What would you say if I offered you a job that paid a million dollars a year? Sounds pretty good, doesn’ t it? There’s just one catch. Come on, you knew there had to be one.
The catch is you have to do something completely meaningless in order to collect your paycheck. You see, I have this big pile of rocks, and I’d like you to move that big pile of rocks, each and every day, day in and day out, from one side of the yard to the other. There’s no real purpose to all this lifting and toting. I just like to have my rocks on the left one day and on the right the next. I’m funny that way. Oh, and don’t ask where I’m getting the money. That’s my little secret.
You might think, “Hey, for a million dollars I’d do anything.” Maybe so, but with a job like that, you’d probably spend your million on just about anything that might possibly patch the increasing number of holes you’d develop in your soul.
Just a few years ago, I was doing something that felt, to me, a lot like moving rocks. I was a district manager for a large manufacturer and distributor of salty snacks. Potato chips, corn chips, pretzels, and so forth. If it contained salt, starch, and grease, we sold it. It was the biggest salary I’d ever earned and there were a lot of hints that I had a good chance of moving up and earning a bigger one. But I simply didn’t care if anyone ever stuffed another potato chip in their mouth again.
I was dead inside. If you’ve never been through a deep depression, I can tell you that it’s a very dark place I never want to visit again. One day, I looked at my wife and said, “If I don’t get out of this, I think I could become suicidal.” And I meant it.
So, I did a very rash thing. I quit. I had some plans that didn’t work out, and I won’t bother you with the details, but let’s just say I found my way to Rock Bottom Canyon. To this day, there are people who think I was crazy and I’d say they were right. I was crazy. But I’ll also tell you this. Leaving that meaningless, sixty-to-seventy-hour-a- week existence was the sanest thing I ever did, and in time, it became the most rewarding.
I’m not suggesting that you march into work tomorrow and throw a crumpled up goodbye letter in your boss’s face. If I had known then what I know now, I probably would have done things differently. I would have tried to carve out a space for making a little meaning each and every day and slowly worked my way out of there. But I didn’t know that then, and given what I knew, I did what I did and I’d do it all over again.
The point is this. Money is a wonderful thing. It can fund your dreams, support your family, and keep you warm and fed. But it should never rob you of your soul. And if that’s what your work is doing to you, then I’m urging you to do something about it because your soul is worth saving.
I’ve had a funky relationship with money most of my life, wanting it but feeling bad about the wanting as if money was dirty. It’s not. It’s just money, and I wouldn’t mind having some more. But before I make money, I have to make meaning, and if I’m going to make money, it has to mean something.
Today, I wait tables. It’s the perfect thing for me, right now. The money’s actually pretty good and I enjoy the work, talking to customers and bustling about, and I love my coworkers. They’re the best group of people I’ve ever worked with, bar none. But the best thing about the job is that when I go home at the end of the shift, it’s over and the rest of my time is all mine. Since I started waiting tables, I’ve used that time to find out who I really am, who I’d really love to become, and what I love to do.
I stopped trying to be someone else in order to impress a group of people who cared nothing about who I really was or what really mattered to me. That doesn’t mean they were bad people. It just wasn’t their job to care about those things. That job was mine, just as it’s your job to determine who you really are and what really matters to you.
I started taking that job seriously, and as a result, I’m healthier now and happier now. My relationships are stronger than ever. I’m whole. And I’m developing a vision I never had when I plodded my way through the world with blinders on.
It’s not my intention to wait tables for the rest of my life. But I’ll do it as long as I need to in order to build something of my own, because now that I’ve developed a daily habit of creation, I’m ready to develop my own ideas, build my own business, set my own schedule, and establish some of my own rules and procedures. I don’t expect it to be easy, but I do expect it to be rewarding and interesting because, this time, I’m going to let the money mean something.
I’d like to encourage you to make a little meaning every day, to try your hand at some creative endeavor, to learn something new, and stretch yourself. As you do, I believe you’ll experience something akin to what musician Juana Molina said recently in an interview about her experience in creating music. She said, “Little by little, my ridiculously small universe becomes huge.” I want to live in just such a universe; I hope you’ll join me.
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