In order to live we must in some way or another acquire the basic physical necessities of food, water and shelter. In other words, we must work. Once these have been attained in sufficient measure, our focus can shift to the more complex task of meeting the necessities of intellectual, emotional and spiritual matters. It seems the norm to despise one’s work, and this is unfortunate.
Work should be a labor of love and an extension of personality. So many people remain unhappily stuck in positions they absolutely hate, yet they endure it, waiting for that golden future of retirement. The sad truth is that most people don’t love what they do with their lives, either in work or in habit. We are brought up to think of work as a terrible burden of necessity; therefore we never awaken to the fact that it can be an extension of our unique personalities.
In grade school my teachers told me that it was bad to daydream. They said it would get in the way of responsibility. Although I understood where they were coming from, later on in life I decided that other people could smother our natural drives for creative expression. The warning was well intended and the message heard; I have many friends who dream at the expense of reality.
The wise person has a healthy balance between their dreams and their responsibilities, pursuing neither to the detriment of the other. They do not dream so much that they refuse to work, nor do they work so hard they refuse to dream.
“Why don’t you get a job and do something productive instead of waste all your time…where is that going to get you?” Chances are if you play music, do art or engage in any creative or non-traditional activity, you’ve heard these or similar comments at some point in your life.
These statements all stem from the assumption that one certain way of making a living is right for everyone. They are basically another person’s ideas of how life should be lived. When we hear things like this from parents or teachers it can set up internal conflict. In spite of any good intentions, the message behind such statements is one of disapproval and scorn, implying that somehow our passions, the things in life that we enjoy and derive happiness from, are somehow unacceptable as a means of making a living.
The mentality of the working world parallels mob psychology. It reminds me of high school, which is basically a training diaper for “real world” life. There are unwritten rules as to what or who is cool and what or who is not. Those who display all the characteristics the majority deems cool become social examples or role models. Suzie is blond, has big boobs and a nice car; her teeth are straight, she dresses hip, she listens to cool music and all the boys like her. She must be cool.
The majority of the girls then come to covet Suzie’s coolness, so they aim to meet the requirements for the accepted standard of cool that Suzie has lived up to. They all seek to do what Suzie does since her actions seem to yield results, and eventually all the girls begin to look, act and think like Suzie.
The girls who don’t conform to that standard of cool get hated on by girls who define cool by that standard, as well as the boys who seek cool girls. Cool girls and cool people get all the perks in life, while the individuals often suffer for their courage to be different.
So it is with the working world. Society defines success in material measurements. Generally, the more we own, the more we are perceived as successful people. That society thinks this way is evident by how surprised they are when the ‘successful’ guy down the street takes his own life or goes berserk on a shooting spree. “Gee, he had everything, he was successful, he had a nice house and car…what went wrong?”
Society appreciates productivity and rightly so; therefore the younger ones are often encouraged down paths that seem to provide some degree of certainty in obtaining success. The problems arise when those in authority assume that the common definition of success is the only definition of success, and that the traditional methods of becoming successful are the only methods of becoming successful.
This is why your parents ride you so hard about going to school. This is why the crux of conversation and advice from relatives is usually limited to work and school. To them, working or going to school are the two main behaviors identified with success. T
ry telling your old man that you want to take a year off from everything to think about your life. Chances are he will respond with anxiety, criticism or worry and attempt to change your mind; or if he’s like a dad I know, he might smack you upside the head and say, “Boy what the hell’z wrong with you?”
Some consider it greater success to be at the mere level of sustenance regarding material things yet thriving creatively, spiritually, intellectually, in your habits or other pursuits. We should judge a tree by its fruit. If your job makes you miserable, it is not the job for you.
To me there is no benefit in enduring such a vocation for half of your life or longer in order to retire and live comfortably. Why not first discover the personalized career and lifestyle patterns that promote comfort and go from there?
