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Focusing on Accomplishments
03.16.13

I was talking to a friend (and former colleague) yesterday. We were catching up on where some of our old co-workers are now, and it turns out that a lot of them now run pretty sizable divisions of some large companies. The one we referenced now runs a multi-BILLION line of business. Staggering. However, the point my friend made is that this person -- who by most measures, has gotten one of the most desirable and difficult to attain jobs -- is not happy. Not at all. Think about that for a second. The odds that someone, coming out of undergrad -- will one day run a multi-billion business is staggeringly small. But his daily life consists of... going to work all day, coming home late at night and having a small amount of family time before he puts his son to bed, and then right back to work. Repeat. Over and over again. For years. So despite all the prestige (and 7-figure compensation) -- this life, amazingly, leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Now, it would be easy to pooh-pooh all this by basically saying these are rich people problems -- having a prestigious, highly compensated job that's intellectually very interesting. Shocking that one has to work that hard. But I think it speaks to a larger issue -- one that I'm intimately familiar with. It's focusing on accomplishments -- or using accomplishments as a barometer for happiness. Or assumption that once you've accomplished X, you'll be happy. I've certainly done that many times in my life -- one of the early ones being, "If I only get into Princeton, then I'd be happy." Of course, the opposite occurred -- but even if I was happy at Princeton, I think I would still eventually realize that life -- for me, at least -- doesn't work that way. Getting X does not suddenly turn you from an unhappy person to a happy person. 

I was having dinner with another friend last night and we were talking about this issue. In particular, I was noting that while I very much enjoy my day to day life, in the eyes of many of my friends (principally folks outside the entertainment industry) -- their perspective is that nothing is good enough until I do X. And sometimes X is something HUGE! Like being a series regular on a famous TV show! It did make me think about how accomplishment oriented (or even "stuff" oriented) American society is. It's as if the journey is irrelevant -- it's just whether you win in the end. But it's all about the journey isn't it? And whether or not I enjoy something seems like it should be a significant determining factor in whether or not I should do something or not. 

I often get the question, "Will you ever return to tech?" I'm certainly not fundamentally averse to returning to tech. I enjoyed my time there and still keep in touch with it. But, I've never run across something that I would want to spend the vast majority of my time on. I like spending most of my time on acting (or at least entertainment related things -- broadly) -- so that's what I do. The friend I had dinner with is in tech -- and she was pointing out how in Silicon Valley, if you haven't been part of a *successful* startup, it's as if you haven't accomplished anything. That there's this invisible pressure to have that as a stamp of approval on your resume. I think that's kind of sad. And as someone who has a really strong introduction in tech (formerly of Google and Amazon.com) -- I'm kind of sad for the world that people get so wrapped up in "Where do you work? What do you do?" as if that's the literal core of our identity.

I get it though. I've quit both Amazon.com and Google -- and after the first couple of months of unemployment (when it's euphoric, frankly) -- it can be rough a transition. Ignoring the money component, so much of your identity is wrapped up in where you work. It's an inevitable question when you meet someone new, if not one of the first.

This is not a post against corporate jobs or non-artistic jobs or what not. It's simply stating that (significant constraints not withstanding -- e.g. needing to financially support family, etc.) -- isn't it worth trying to make a living at something you'd love or might love? Or at the minimum, if you're deeply unhappy doing something to consider doing something else? This friend I talked about in the beginning of this post -- if you're making $1mm+/year -- you can just save up money for a few years and ostensibly retire. Sure you can't have a super ostentatious lifestyle, but you surely can have a very comfortable one -- and you don't have to go into work in the morning and have the whole day to do other things!

There are plenty of "what should I do with my life" books out there -- but this musing was more around why so many seemingly hyper successful, staggeringly successful, people are fundamentally unhappy -- by their own admission.

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