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Less Dissatisfaction, More Desire

A short video entitled “What If Money Was No Object?” re-emerged in my Facebook feed last week.  During the past few months, I’ve noticed it sporadically gain momentum, die down, and come back again a few times.  I watch it every single time, and albeit a bit “self-helpy,” I find it grounding and compelling in its simplicity.  And lot of other people do too — I’m amazed by the range of people (ages, vocations, lifestyle) who post and/or comment on it.  If you haven’t watched it, consider taking three minutes and nine seconds to watch it now…

Narrator Alan Watts, a British-born philosopher, writer and speaker best known for interpreting Eastern philosophy for a Western audience talks frankly and powerfully about money + work:  “If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time.  You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing to go on living….which means to go on doing things you don’t like doing.”  Instead of worrying about money, he urges people to ask themselves things like…

“What makes you itch?”

“What sort of situation would you like?”

“How would you really enjoy spending your life?”

“What do you desire?”

It’s easy to watch this video…get inspired for a few minutes…maybe even send it to a few friends…and then promptly get back to business as usual.  Which, for more than 50% of Americans isn’t exactly filled with joy and desire.  In fact, according to Gallup’s 2012 job satisfaction data, 53% of Americans are either dissatisfied or only somewhat satisfied with their jobs.

Turning this around is far from a quick fix.  As Alan Watts alludes to, it’s something that is going to take generations to fix (not to mention, an economy that enables more people to create options for themselves and an education system that rewards a wider range of talents).  The reality is that it’s very difficult (and maybe even irresponsible) for many of us to make work choices solely based on desire and passion (particularly if we have mouths to feed).  But even if dramatically changing our lives today isn’t possible, making slight modifications…re-framing what matters…is.  Here are a few things I think each of us CAN do to move closer to “what makes us itch.”

  1. We (families and educators and policymakers) can let our children’s interests and passions guide their paths, versus trying to get all children to fit traditional molds.
  2. We can stop saying that every single person in this country should go to college.  What about people who learn better by doing…maybe an apprenticeship would make more sense?  What about people who want to learn a trade…do they really need a 4-year degree?  Making college one of many good post-secondary educational options may allow people to make choices based on passion and not oppressive student loan payments.  If you’re interested in this thinking, Thomas Friedman wrote a great op-ed yesterday about creating innovators versus creating jobs.
  3. We, as a society, can offer more varied role models.  We can celebrate people who are happy and fulfilled in their work, not just those who are rich and famous.  We can talk more about the many currencies that exist beyond money.
  4. We can pursue passion projects.  After Fast Company published a blog about passion projects last week, The Onion promptly ran an article titled “Find the Thing You’re Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights and Weekends for the Rest of Your Life.”  Touche.  But the reality is, it’s damn hard to follow Alan Watts’ advice, no matter how much you agree with it.  So as a Plan B, I’m all about taking baby steps.  And a passion project can be a powerful step forward.
  5. We can encourage expertise.  In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.  (That means I’ll be blogging until I’m 90 before I’m an expert!)  As a society, I think we should talk about this.  We should talk about how hard — and how worthwhile — it is to become an expert at something you’re good at and care about.  Breadth of skill is great, but depth is often what moves the needle.
  6. We can live our lives on purpose.  Even if we don’t know what our true purpose is, we can live our lives proactively, working to shift our time balance from dissatisfaction to flourishing.
  7. We can re-evaluate the role of money in our lives.  Studies show that once basic needs have been met, money doesn’t increase happiness (exception to this: if someone is super worried about money but still has their needs met, their happiness can still be impacted).  Lots of people — at least here in Silicon Valley — are working in jobs they don’t particularly like until they reach some magic financial number they associate with lifelong security.  I think it’s important to think about that number and ask ourselves whether the end really justifies the means.

These are just a few ideas…I’d love to hear other thoughts on what changes might help more people spend their lives doing things they love.  If you have ideas — either things that have worked for you, or societal changes that might help shift the balance from money to purpose — please share!


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for another thought provoking post, Brynn. It evokes a variety of reactions from me. First, Alan’s hypothetical is frustrates me. Money is an object. The reality is that most of us need to earn enough to provide for our families the best way we can, nurture our skills and advance our interests. The irony is that even pursuing a passion often takes money. Money isn’t inherently bad; it’s giving it preeminent importance in our lives that gets us off track.

    I think a richer conversation would be a different question, perhaps something like: What ways do you measure success that don’t include money? It could be moments of joy you find in a day, breakthrough in a filed of passion, number of hugs and wet kisses from your children…that would be a great list. In my opinion, it reframes the conversation to help people focus on how they can create and measure their own success, even if they start in small ways. Perhaps that’s at the heart of Alan’s message.

    April 1, 2013
  2. ebriceno #

    I hadn’t seen that video. Cool, thanks for sharing.

    I think it’s cool that some schools are approaching learning differently, to enable kids to find and pursue their passions while developing skills that will enable them to reach their goals. e.g. here’s a cool 9 minute video on it: As to how I reconcile the desire to drive everything with passion vs. the reality of needing to make my basic needs, for me I see it as a challenge – a way to address all layers in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in real life. I think often people end up being stuck in the bottom and middle layers – but the real challenge for me is how can I meet ALL layers in the REAL world? – that keeps me interested and engaged in the challenge and directed toward a way of living that is most fulfilling to me.

    April 1, 2013

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