Our culture teaches us to select our careers based on the amount of money they are presumed to yield. Parents spend big bucks to send their kids to college hoping they will learn a potentially lucrative trade that will bring them security and comfort. However, this approach is apparently not failsafe. “A college degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good job.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a fifth of those graduating college in the 1980s ended up unemployed or working in jobs that didn’t require degrees. For graduates in the 90s, that proportion may rise to thirty percent.”
Modern research confirms the common sense notion that the most successful people are those who follow their passions and stick to what they love. I read about a study in which researchers followed a group of over fifteen hundred people for a period of twenty years. At the outset of the study, they were divided into two sub-groups. The first, 83% of the sample, were embarking on a career chosen for the prospects of making money now in order to do what they wanted later. The other 17% of the sample had chosen their career path for the reverse reason: they were going to pursue what came natural to them, what they loved most or what they wanted to do at that point and worry about the money later.
At the end of twenty years the data showed some interesting revelations. Of the 2,000, 101 people had become millionaires. Of those millionaires, all but one of them were from the second group, the one that had chosen to follow their hearts and pursue what they loved without worrying about money!
The key ingredient in successful projects is love of what you do. Having a goal or plan is not enough. Academic preparation is not enough. Prior experience is not enough. Though the majority of professional skateboarders did not graduate high school, some make six figure incomes and oversee multi-million dollar companies while others make fulfilling and rewarding livings doing skateboard-related artwork, sales or other business ventures such as opening a shop.
Professional skateboarder Jeremy Wray once relayed a story about working as a dishwasher. When the time came for him to enter an important contest, he asked for the weekend off, and his boss said something to the effect of, “You need to be washing dishes. Where’s that skateboard going to get you?” He quit the job on the spot.
Of course not everybody has this luxury, and the single parent working three jobs to put food on the table for their kid(s) would be foolish to do so; but the decision to remain in the low-paying, dead-end without contemplating an exit strategy is just as foolish and detrimental in the long run.
Jeremy had the courage to choose what he felt in his heart was right. Instead of blindly accepting his boss’s words on the merit of authority, Jeremy questioned the intrinsic value of those words. He dared to think for himself and ask questions, and more importantly, when he realized his definition of success was incompatible with that of his boss, he made a swift decision to end that relationship and pursue his own interests.
As soon as he realized the dishwashing gig wasn’t for him, he skipped hesitation and punched out. In doing so he avoided even one minute of complacency. In botanical terms, he severed the dying branch before it could sap any more vitality from the rest of the plant.
I like to think that people have three distinct selves or personalities and their alignment or lack thereof causes happiness or misery, respectively. A person’s ideal self is nothing more than what that person would ideally be. It is the life we would choose should we find ourselves unbound by circumstance or money. Your ideal self is basically your answer to the question, ‘If you could be living any way you want or doing anything you want, what would it be?’
A person’s projected self is the self that person projects to others. It is a manifestation of the ego. It is the image we often portray to convince others that we are something other than what we actually are. Your projected self can be identified by observing your behavior in the various social situations.
It is not uncommon for people to have projected selves that differ greatly from how they actually are. The perfect example of this is the tough-guy who knows inwardly that he cannot control his life or vices. He knows he is truly unable to vanquish the real opponents in life so he compensates for his lack of power by dominating physical opponents, and usually only weaker ones he knows he can get away with.
The actual self is the self we inwardly perceive ourselves to be, and ironically, the actual self is not actually actual. It is entirely abstract, not as much a reflection of reality as we think. The actual self is subject to change. It is not a fixed or concrete entity. It is constantly evolving, and it may not even be true. Y
ou may perceive yourself to be a great many things other than what you actually are. A person with great talent can perceive himself to be inept; his actual self then becomes one of low self-esteem in spite of the tremendous amount of skill he possesses. The talent to produce world-class paintings lies dormant until the mind truly perceives the self as capable of producing world-class paintings.
A person’s mental, emotional and financial condition depends greatly on the proper alignment of these three selves or personality archetypes. Your level of serenity, confidence and inner contentment is determined by the amount of variance between them. Needless to say, there are extremely talented individuals wasting away in the convenience stores, offices and customer service jobs of the world.
