“Choose your corner, pick away at it carefully, intensely and to the best of your ability and that way you might change the world.”
So. This is most likely a bookend post to my “where are you going?” thought piece which was directed to younger people. This is directed to the 50somethings who actually figured out, as well as anyone can, where they wanted to go … and went there.
To be clear. This is not about “was this not what I wanted” — that is about questioning direction. This is actually about, well, assessing value for the direction you chose and the direction you have no, or few, regrets over.
What happens if you believe you have something of value to offer the world, and you actually did it and earned a consistent living and … uhm … you find yourself in a place and time where, well, you aren’t sure you have anything to show for it?
It’s not that you weren’t good at what you did <you may have actually been pretty good>.
It’s not that you didn’t earn some good salaries <you may have actually earned higher than the norm>.
It’s not that when viewing your professional resume you sucked <because others can view it and think ‘huh, that’s good stuff’>.
It’s not that your personal life is strewn with divorces or negative broken relationships <because you can actually look around and see some good friends, look at past relationships as generally good and your current personal life relatively healthy>.
It’s not that you don’t look out at the whole world and think “I have no value moving forward” <because you most likely feel like you have something to offer given the right situation>.
It’s not even that you are unhappy <because, in general, you view most days in a relatively optimistic way>.
Let’s say that the average American worker/person most likely has worked about 60,000 hours or so by the time they are 50 <a lower income worker/person who scrambles to earn enough most likely has worked about 70,000 hours – and earned less – and someone like me who likes their work and is a quasi-workaholic will have worked closer to 90,000 hours> and your current steady current annual income is enough to get by, but certainly not more than enough to pay bills and the random expenses that come up.
And you have some debt, no savings and, well, financially there is no room for much more than basics because, while professionally successful, you find yourself in a position where you can now relate to people in poverty <in some ways> in that you are constantly preparing for the next inevitable expense.
Life isn’t bad.
You wonder what you have to show for it all.
You don’t dwell on it but it’s a niggling feeling especially if you did work hard, you did it the right way and you actually did some good shit on occasion.
I imagine this is nothing like fantasizing about being rich.
It simply revolves around effort expended and gains to show for that effort.
The truth is life, in general, almost always equates to some type of value equation – did I receive acceptable value for the cost incurred.
Most of us are fairly content with a nine-to-five job and people like me who love what they do are actually happy with an 8 to 6+ job and most of us realize we will never buy some island or even have some extraordinarily luxurious vacation when it is all said and done.
I imagine everyone, excepting the wealthy, stop at some point and think “what do I have to show for it all?”
I imagine everyone, excepting the wealthy, stop at some point and realize that rest is a luxury only for the rich and retirement doesn’t mean doing nothing — just maybe something different.
Life naturally causes you to question yourself and feel like there is some grand design out there to frustrate and defeat you.
And you know what?
Most of us recognize it isn’t easy, and that it sucks to have to brush off the inevitable natural disappointments which occur even if you have worked hard and tried to do the right thing and conduct yourself with integrity, but we, more often than not, just get up and get going again. And we do that without really questioning ourselves. It is just what you do and what Life demands.
But you wonder about your worth professionally or personally when you don’t really have a lot to show for it.
It is basically a value question.
This is about that someone, sitting at home some nights, saying to themselves … “What the fuck do I have to show for what I did?”
Its just the pragmatic basic formula to assess value.
Someone asks themselves “what I did”:
Over 60,000 hours worked.
Some good titles on your resume.
Some great memories.
And then they sit back and look around at today.
Materially, tangibly, you may have diddleyshit.
Professionally, you may be in a diddleyshit position.
Financially, you may have diddleyshit.
And in that time, in that place, in that mental space it can be fairly easy to view “what do I have to show for it all” as … well … diddleyshit.
And I imagine viewing it that way … well … sucks.
I imagine at this point I could sagely lean back in my chair <assuming the chair was a recliner> and wisely place my hand under my chin and sigh … and say:
“you have made a difference in other people’s lives through your integrity driven actions … you personally have memories, experiences and successes to show for it all … reflect upon that … oh … and you are a good person.”
But I won’t say that.
Because while that may be true, it is bullshit in this time place and situation for someone in this position.
Its bullshit because more often than not people will view this “what I put into Life and what did I get out of that effort” in a fairly selfish way. In other words:
“what does it matter if I was a good person if I don’t have diddleyshit to show for it?”
To be clear. This is actually an okay version of selfishness.
It’s okay because you put in the effort, you worked hard, you did things the right way, you didn’t cut corners, you didn’t demand much, therefore, you want to take a moment and reflect on what YOU “have to show for it all.”
And, selfishly, it looks like you have diddleysquat to show for it.
And, selfishly, scanning your Life … well … it kind of looks like if you don’t want to be in this diddleysquat spot you gotta get back up and start all over again.
I don’t have answers for this one.
But I do know what I am discussing happens. And maybe more often than everyone thinks. And the answer will be driven by what matters most to a particular individual.
Those who valued family above all will reflect on the value equation with that as a foundation.
Those who valued professional success will reflect on the value equation with that as a foundation.
Those who valued … well … pick your passion & focus which got you to where you are now and you will assess “what do I have to show for it all?” based on that foundation.
To be clear. If you are not careful they are simply nice condiment sbeing placed on a nothingburger.
To be clear. This doesn’t have shit to do with whether you had a shit life or not <because most would say they didn’t have a shit life> nor does it have to do with being ‘filled or unfulfilled’ or even having been ‘inspired’ in Life, this is clearly “I didn’t have, or live, a shit life … but I’m not sure I have shit to show for it.”
And, yeah, maybe my thinking is driven more by a world that is driven by outcomes and materialistic assessment, but I would also be unenlightened <if not stupid> if I ignored that.
For all I write about the grind of life and the consistency <not exactly drudgery> of most of Life, most people really don’t drift through life, most people are aware of Life <at least when it truly matters> and most people find moments of inspiration that lift Life above … well … nothingness.
At some point most people sit down, pull out the Life balance sheet, put all the shit they have done in Life as well as all the shit they have accumulated and lost <money, jobs, things>, put the amount of energy & work they invested in Life that has been invested up to that point and sit back and see what they have to show for it all.
Does the work, the fun & the hard, equal the output?
Does the work, the fun & the hard, equal what I have to show for it as I look around what I have?
And, yes, this implies I believe this assessment has accumulation of shit over time as well as what has been accumulated and is currently in hand.
I imagine the comparable discussion is if you have put in 10,000 hours of practice playing the piano you want to be able to show everyone you can play something other than chopsticks.
I have been part of several of these discussions and … well … they are difficult. Shit. I have had these discussion with myself.
The harsh truth is that platitudes & ‘feel good’ assessments seem not enough. Good, maybe even great from a feeling perspective, but, well, not good enough for all the hours invested and energy expended.
Money does matter <financial security>
Certainly not the only things that matters, but in a Life value equation, they matter when you decide to sit down and say “what do I have to show for it all?”