Every so often, I make the alarming self-discovery that I’m taking things for granted.
It’s common, it’s understandable, and it’s forgiveable. But it’s not the way I choose to live.
I sometimes ask clients, while digging for USP material, why they’re doing what they’re doing. Most of the time, they don’t have a good answer. Especially the younger ones, for whom life is still a whirlwind of incoming stimuli and the years ahead still seem endless and fruitful.
And for those clients who answer “make a ton of money”, I know we are not destined for a long relationship. Because, if there’s one solid thing I’ve learned in my career… it’s that money isn’t a worthwhile goal. At best, it’s a sideline benefit.
Money will solve problems that not having money creates — like paying the rent, keeping sharks at bay, indulging in toys and extragavance. Being broke sucks. But once you still have a few bucks in your pocket after taking care of all your needs, having even one more dollar ain’t gonna change anything for you on any meaningful level.
I don’t urge people to “follow your bliss”, either. That’s a nice concept, and I’m a big fan of Carl Jung and Joseph Cambell… but I think most people need to balance some real work in there. Too many folks get the idea that their “bliss” involves retiring to the coast and painting lighthouses and seagulls. What we need, as a society, is more positive energy in the culture — especially the business side.
Still, you need to enjoy what you do. One of the driving motivations for me, when I first went solo as a freelancer, was finally being in control of my own time. This is important: During the first years, that meant I would often work TWICE as long as I had in my former corporate jobs.
But I was working for myself. That was bliss.
And once I created a niche for myself in the industry… I was able to start taking off huge chunks of time.
Huge chunks. Months at a stretch.
And that was a kind of bliss that is impossible to describe until you’ve experienced it. It’s like having summer vacation again, only as an adult. You work a few hours, and go play a LOT of hours.
Or, heck, skip the work altogether, and just play.
My friends who still work for The Man are in awe of the free time I have. Absolute awe. I don’t gloat about it, or try to convert them into becoming entrepreneurs… but I don’t hide it, either.
Free time. When I talk to people about the joys of freelancing, it’s usually the free time part that makes their eyes get big. The money — that’s great, too. But it’s the promise of free time that makes people quiver with excitement.
And yet… often, free time ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Without structure, you can devolve into a couch potato, and become one of the slothful many.
One of the advanced lessons on being a successful entrepreneur is all about using your free time wisely. You won’t necessarily live longer when you have more free time. The clock is always ticking.
And at some point, you’ve got to sit down and ask yourself: What’s really important in my life?
Is it that new sailboat? Another jaunt across Europe? Slicing up virgin powder in a new ski area?
I like grabbing the gusto as much as anyone. But sometimes, life will remind you that this ride doesn’t go on forever. And, for too many of us, it can go sideways in a blink.
In the last couple of months, a large number of friends and family have encountered serious health problems. And not the usual stuff, like pneumonia or broken bones, either.
The serious stuff.
As far as I can tell, I’m fine. But I’ve been on the operating table before, feeling helpless as I’m prepped for slicing and dicing, and feeling vulnerable and exposed waiting for test results.
I know that dread that begins when you see, by the expression on your doc’s face, that you didn’t escape this time. That you now have something new and awful in your life that will consume most of your thoughts… and all of your free time.
It’s a hard way to learn the lesson… but sometimes lessons come in rough packages.
For me, the important discovery was my need to use my free time to connect — and re-connect — with people. Not toys, not trips, not any of the bullshit glories that the consumer culture foists on us as worthy goals.
People. How many times have you put off a visit, or cancelled an event with friends or family… under the belief that “you’ll catch ’em next time around”?
I can tell you from grisly experience: More times than you’ll be able to bear, there won’t BE a “next time.”
Sometimes, when you start making serious money, you feel awkward around your old buddies who can’t afford the luxuries you now take for granted. Or your stubborn family members, who refuse to adapt to the hip new ways of the world, start to seem quaint.
My advice: Just get over your bad self.
If there’s any awkwardness, use your new “get ‘er done” skills (the ones that allowed you to accumulate that uncomfortable wealth in the first place), and just fix the awkwardness. Don’t pretend it’s not there, and don’t be a dick — just find a comfortable zone to “be” with your loved ones in a way that is meaningful.
Some of your friends will drift away. That’s part of the ride. You aren’t required to love every relative unconditionally, either. That’s your perogative as a free man, to choose who you hang out with.
But there is simply no excuse for not using your free time to indulge in the greatest gift life offers: Other people. With all their frustrating habits, quirks and foibles.
Most of us wait until crisis hits to say “I love you”. For those seemingly long periods when everything’s fine, we neglect to connect with those sometimes-embarrassing emotions. We let the important stuff slide… because we can always catch up later.
Or so we like to believe.
I have some upcoming opportunities to hang with friends and family that will have absolutely nothing to do with my career or my life’s work. When I’m chugging along in full “work mode”, I tend to discount those opportunities… and give them lower priority than another seminar, or another project, or another whatever.
I’ve been slapped by life again, though… and I’ll be goddamned if I’m gonna let this lesson fade away this time.
I don’t care if my reputation slides a bit, or I take a hit in income, or even if all my success goes away. I really don’t care.
I’m giving priority, again, to some very special people who aren’t in my business world. Friends, family, a few folks I’ve kinda lost track of over the years.
I’ll still work, and work hard and with focus… but I’m gonna spend much more of my precious free time in a way that packs real meaning. I go through periods where I forget about the people who have made my life interesting and vibrant… and who supported me, thrilled me, and helped shape who I have become.
And I’m gonna hang out even when it’s uncomfortable.
Big tip: One of the shocking discoveries people make when they get sick… is that many folks they thought they were close to, suddenly disappear. It’s mostly because people just don’t know what to say. So they initially babble, and squirm around the elephant in the room. And their discomfort sends them into hiding and denial.
What I’ve discovered — the hard way — is this: Most of the time, you don’t need to say anything. Just being there speaks volumes. You don’t need to be profound, or entertaining, or anything special.
Just hang out a bit. Just share some of your healthy energy and your hard-won free time.
It doesn’t cost you anything. But it can mean a lot to the people who’ve missed you.
Just a little piece of advice from a geezer who’s been there… and who is going back.
P.S. My friend and colleague, Sylvie Fortin, has started a blog that I believe is important… and maybe even critical for you to see right now. Don’t squirm, and don’t be nervous — this is a young woman full of life and energy who has been dealt a rotten hand… and with a courage I can only hope to aspire to, is sharing something amazing with all of us in this blog.
It’s one thing to donate money to worthy causes, and observe events like the current Breast Cancer Awareness Month… but it’s a step deeper into life and being awake to listen — really listen — to someone who is staring down the beast and walking that ill-lit, scary path you’ve not had to walk yet.
Check out www.breastcancervictory.com right now.
And then go call someone you owe a call to. You know who they are.
Make the call.
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