“Krishna instructed Arjuna: ‘We have a right to our labor, but not to the fruits of our labor.’”
-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art*
Over the past six years I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t make my goals about the pursuit of wealth. Six years ago I was a completely different person. My every waking moment was spent either getting into trouble or trying to figure out what the next big wave I could ride was. I had a laundry list of failures to my name, one or two minor successes, and a hell of a lot of bad moral judgement calls.
Eventually I ended up joining a company that had no clear goals or values outside of finding the next big payday. Our purpose as an organization wasn’t to create, or add value, it was simply to find opportunities in existing interactions that we could make a profit from. We sold products with no real value and took commissions on deals that we knew would only benefit one side of the transaction. I found myself constantly thinking in terms of how I could earn more. I became opportunistic to a fault. When I was away from the office I didn’t enjoy myself, I equated my time with money and it was hard to turn that part of me off. I gained a lot of weight, stopped exercising, started smoking(again) and became what I refer to as the worst possible version of myself. I justified all of this behavior. I told myself that no matter what we did it would be okay, because once I reached a certain dollar amount I could fix it all. I could find a way to do more harm than good. I could restore some sort of balance, lose the weight, fix what was broken, whatever. That was all over four year ago.
Since then I’ve strived to avoid moral compromises. I’ve had some financial ups and downs, but relatively few dips in overall happiness. I’ve dropped almost all of the weight I gained, quit smoking, and in a lot of ways, become a very different person. At some point along the way I’ve discovered the two things that I enjoy doing the most, creating and learning. Since realizing this I’ve built my goals around creation, and my hobbies around learning. I’ve stopped pursuing wealth and I never did hit that number. Instead I’ve tried to channel what I enjoy in a way that not only adds value but creates wealth as a by-product, rather than as an end goal. I’m now incredibly wary of participating in transactions that I would be doing solely for the the financial gain. I have to be careful, if I find myself thinking about something in terms of how much money I can make rather than how much value I can provide I try and take a step back.
People justify their actions in all kinds of ways. Ultimately I tried to justify the damage that my pursuit of wealth was causing by saying that I would compensate for the bad with good once I reached my number. I’ve learned since then. Now at the end of the each day I ask myself, “If I had to live each day exactly as I did today, would I?”** If the answer is no, and I don’t have a damn good reason, then there’s a problem.
*Gave up trying to figure out how to cite/quote this properly.
**I didn’t have a good way to put this phrase into words until last month when I saw a comment by Random