“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”
– as attributed to James Michener
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – United States Declaration of Independence
- All Men meaning All Humankind.
Rather be doing something else?
Let’s face it – we all encounter this at some point in our work, no matter how fulfilling we may find it at times. When our minds wander to other things we’d rather be doing, it may be due to burnout as I talked about in this previous post.
But other times it may be due to unresolved desire to pursue something else.
I struggled with this for years, working a day job in government finance and accounting, while my creative juices were getting little attention. I would find ways to accommodate my creativity in designing reports, but that wasn’t enough.
I have always been fascinated by music, and played piano since 4th grade and french horn since 5th grade, adding guitar in my teens and buying my first of several electronic keyboards. As new technology emerged around digital recording, I resolved to teach myself how to record, mix and master music on my PC (not a cheap hobby through the 90’s and into the new millenium!).
Later on, I also started a small record label and have released a total 7 records, the most recent one on vinyl – who knew we’d come full circle back to vinyl?
But, I digress – we are talking about wealth and work and the occasional pull we feel to do something else.
This is where hobbies, or avocations, come in (from the Latin avocare – “call away”). When we get the feeling we’d rather be doing something else, we are being “called away” from our vocation or work to think about something else. When this happens it is may be due to some aspect of ourselves that is not receiving the attention it deserves.
Instead of fighting this urge to do something else, it is important to pause for a moment and observe what it is we would rather be doing. What is the call or pull that you are sensing? This is a critical step – it may identify a new and distinct calling on your life, or it might identify a part of you that you have been neglecting.
Once we identify what is pulling at or calling us, it is important to schedule time to give it our full attention, even if it is only for half an hour. It is important to actually schedule it, block out the time for it, and commit to doing it as scheduled.
The importance of scheduling is, once scheduled, the distraction of rather doing something else is diminished or even disappears. This won’t work long term if you neglect to address it as scheduled.
The worst thing you can do is attempt to ignore and push through. You only end up wasting energy fighting yourself, and both you and your work suffer.
Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.
– Henry David Thoreau
Are you Burned Out?
We all experience burnout at some point. I left a 17 year career because I sensed it creeping up on me.
At the time I left I had well over 15 years left before I could qualify for early retirement and I knew I could not last that long just for the full retirement benefits. So I left, and even though my income has been substantially less, I am less stressed, much happier in general, and able to actually encounter the world in a way I would not have been able to if I had stayed.
I am not recommending you all go out and quit your jobs by any means, but I do have some recommendations from what I observed in looking back at my career that might have helped me avoid the impending burnout: take vacations, observe a Sabbath day, and delegate more (read: do less).
First things first, take a vacation! Vacations (from the Latin vacare – “to be unoccupied”) are necessary to rejuvenate our mind, body and spirit. We weren’t meant to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
And take an “unoccupied” vacation – don’t plan out an itinerary that rivals your pace at work! Take a vacation where you unplug, spend time just reading, spend time outdoors just observing and soaking in the the fresh air and, hopefully, some natural sunlight.
Unplug from your phone, your TV and the internet, at least for the majority of the time.
If you are married, with or without children, enjoy the time with your family and spouse, allow yourselves all the flexibility in the world for that time. Linger longer somewhere that is enjoyable and leave the next destination for another time.
Be present for your spouse and family – don’t spend your vacation worrying about work. It will still be there when you get back.
Taste the food. I’m serious. When was the last time you can remember tasting your food?
Try something you have never tried before.
When you return from vacation and before the relaxed calm wears off, take a look at your schedule and set some clear work boundaries. Block out times for future vacations, family outings, time to read, time to spend outdoors, and set a specific time to end your work day, every day.
The Sabbath in the Judeo-Christian tradition has long been made out to be a day of restrictions, but it was meant to be a day of rest each week – a gift to us – a day that we did not have to toil under the curse but could trust that God would provide.
In New England sports vernacular, you might consider the Sabbath day as a “reverse the curse” day.
A Sabbath day is essential whether you are religious or not. It is also difficult for many of us to observe properly. Relaxation is an elusive concept for me, but as I continue to get older, I recognize its importance for my health more and more.
Think of your Sabbath day as the day you get to enjoy the fruits of your labors, spend time with family and friends, and experience the wonders of nature. It should be a day to recharge your emotional and spiritual batteries, and give your brain and body a rest.
