Worklife
 

Is That All There Is?


Conor has it good. He has a well-paying job that he enjoys, a good family life, and lots of friends. He enjoys his hobby of playing the guitar. Yet he says, “Somehow, there’s a hole in me. Like something’s missing. Passion or something.”

At some point, many of us wonder, “Is that all there is?”

Maybe. I first tried to see if we could find Conor more passion. I asked him, “Does your intuition tell you that the hole, the missing passion, would likely be filled by any of these: relationships, fame, creative expression, making the world better, material acquisition (a nicer house or car, for example), hedonism (travel, sex, food, etc), being on the cutting edge?”

He replied coolly: “probably creative expression.” We kicked around some ideas and in the end, he thought he’d enjoy buying some airtime on the University of San Francisco’s radio station, KUSF, so he could host a show in which he asked ordinary people to tell the most interesting stories of their lives.

I then asked, “Does your intuition tell you that doing that would fill the hole, provide the needed passion?” He pursed his lips and sighed.

Conor is not unusual. I’ve found, so often, that even if a client and I come up with the coolest career and life plan, and even if a client has a darn good life to begin with, there still remains that hole, that feeling, “Is that all there is?”

Especially those of us who don’t have a perennially sunny disposition may need to accept that life, even at its best, will feel just okay, and that, beyond a certain point, increasing happiness shouldn’t be the primary goal. My goal is to feel I’m living a life well-led.

To that end, I developed a personal mission statement and now spend as many moments of my life as possible in the service of that mission statement. My statement is, “Use my best skill (the ability to think quickly, verbally and in writing) in the service of helping people with their career and other practical parts of life, to expose colleges for the sleazy businesses they often are, and to openly discuss the rarely spoken truths about race and gender.”

Pursuing those goals don’t make me happy. In fact, because they’re controversial, they often make me sad: I get a fair amount of hate mail, mostly from the people who claim to celebrate diversity of ideas but lest the ideas not suit them, they stop celebrating diversity and start being intolerant of it, often hateful.

Nevertheless, pursuing these unusual goals make me feel like I’m doing what I was meant to be doing on this earth, what the Buddhists call, right livelihood.

I deliberately pursue goals that few other people pursue. That makes me feel special. If, for example, I had joined the fight against AIDS, I wouldn’t feel so special—countless people are already doing that. My efforts would be a mere drop in the ocean.

I also chose goals that use my special skills and experience. For example, as a former higher education insider, I know what really goes on behind the ivy façade.

I do something additional to help me feel like I’m leading a life well-led. Whether I’m interacting with a rude clerk or with my wife or with a big shot, as corny it sounds, I simply try to be nice. It makes me and them feel better. I must admit that I don’t always succeed. I am, alas, impatient by nature, and I know it comes through, but part of becoming a contented person is to realize that I can be a good person even with my failings as long as I’m doing my best.

Finally, I strive to replace longing and resentment with gratitude and acceptance. I try to remember to appreciate all of life’s little moments, including all the moments I’m productive, even when the work is mundane.

But to tell you the truth, even after doing all that, I still often wonder, “Is that all there is?”

© 2007, Marty Nemko

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Marty Nemko holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. He is the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in (NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on www.martynemko.com . 400+ of his published writings are available free on that website and is a co-editor of Cool Careers for Dummies. and author of The All-in-One College Guide. E-Mail.



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