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, theres a hole in me.
Like somethings missing. Passion or
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 hed enjoy buying some
airtime on the University of San Franciscos
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
Conor is not unusual. Ive 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
Especially those of us who dont 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 shouldnt be the primary goal. My
goal is to feel Im living a life
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 dont make me happy.
In fact, because theyre 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 Im doing what I was meant to be
doing on this earth, what the Buddhists call, right
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
wouldnt feel so specialcountless 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
Im leading a life well-led. Whether Im
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 dont 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 Im doing my best.
Finally, I strive to replace longing and
resentment with gratitude and acceptance. I try to
remember to appreciate all of lifes little
moments, including all the moments Im
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
© 2007, Marty
* * *
Nemko holds a PhD from the University of
California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in
Berkeleys 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
400+ of his published writings are available free
on that website and is a co-editor of
Careers for Dummies.
and author of The All-in-One College Guide.
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