Treat it like a weekly vacation – unplug, be present with those around you, take a break from technology, enjoy some nature or even yard work (yes work of this sort is fine, as long as it rejuvenates you)!
We can all find things to delegate. These are things that other people can do as well or even better than we can, and distract us from doing the one or two things that only we can do.
This is a lesson I didn’t learn until after I exited my previous career. I took on way too much and got stuck in the self destructive mode of continuing to do things myself because it was faster and easier than training someone else to do it.
The fallacy in this is that I was killing myself to get all these things done, while the things only I could do were not getting the full attention they deserved. One of these things was developing and leading my team. I didn’t know how to draw the line between being productive and helping others be productive.
The first thing to do is set limits on your work hours and prioritize your work schedule to get your work done in that time. This might mean clarifying with your boss whether the project you are working on takes priority over some status meeting, especially if you arrange for someone to brief you on anything important to your project.
Then take a hard look at the tasks you are still trying to cram into your schedule and ask yourself two questions. Can someone else do it? Is this task taking up time that could be better spent on those things that only I can do?
If you answered yes to both questions it is time to delegate.
Taste your food.
Be present in the moment with the people in your life.
Do nothing, on purpose, at least once a week.
…and just plain smile more.
Are you doing your job just for the money?
Our jobs can easily become a simple means to an end. We work to get paid so we can pay for shelter, clothing, food, transportation and a bunch of other things we may or may not need.
The good news is we have the power and the capacity to change our attitude toward our work, without needing to change the work itself. Of course if you have an opportunity to change jobs to better align your work with your calling, by all means seize it. In reality, those opportunities rarely present themselves if we haven’t already adjusted our attitude in our current situation.
A Simple Attitude Adjustment Exercise
For starters, try beginning your work day writing down different ways you can best serve your customers, clients, colleagues, supervisors, and anyone else you might interact with that day. If thoughts come up like, “I’m not getting paid enough to do that,” or “that isn’t part of my job,” write those thoughts down on a separate column or page.
Review your lists and ask yourself
- Which person would I rather work with?
- Which person is more likely to be given more responsibility?
- Which person is more likely to be promoted?
Make sure you follow through on at least one of the ideas for serving others during the day.
At the end of the day take 5 minutes to write down then names of those you served, and how you served them. Reflect back on their responses. How did it make you feel after serving someone well? As you do this day after day you will find your passion for your work will slowly increase, and your concern about money decrease.
You may find that your change in attitude toward your work and your increased passion to serve others well will present new opportunities or promotions, and money will no longer be something you worry about.
Vocation: A Calling
Our work, our vocation (from the Latin vocare – “to call”), is meant to be a source of wealth for us. While financial compensation is one way for our vocation to be a source of wealth, it is not the sole source, and our pursuit of financial gain over and above every other aspect of our work may make us rich, but seldom wealthy.
The pursuit of financial gain at the expense of one’s calling may make one rich, but never wealthy. [Tweet]
Finding meaning in our work and ways to positively impact the lives of others through our work is the true measure of wealth in our work.
When we continue in a job we hate, regardless of the money it pays, there is little wealth in or produced by that job or ourselves. We go through the motions, miserable and creating misery in everyone around us. This is the opposite of wealth – it is poverty.
When we do not give our all to the work set before us we are stealing from those we are meant to be helping, and robbing ourselves of the wealth gained by a job well done.
There are several reasons why we might find ourselves in such a state of vocational poverty:
- We are in it solely for the money
- We are burned out
- We would rather be doing something else
- We adopted someone else’s calling as our own
- We are too far in to get out now (sunk cost bias)
The good news is we can counteract each of these with discipline and some help from friends, counselors, or coaches.
We’ll examine each of these in greater detail in upcoming posts, exposing the poverty in each, and in doing so discover the way to wealth.
This lyric from Paul Simon’s song, All Around the World Or the Myth of Fingerprints, popped into my head this morning as I was reflecting on myth in light of a happy convergence of three books I was reading simultaneously, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, Nancy Marie Brown’s Song of the Vikings, and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (audiobook).
Starting with Paul Simon’s lyric, what was the myth of fingerprints? Since the advent of discovering that fingerprints are unique and may be used to accurately identify people, the term has also been adopted to mean leaving one’s mark on something. That fiasco has so and so’s fingerprints all over it. Or the British Empire left its fingerprint all over the globe.
