It took me much longer to understand that this is also going on in another area of my – and many other people’s – life: The meaning of our work. We value being valued, as Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey point out in their book. This was something I struggled with a lot at my corporate job: I just couldn’t figure out what I was contributing there. It seemed that I spent 40 hours per week doing nothing – and was paid big bucks for that. I ended up shifting my search for meaning: I found it in studying singlism and other pursuits. And now I am bumping into this again: I am having trouble getting my business off the ground, partly, I think because I am having trouble seeing the value of it.
A few weeks ago, I realized that the voice that kept telling me that I was just lazy and that’s why my business wasn’t flourishing was just plain wrong. I am spending about 2-3 hours per day exercising in various forms. Hardly lazy! Ever since, I’ve been using this as a contrast to my puzzle of being stuck in the business arena: Why would I jump out of bed to practice shimmies but drag my feet setting up more workshops? After reading about being valued, it dawned on me: There are some things that have intrinsic value and others that need external validation. Researching singlism, writing my thesis, heck even writing on this blog, have intrinsic value for me. I was answering a question that has been bugging me. I am sharing what I’ve learned. Similarly with exercise: I enjoy seeing the changes to my body, feeling them, experiencing them. I don’t have this kind of internal validation for giving the workshops. At first, it was there, I think. I was sharing what I had learned. People got excited about it. Soon it became more work, less fun: Setting up a workshop – from finding a place to doing the publicity – is quite a drag. Plus, people seemed to show up at the workshop, be excited, but nothing seemed to change. It seemed more like a sisyphean task than something that would contribute meaningfully to myself and others.
Maybe my standards are too high. Or maybe, our culture is so focused on the individual that we don’t even notice how draining this kind of set-up is. We no longer pursue things that have intrinsic value – like gathering our own food. We have externalized validation – and with that created a world where that is too often lacking.
Hmm. I think I am not quite articulating what I am trying to say, probably because I am not entirely clear on this myself. There are some things that have intrinsic value to us – and we gravitate toward doing those. The way our modern life is set up, though, we have to pursue something to earn a living that often does not provide this intrinsic meaning, therefore, we set up other ways of valuing these things, most commonly money or fame or something like that. Maybe some of us, like myself, are more sensitive to a lack of intrinsic meaning – and thus have trouble making something meaningful that doesn’t seem valuable unless we jump through lots of mental hoops.
What remains puzzling to me, though, is that other people seem to be able to create meaning out of seemingly nothing (earlier today I read that someone convinced themselves that we can change the world through sports, uhm, sure, exactly how is that lowering CO2 emissions?!?). So, why do I have so much trouble with this? Why can’t I convince myself that teaching about singlism and/or life design is going to change the world? Are others onto something that I just haven’t figured out yet? How can they convince themselves something is meaningful that is not intrinsically valuable? And how can I apply that to my life? Read my next post for some insights on these questions…