For the young person with unrealized capabilities, such jobs are good and beneficial. We’ve all got to start somewhere and the best way to discover your favorite or least favorite brand of ice cream is to start tasting flavors. Equally important as having definiteness of purpose is having definite knowledge of what you don’t want to do in life. The problems begin once we have realized our capabilities either in whole or in part yet fail to grow habits that will externalize them.
This is where the gap between the ideal and actual self starts. When your actual self is drifting away from your ideal self, you experience a certain misery; conversely, when you integrate habits into your daily life that serve to align these selves, you experience increasingly stronger feelings of autonomy, happiness and self-confidence.
We’ve all seen the bumper stickers that read ‘I’d rather be…(fill in the blank)’ The question is, ‘Why aren’t you…(fill in the blank)?’ If you’d rather be skateboarding, why aren’t you skateboarding? You say you’re stuck at work? Nobody is stuck anywhere. They make choices. You make the choice to get up and go to the same old job each day for years.
You can also make the choice to call in sick and go skate, quit or renegotiate your schedule so you have time to engage in the more important matter of aligning your ideal self with your actual self. Excess enduring of suffering drives people to mentally snap. It is a cause of mental and emotional unrest as well as all sorts of stress and frustration.
The unhappy breeds of cashiers, waiters, postal workers, pencil pushers and office slaves all know about this. I know about this. It’s that horrible feeling of your back being up against a wall. In a streetfight there is one way out of this situation, and that is to get the assailant off of you as soon as possible. I’ve felt the crushing weight of the daily grind and it didn’t take much to convince me to opt out and pursue my passions no matter what the cost. I’ve walked off a job before; it felt great.
We all know the story. The boss is a jerk. The other workers complain, gossip and backstab, and nobody wants to be there. People don’t show up for their shifts and you get forced to work on your days off. Even worse, they pay you just enough to pay your bills, eat a little and be broke. This form of making a living sucks. It is not inherently enjoyable nor does it allow much room for personal growth, creative expansion, fun or inner satisfaction.
The only way to enjoy this type of work is to consciously tolerate it and many people do, taking their beatings forty hours per week or more. Aside from the tragedies of smothered talent and creativity, a line of work like this robs our energy and vitality, promotes disease and will turn even the strongest-willed of an individual into a miserable, unhappy wreck.
If you are in a situation like this start making a proactive strategy to get out. It may be confusing or scary to step out of the usual, and the road to actualizing your ideal self may seem like too long a one to embark upon, but all great journeys must begin with a single step.
The bottom line is that everybody has a unique set of God-given (or evolution-given if you prefer atheism) talents, tastes, desires and goals. It is your responsibility to discover your personal niche in life.
What are you naturally drawn towards or talented at? Any hobby or interest can be transformed into a means of existence. Entire industries often begin with one person daring enough to think, “Wow, I love this so much I want to make a living doing it.” The secret of success is contentment in one’s doings. Creative hobbies such as reading, writing, film or art are good examples.
All these activities have enjoyment at their root. In other words, most people who work in these fields would be doing so even if they weren’t getting paid. There is a way to make a living with any form of talent.
Personal progress often starts with personal questions. Analyze your own life courageously. If you could do anything you wanted, live anyway you wanted or make a living any way you wanted, how would you do it? What would your ideal life be in terms of employment, relationships and creative endeavors?
If the life you are living does not match up to your answer, action is necessary. Complacency spreads like cancer; don’t settle. Don’t be like the ones Ozzy talked about who are “killing themselves to live.” Get motivated, keep a positive mind state, don’t be afraid to ask for divine intervention and take care of the necessary business to prevent your dreams from becoming haunting nightmares.
Act on those things you think about before you fall asleep each night. Act today, or else tomorrow you could find yourself just another victim of modern society.
The editor of The Warfare is Mental, and pursuer of relatively interesting information. Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.