Myth is what we choose to believe apart from absolute certainty – are all fingerprints unique with absolute certainty? We can never know for certain, because we don’t have a fingerprint database going back to the beginning of human history. So we choose to believe the myth that fingerprints are unique because it gives us (so far) a reliable framework for authenticating an individual’s identity.
Norse mythology and the Viking legend have sparked the imagination of artists, authors, and the world for years. Wagner immortalized Sigfried, or Sigurd, in his series of operas known as Der Ring des Nibelungen, of which the Ride of the Valkyries is one of the more popular pieces.
Less well known perhaps is the influence of the Norse myths on current popular culture today – notably, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series and Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods.
Myths are powerful, and they surround us daily.
During the 2016 Presidential election I imagine citizens did not vote for Donald Trump the person or Hilary Clinton the person. They voted for the myth of Donald Trump (Make America Great Again) or the myth of Hilary Clinton (Stronger Together). Barack Obama was president for two terms because the majority of voting citizens believed in the myth of Barack Obama (Hope – 2008, Forward – 2012).
In Sapiens, Harari points out that the core of what we believe as United States citizens is entrenched in myth. The myth that all men are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is the myth we choose to believe as US citizens. Other countries and cultures have their own myths that tie them together as a people.
Myth helps us explain not only what we believe, but why. What we must realize is that different myths are used to explain the same things in different ways, so before we criticize or denounce another’s myth it behooves us to understand how similar our myths may be, and rather than hold myth as absolute truth, see it as a story through which we can find commonality with others.
Wealth isn’t so much what we have or how much, but about our acceptance of what we have, how we use it, whether we give it freely or hoard it, and whether we are a like a stagnant pond or a flowing river, where wealth flows in, through and out again.
Wealth is what we leave behind, not what we take with us, although realizing true wealth in this life assures us of wealth to come in the next, whatever you might believe comes next.
My word for 2016 was wealth. I bought Benjamin Graham’s book, The Intelligent Investor, planning to learn about building financial wealth. I still haven’t read it. My experience with understanding wealth during 2016 turned out to be less about money (and the greed often associated with it) and more about relationships and accepting the generosity of others.
I started spending every Sunday with my godson’s family, sharing meals, spending time in conversations, helping out with projects in the yard, sharing the couch with one of two full sized german shepherds, basically becoming part of the family. This made me more wealthy than any amount of money I could have made. It’s also cool to pull up outside the house and hear two little rascals shouting, “Dave Tornstrom’s here! Dave Tornstrom’s here!” (Yes they use my full name. Every time. I think it’s hysterical since most of my friends from college on only knew me by my nickname, Klondike.)
I also reconnected with old friends when they invited me to their son’s 1st birthday party. I have been back many weekends for dinner, campfires, and helping out with the odd errand or two. If I had not accepted the generosity of their hospitality I would never have experienced the joy of hearing a now two year old yell, “Klondike!,” whenever I show up.
A good deal of time last summer was spent outside with friends mountain biking, boating, and camping, reconnecting with my love of the outdoors. This was magnified in my mind later in the fall, when I was feeling somewhat more melancholy than usual, and I realized this was the first summer in about 4-5 years that my parents and I had not spent a week in the Berkshires hiking and soaking in the quiet of a remote cottage.
The Generosity of Others
It may seem strange, but I was also learning to accept the generosity of others and just enjoy it. I am one of those types who, when given something, feels compelled to pay it back, or return the favor. Thus whenever someone was generous with me I felt indebted to them. I can’t stand being indebted to anyone or anything. So most of the time I learned to simply refuse what was offered, or awkwardly attempt to return the favor immediately. This is not wealth.
Part of being truly wealthy is understanding how to accept the generosity of others well. Generosity well received is a generous response to the giver. In this way we learn the value of being generous to others. True generosity is giving with no expectation of anything in return, except perhaps gratitude. Gratitude like love, does no harm. But even when gratitude is withheld, generosity is not nullified. In fact generosity in the face of ingratitude is the most generous, as it is easy to give when a thank-you is expected, but much harder when it is not.
I guess you could say by learning to accept generosity, what I was really learning was the practice of gratitude. I have adopted the practice used by many of listing at least 3 things I am grateful for everyday as part of my morning journal. It is a simple but profound exercise.
What I discovered is true wealth is much more about fostering healthy relationships, engaging in community with neighbors, being generous, and expressing gratitude with every breath we breathe, than it is about money or possessions.
Wealth is yours to decide and yours to define, but yours only for this lifetime.