That’s the chorus I’ve been hearing, lately; “It should be easier.” Business owners, real estate brokers, artists, even retirees are echoing the same refrain. This much work and sacrifice should produce much more ease. Not luxury, not opulence, not even effortlessness – but at least progress after years of schooling, working, and saving. Is this the new normal? What do people have to look forward to? If I knew, I’d probably be in politics or starting just the right business. Maybe all of that work will create more than enough, later.
A recent meme showed a matrix of smiling faces, all were celebrities that were tragically depressed. They wore smiles and laugh lines, but fell in their struggles despite fame and fortune. I know many non-celebrities wearing similar facades by necessity. If your business deals with the public, keep smiling. If you’re running a non-profit and need to raise money, keep smiling. If you don’t want to bore your friends with yet another repeat of how your day/year/life is truly going, keep smiling. Keep smiling, and find two things: someone who will listen to the real story, and something that will truly make you smile.
I smile when I dance. Swing, waltz, latin, free-style, I like to go social dancing. Social dancing is social + dancing. It isn’t competitive. If you’re smiling, and you did the steps wrong, you did it right. If you did the steps right, but aren’t smiling, you’re doing it wrong. Dance to have fun with a partner and other people. I purposely don’t teach dance because I need to preserve it as something that is just fun. The socializing is good, too.
I smile when I’m climbing a peak. Some of my biggest grins have probably happened where no one could see them. Just me, a bit of rock, and a lot of sky. Blame the endorphins, I don’t care. It’s something that feels good. Don’t expect me to start a guide service. The only aspect that touches on business are a series of books and photos, work that is available but not something I’m actively selling.
I smile when I meet with friends. People fascinate me. While I am a writer with many stories to tell, I find myself listening more. I already know my stories. The easiest way to hear new ones is to listen. I’ve confused some people who think I’m always happy because I’m always smiling when they see me. Flip that. I’m smiling because I saw them. The only business skill that comes from that is actually the most valuable: active listening with some insights thrown in as appropriate.
Unfortunately, I’m too busy working to dance as much as I want, spend time in the mountains, or hangout with friends. There’s that certain lack of ease.
Yet, it is from my friends that I’m hearing that refrain of; “It should be easier.” They’re saying it when chance puts us in the same place at the same time. The conversations are bracketed by tasks and chores wedged aside as we open up with similar frustrations – frustrations that are set aside as soon as a customer, client, or donor drop by. Up goes the facade as they return to managing their official duties.
We all have things we want to do that aren’t on the list of things we have to do. Lately, the consensus is that the list of things we have to do is long enough to overwhelm the time available for the things we want to do.
Yet, in there I find hope.
People fascinate me, and they impress me. So many people are working so hard on so many things that there’s a good chance something good will come from it. Much of the perseverance has been from necessity, not from choice; but the work has been meaningful. Today’s economy has disconnected work from compensation. If work was the main determinant of compensation, then inherited wealth wouldn’t be such a major determinant of the ultra-wealthy’s net worth. Monks rather than trust fund babies would make more money.
Within the last few years my net worth has increased to encourage me to take a day off every week (or so). My work has maintained my frugal lifestyle. My net worth has grown from passive asset appreciation; i.e. my house’s value increased significantly. I hope my various ventures lead to my efforts being compensated sufficiently to encourage more dancing, climbing, and socializing; but for now, that’s a hope, not an expectation.
Hope may be as necessary as perseverance.
The relationship between work and compensation is built into our economic model. There are no guarantees, but there are opportunities. Luck is a powerful force, and work can create opportunities. Maybe our economic model is about to change. Extremes of wealth and consumption versus subsistence and frugality are more visible thanks to the free flow of information. Maybe politicians will implement reforms, or even just re-establish best practices that were recently dismantled. Maybe disruptions will create chaos out of which innovations can advance our maturing civilization. Maybe things will stay the same, though I doubt it. The systems are too unstable. Change is inevitable. It always is.
The optimist in me sees great efforts temporarily unrewarded. The optimist focuses on ‘temporary’ and hopes those efforts will eventually bear perennial fruits, not just a one-time harvest. The pessimist in me knows that dysfunctional societies have amazing persistence. North Korea isn’t healthy, but it also has persisted for decades. In the meantime, it should be easier, but it isn’t.
Who knows? Maybe all of this work will lead to affordable day care, education, housing, health care, day care, retirements, and a more equitable society because their lack has reinforced our appreciation of their value. Maybe that will finally turn all of that work into sustainable ease.