Vail Daily column: For free
“Would you do it for free?”
The old man threw out the question almost casually. Alan Watts was in my ears, and I found myself starting to argue with him, as most oppressively reasonable people would.
It’s just not reasonable to expect that every aspect of life should be enlightening. Our work, less so perhaps. In fact, the reasonable person would immediately recognize how ridiculous it would be to expect that anything we could be paid for would not involve some aspect of what we call “work.” Isn’t that the definition of work anyway? Work is the willingness to be paid for something that others are unwilling or unable to do themselves. We offer to perform in exchange for a check. In many cases, though we don’t necessarily view it as a completely “fair” trade, we make the trade anyway. We trade ourselves and our time to provide a service, a product or our expertise.
In spite of my rebuttal, I must admit that there are several examples that immediately came to mind in my life with Alan’s question. Writing these little op/eds is something I did entirely for free for a long time, and still do for this paper. It led me to other opportunities, however, to get paid to write down my vague and, some would argue, overly idealistic opinions. Like many creatives out there, I think I’m just hoping nobody realizes how much fun I’m actually having. The pay is a bonus. Don’t tell my clients.
And this is where, I think, the rational and reasonable person starts to develop some holes in the argument that work must be filled with things we do not enjoy. In the words of another wise man: Something, of course, has to suck. However, what another might call a stress when it comes to writing becomes a niche for me. Have you found your niche? Or in perhaps less optimistic terms, have you found the area of suckery in which you seem to excel?
The poor environment which you tolerate because it has simply always been that way. The stresses created by superiors or subordinates which have seemingly become chronic to your industry. The inequitable pay or benefits. The loss of humanity and the push to making employees behave more and more like machines.
These are not downsides I’ve heard from professionals within my industry alone. I work with businesses across many industries. I talk about topics like these with dozens and dozens of people on a weekly basis. It’s my life’s work. I will fix the psychology of work and life satisfaction or die trying. What some call problems and others call opportunities are rampant throughout the entire American psyche — we’re just misaligned.
Standing back from the conversation, the answer becomes surprisingly clear. The difference between those that complain and remain unfulfilled and those that find eventual peace and satisfaction is quite simple.
If I told you that it would take you less than 10 years to find complete fulfillment in most of the key areas of your life, if success were certain, then would you make a move? The answer is yes, of course you would. Even if the timetable were twice as long, chances are you would still act.
So, what must you do? Are you sure that you really want to know? You realize, of course, that there is a price to be paid.
You must find a way to accept the potential reality of your worst fears, be willing to fail and act to pursue your desires anyway. You must be willing to fail not once, not twice, but hundreds and perhaps thousands of times. You must be willing to have others reject you, look down on you, laugh at your ideas and think ill of you without cause. This is the only price that has ever existed and will ever exist.
It’s that simple. Get your heart right. Get your mind right. The rest is process and endurance.
Suddenly, as you move through this process, those that were your critics, telling you all the reasons why what you wanted didn’t exist or why you were being unreasonable, they switch to become your fans. They might be too scared to make a move themselves, but they are happy to cheer you on and live through you vicariously, like the middle-aged man at the bar who acts like he has an ownership stake in the Denver Broncos. When was the last time that guy did something worth cheering about?
And yes, you’ll make a few enemies on your way to living what you define to be a fulfilling life, but most great men and women are defined as much by their enemies as by their friends anyway. So ask yourself, are you ready to get started?
Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.
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