would make most people sick. And honestly, the journey was mostly fun. I forced myself through this. Learning. Solving puzzles. Pushing and challenging my ability.
It might seem tempting to take credit for what I’ve “earned” – to feel proud – but really, it’s all luck, even the hard work part. After all, where did I get the genes to work hard? How did I find this magical valuable craft? How did I find the opportunity? Luck. Luck. Luck. Nothing special.
Back to the $1M part. Why is that relevant?
Gravity, my friends. The more you make, the more your comfort grows, the more the appetite to consume grows, the more safety you feel. The ol’ hedonic treadmill. Gravity gets stronger. Sometimes referred to as golden handcuffs. Our society praises money. We like nice things, and then even nicer things. We build our identity on possessions. We use these to attract others, maybe friends, maybe partners. We use money to assail fear and be comfortable. Boy – wouldn’t we all like to be multi-millionaires to have fun and be safe all our lives.
Well, I am here to say, I climbed the mountain, and I promise… the real treasures in life have nothing to do with possessions and excess comfort. I am here to say, this extreme gravity should not be held as a utopia. Most importantly I am here to say, this extreme gravity can be overcome once it is discovered. Escape velocity.
Does this sound crazy? I am writing this to challenge conventional ideas about “success”.
What Do I Truly Need? Less and Less.
I shut down my hedonic treadmill years ago. I asked myself: where is this treadmill taking me? Does it ever lead to greater and greater levels of happiness? Quite simply – no. It doesn’t. If I just keep working away, for this dream salary, feeling really happy about the money and sense of accomplishment, where does that leave me, in the end? Wealthy and dead. That’s where. Working full time until I’m too old to care about doing anything else in life… with some occasional pleasures mixed in, like toys and vacations and gadgets. YIKES!
The cost is EXTRAORDINARY. Think about it. The cost is is renting out the best part of your brain, 40-60 hours a week, for decades, doing something you don’t necessarily love. Brain in a vice. No thank you!
Never again – unless I absolutely LOVE what I am doing, and it is making a positive impact to wellbeing for others and myself, will it ever make sense to do something for 40+ hours per week – whether it involves pay or not.
Being old and wealthy in exchange for renting my brain has gradually crystallized as my worst nightmare. And so – I’m leaving. And although I started writing about this departure two years ago, the wheels are in motion now. I have about 18 months left… everyone knows, my company, my coworkers, my family, my friends, and the exit plan is underway. I’m out.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.”
– Annie Dillard
A confluence of many things. Here are the biggest:
- Feeling exhausted and wanting a break. I was once ridiculously obsessed with work and success, and it’s been trending down.
- The question: What am I working for? What do I need? Again, less and less.
- What else can I explore? Looking forward to that question, after a period of rest.
I feel very very, very very, lucky. I mean, sure, I did spend 50,000+ hours learning and working, staying up late, going in early, operating like an absolute machine, to find myself this position. To the untrained eye, especially to the untrained eye who might be in financial distress, this urge to walk away from what I’ve been working toward may seem totally out-of-touch or foolish and ungrateful. But that’s not it at all.
I truly believe, more and more each day, that less is more. This should not be a world of selfish pursuits and ego accomplishments and consumption.
I need to fully-live my own values and beliefs. I need to help other people notice: so much suffering in the world is empty, so much of our rage and division is for nothing, and we are literally surrounded by absurd beauty. We are all the same. (More on this, another time)
“The same blood runs in every human on the earth. You just have to see past the variations in skin and culture.”
How can we lead lives that embrace these ideas?
How can society take small steps to foster more awareness?
I need to start by living this more deeply. And I hope, over time, to unlock this vision for many others too. Compassionately, gently, patiently.