Here I go, off on a tirade to offend some people again. I’m sure you’re used to that by now.
I’m going to be particularly offensive to those people who tell you the only way to succeed is by working all the time, clawing and climbing your way up the ladder. It works well for those people who benefit from you doing that. However, it doesn’t work for the person doing the clawing and climbing and working (YOU)… nor does it work for your families, friends, and coworkers.
Let me explain why this makes me shake my head. In the past two weeks I’ve had not one, not two, but FOUR conversations with people who have chosen to make a deadly tradeoff.
They’ve chosen to “succeed” by working really really really hard. For years and decades. This means missed sleep, missing their kids growing up, and missing out on LIFE apart from work.
All for some illusory goal like a promotion, more dollars in the account, or recognition. It’s BS.
Because once you get to “there” there’s no real there there. I felt like that after getting tenure. (If you’re not an academic, tenure meant I was essentially guaranteed a job… for life… after a Hunger-Games like trial lasting seven years to “prove myself”). So what that I proved myself… ? It was hollow. I still had all the same challenges after as I’d had before.
It wasn’t like I was suddenly this mythical, tenured creature who now walked on clouds of velvet and no longer had to use the bathroom like the rest of the human race. Nope, I was exactly the same person, who’d had maybe three days of happiness and feeling of accomplishment, and then went back to facing exactly the same challenges as before (and maybe some new ones).
Each of us has a set of batteries, one per major life area:
- Career/Business success (and the money/security that comes from it)
- Mental/spiritual well being
At any point in our life different batteries have different charge levels, representing our overall energy level in that area.
Our focus and attention is like a generator (or alternator) that charges a battery up – but the generator can only be attached to one battery at a time. And when it’s not attached, the batteries lose charge and run down. If you get a dead battery, that means that area of your life is going to have a major interruption. It will need a jump start.
So, for those people who’ve chosen work success above all else, it’s like your generator is always hooked to that one battery of career/business. Occasionally, when the other batteries get critically low, you might attach some jumper cables for a quick top-off, but then it’s back to focusing on the career and business battery.
Our batteries are much like real batteries in another way: when you let it deplete, next time you charge it up, it is permanently damaged and won’t hold a charge as readily. Pretty soon, after it gets drained one too many times, it can’t be charged anymore. That’s when you need a new battery.
If you deplete your mental/spiritual battery, that’s when you have to end up on drugs (prescribed or otherwise), or in counseling… or worse. I knew several people who committed suicide at that stage.
If you deplete your family battery, that’s when divorces and child custody battles happen. That’s when kids running away and even shooting up schools happens.
If you deplete your health battery… well, that should be obvious, but maybe it’s not since so many people do it. That’s where cancer, heart disease, and so many of the other “Modern” ailments start plaguing you.
My father depeleted his health battery
I think we knew something bad was coming… my father was a well-recognized, successful professor who put almost all of his focus on the career battery. He got a lot of awards and recognition for that focus. That battery was very full. Sadly, his family and health batteries, not as much. He’d been on a stint of VERY hard work for a few years when he got the diagnosis of a terminal cancer. His health battery had been too damaged by that point, and there was no recharging it. He was dead after a challenging struggle…two years later.
The irony of “disease care”
I find it so funny that people think we’ll find cures for cancer, heart disease, and all those maladies, without fixing the real problem. The real problem is that with our health batteries mostly depleted, our bodies are incapable of healing themselves. We have a system focused on trying to stave off disease, rather than on creating health.
We’re focused on the wrong thing. We have run amok with our own lives.
If you are a person who’s like those I’ve had conversations with recently, i.e. you think that it’s okay to sacrifice all your other batteries in the name of career and business success, then I have an exercise for you.
Write a letter to your future self, 20 years from now.
In that letter, write something like this (with appropriate facts for your situation):
I’m really sorry [your name]. I know I’ve let you down, by stealing away your life, health, and well being in trade for my need to prove myself in my career and chasing the notion of “security”. I am sorry about that collapse that landed you in the hospital. I’m sorry about that divorce and the custody battle that gave you a life of isolation and nearly bankrupted us. I’m sorry about the cancer that you’re struggling with and may not recover from now that it’s metastasized. I’m sorry that you never got to know your son, who became alienated and estranged because I didn’t have any time for him. I’m sorry about forcing you into ten years of counseling and anti depressives because I’ve treated your precious mind so poorly, with heavy drinking to cover up the malaise, and not nearly enough sleep.
But I’ll tell you this, I think it’s all totally worth it because those accolades and security I’m generating are going to really really help you a lot as you struggle with this mess. At least you’ll finish life knowing that you got promoted, well paid (until we lost it in the divorce and cancer treatments), and lots of people congratulating us on our wins. I’m sure those congratulations will help you feel much better as you lie there in your (very expensive) hospital bed.
I hope you will understand why I made the choices that I did, and forgive me.
If writing that letter to yourself doesn’t give you a moment of thought, then I have nothing else to say that can help you.
ps – in case you think that I am perfect about this, I am not. I made many battery-tradeoffs in getting to where I am. Some of them might have been worth it, but many were not. I would certainly do it differently with what I know now, and I do practice more and more of this balance that I’m talking about. And the irony is that as I do so, my work goes better than ever before.