Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Status Quo is SORELY Underrated...

For years, I have been frustrated whenever my life has stagnated. Taking the next step, earning more money, becoming more professionally respected, trying to reach the presumed level of my peers, meeting what I assume are the expectations of those I love and respect, these have all kept me moving forward. What I've realized lately, is that these have been the most significant sources of stress in my life. In today's society, everyone's looking for the BBD (Bigger Better Deal). Acquiring more things, gaining more friends, making more money, looking better, have made life SO hectic and fast-paced that we take no time to appreciate what we have. By the time we do, we want the NEXT big thing. What ISN'T appreciated, it the contented status quo.

I was going to entitle this "contented stagnation", but the word 'stagnation' just has a negative connotation to it. 'Stagnation' implies ennui, malaise, and an inability to emerge from a given situation. That's not what I'm talking about. If a situation is frustrating, intolerable, or even just plain boring, it needs to be changed. What I'm talking about is looking at what you have, realizing that it's not only enough, but you're happy with it, and pausing for a while to enjoy what you have achieved.

Working at (a popular and busy coffee place), I see perfect examples of the victims of this kind of "BBD" thinking. Uptight, irritable, over-stressed, overbooked yuppies, zooming from place to place in their $50k+ automobiles, needing their over-priced triple lattes for the energy to maintain their overblown lifestyles, usually with the goal being to simply 'keep up with the Joneses'. They rarely take the time to get off their cell phones to even acknowledge a smile from another human being, let alone the luxuries they worked so hard to attain. Even their vacations are so booked to the rim and often interrupted or cut short by work or catastrophes of their own making, they don't take the time to enjoy them - just finish task A so they can get to task B, C, and D.

They come in a self-deluded swarm through the morning drive-thru on a daily basis, in a constant fog of their own existence, created by observing the same fog surrounding other people they wish to emulate or outdo. They become so obsessed with having the respect and approval of others for what they have, or for their perceived status, rather than who they are, all they know is improving their surroundings rather than their lives. The budding executive, trying to set himself up for that VP position and the extra $10k/yr with it, the stay-at-home mom in the Cadillac SUV with the Prada bag taking Johnny to karate practice, then a soccer game, then piano lessons in the hopes that she can pin her pride on him to supplant her disappointment in herself, the medical intern working like hell to finish so he can move into his specialty and get that BMW he's been dreaming of, while paying off his student loans for the next 30 years - they parade by me on a daily basis, like marathon runners grabbing a cup of water en route, heading toward a finish line they keep extending. Not every one of them, of course, but enough on a regular basis for me to be relatively certain I can recognize them when I see them.

Now, by no means am I perfectly content with my current income, the shape my house is in, or even several other parts of my life. I'm FAMOUS for trying to fit more than 24 hours into a day between 4-5 jobs at a time, surviving on 4 hours sleep for several days of the week, and burning my candle at several ends in hopes to make this repair to my home, that improvement, get my kids what they want for Christmas, or more often, just to make sure by cell phone doesn't get shut off. I'm every bit as much a victim of the Rat Race as anyone in today's society, and I won't make excuses that it's always "just to survive". It's just as much to maintain the lifestyle I'm accustomed to as the ad exec in the Jaguar yelling through his cell phone at his assistant while he snatches his large quad-shot French vanilla latte from my hand without a word and speeds off. We all like a certain level of comfort, and work like Hell and do whatever we can to maintain it, and I'm not the one to say one lifestyle is any better than the other.

What I have learned over the past several years, however, is that while moving forward and making progress toward a goal is necessary for us to grow as human beings, affording us the opportunity to succeed or fail and learn from both experiences, pausing the rat race for a while and stopping to appreciate the progress you've made is even more important. Now, I don't have the luxury of taking a week's or even a few consecutive days' vacation, but I have intentionally taken a day off each of the past 2 weeks where I don't have a major commitment (well, at least not for most of the day), sacrificing some financial stability for more emotional contentment.

What I've realized in my moments of calm, is that I really have it pretty good. Oh, I know I've praised my wonderful friends and family a lot here, and rightfully so, but what I realized this time was what I've created for myself: I have a house, a working car that is comfortable and practical, furnishings that not only are comfortable and (mostly) clean, but fit my style and personality, two computers with accessories that do exactly what I need them to, two wonderful and brilliant children who are making great progress in all areas of their lives, a wonderful girlfriend that appreciates and understands me, I'm keeping my bills under control, not digging myself further in debt, and most importantly, clearing the fog once in a while to see it all in perspective and those around me that help make it happen. Much of this is through the help of friends and family, yes, but not without my own hard work, as well. Because I realize this, I'm happy and contended most of the time. Yes, I work A LOT, but I work to live. I don't live to work.

This started out with a clear purpose, but I've once again gotten long-winded and redundant. Suffice it to say, that despite my current humble professional and financial status, I'd like to offer what little advice may be valuable to the rich, successful, and powerful: take the time to step back, breathe, and appreciate it. For a while - be it 5 weeks, 5 days, or even 5 minutes - stop trying to get more, be more, or do more. For a brief time, block out some time in your iPhone planner to live.

That's what I just did, and I'm a lot happier for it.

...and now, back to the Rat Race...


Madigan said... Good for you Paul. Now send it to the Detroit news and see if they'll publish it in a guest column.

I'm not kidding.

Madigan said... Good for you Paul. Now send it to the Detroit news and see if they'll publish it in a guest column.

I'm not kidding.

Red Dog said...

Great post, Paulie! I felt a touch of this on my vacation last month, and you're too right! I loved that time off as much for the quiet time at my cheap little camp site as I did for the thrill of a few nights of baseball and drum corps. I've been dragging out the process of going through all the photos to savor it.

Your words remind me to seek the same sort of peace in my daily life, not just for a week of vacation.

Thank you!