July 21-22, 2021 / Online

Not Content, but Contentment—the Real Imperative in Our Work

Written by Not Content, but Contentment—the Real Imperative in Our Work

August 18, 2017


If you're like me, you've been watching all these amazing speakers and thinking, oh god, I'm not doing nearly enough. I'm a disgrace. I've brought shame to my family. Even though, let's face it, your family has no idea what you do for a living. But that feeling of inadequacy is real, this idea that we are never doing enough, we never have enough, we never are enough. And I've come to believe that the answer to that is not doing more and chasing greater accomplishments, greater productivity, but taking a step back, reframing what our idea of enough and success are. And chasing greater happiness.

And I came to this idea through my podcast, because I'm a millennial. And so we've interviewed all these interesting people, entrepreneurs, nomads, consultants, artists, mothers, immigrants, musicians, one woman who casually mentioned that she was buddies with Kanye. And through it all, we've ended up with effectively a bonny of user research on different ways to use life. In one way or another, each of these people was doing something different than the narrative we're taught of go to college, get a job, work till you can afford a house, put a couple kids in it, build up retirement savings, and then wile away your last days in Florida. And on the whole, this group of people seemed happier.

Which is how I became obsessed. I was like how can I get a piece of that? Fortunately there were patterns. Of course it wasn't always galloping across rainbows and farting sunshine all the time. Some of these people were living lives that they wouldn't necessarily have chosen for themselves. But interestingly, in terms of happiness, the biggest bifurcation wasn't along the lines of who chose their life and who had it thrust it upon them, but it was along paradigm lines. Between those who reframed success to meet their circumstances and those who found ways to keep chasing it. And this is what capitalism wants of us.

Capitalism holds up the idea that not only is there an ideal, but if we work more, if we produce more, if achieve this next thing, we're gonna get it. And so we start to equate our productivity and our output with our worth. And it behooves employers to encourage this line of thinking because they can start to squeeze more and more out of us. And what ends up happening is fewer people are doing the same amount of work, we're working longer hours, stress is on the rise, we're making ourselves sick to meet this idea.

So I look at somebody like Gilesa. She's a comedian we interviewed in San Diego who spends her days driving food deliveries with her girlfriend Carla. She went to college, she just decided not to pursue a career in that sense and she works enough to support her craft. And she spends her days with her favorite person in the world. She's one of the happiest, glowingest people I've ever spoken to.

I contrast that with Sarah, the number seven female ironman athlete in the world who looked us dead in the eye and said I want to be the world champion. And she talked about how much sacrifice and how much that took of her. And I asked her in what way this was more fulfilling than her background in finance. And she said it wasn't. It demanded the same amount, and it's just applied to a different thing. So she's still chasing a carrot, it's just a much bigger carrot.

So it's not just about doing something different or working for yourself or working from the beach. It's really about changing the way that you think about success, adapting to limitations. Some people had disability or financial circumstance that to survive and to feel content they had to separate themselves from that narrative, that constant pushing that's saying you're not enough, and they said you know what? No, I am.

And many people are still driven. It's just they're not pushing themselves past their limits to meet somebody else's idea of what their life should be. And for the people with the privilege to do so, that often meant doing less. Taking a step back. And putting limits on how much they're willing to be stretched. They create time and space in their lives for the people and experiences that matter to them. And naps. We didn't coordinate this message, really. But this is where I think many of us in this room can make strides. We can stop and say, I'm gonna do a little less, I'm gonna say no to that, and if we work fewer hours, this is kind of lofty but we can begin to make the tiniest dent in decentering waged work, where all these hours are going to few people.

If we all do a little less, then there's more to go around for everyone. Which is why to me, it's a moral imperative for us to pursue not just lives of obligation but lives of choice. There's a lot more that I could talk about. I've put some stuff on this link, resources, some of my favorite episodes of the podcast, and I love talking about this, so if you do see me please talk to me. And I'll be at the party, so thank you.

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