Searching for the Extraordinary Life
Is the American Dream really what you want?
Or do you have something else in mind?
Episode 21 - Searching For the Extraordinary Life
It’s called the great American Dream, and those who pursue it typically look forward to celebrating a sense of “arrival,” typically characterized by reaching a certain level of accomplishment, position, or status.
In other words, “They’ve got it made!”
Granted, it’s a very subjective determination, but in most cases, it’s defined by having a good-paying job, owning a home, having children, and a few forms of conspicuous consumption, for example, buying a private golf membership, or belonging to an exclusive social club, or taking a yearly trip to some expensive, but benign, family resort.
Here’s the question: Is that really what you want? Or do you have something else in mind?
Hey, welcome back, this is Roger Reid, with another episode of success point360.
Personally, I didn’t realize how large a majority actually aspired to this superficial standard. Not only is it their dream, they’ll work half their life to achieve it, looking forward to the day they can brag about their above-average income, buying a new car every year or raving about how they upgraded their accommodations on their last European cruise to the owner’s suite.
And then there’s the other side of achieving the American Dream . . .
The last book they read? They can’t remember.
The last podcast they listened to? They don’t listen to podcasts.
What about articles on personal improvement or innovation? Not interested.
And finally, what about an online class, seminar, or course to learn something new? This suggestion is usually met with a blank stare, followed by a quick rationalization that they already spend too much time on the computer. And besides, taking on “extra work” would cut into their personal recreation — they’re talking about that five hours a night spent in front of the TV watching sitcom reruns or some other form of equally mind-numbing garbage.
And yet, from their perspective, they’ve arrived. There’s no reason to learn anything new, no reason to improve their mind. They’ve got it made. Nothing to do but sit back and enjoy the ride.
Like I said, that’s the dream of a large part of the American population.
And then, there are the others. Those who search for something more, something that gives them a sense of meaning and satisfaction in their life. They’re not content to follow the crowd, to adopt the same values and standards of success as the majority. And many of those who have been searching for what they believe is a better life, have been at it long enough to realize it’s the search itself that motivates them — excites them to explore new ideas and concepts, because the journey often leads to unexpected detours along the way. And then there’s the opportunity to meet others who are also searching, to compare notes, and share discoveries.
What is it — exactly — that this very small minority is trying to find? What are they searching for?
The easy answer might be: “It’s as varied as those who search.”
But there are common elements and characteristics that are typically shared by those who reject the so-called American Dream — in favor of living an “extraordinary life.”
Here’s my list — you may want to compare it to your own
- They have recognized — usually, at a very early age — the life lived by the majority of people is a life defined by financial status, artificial recognition, and superficial accomplishment. They typically have little interest in collecting trophies and plaques from their employer for exceeding quota or winning an award for always turning in their reports and paperwork on time. They know that outside the company walls, those plaques and awards have very little if any value, which means that as soon as it becomes necessary to leave that company, they’ll also leave that part of their identity behind.
- They question the beliefs and values of the “system.” They’ve realized that the thrill of driving a new car may last for a month or two, but the cost of that thrill continues for years. They also know that they don’t need to wear a two hundred dollar shirt or a ten thousand dollar watch to impress anyone — because those who ARE impressed with such superficiality is not someone they need or want to associate with.
- They’re not satisfied with the status quo. The idea of choosing life goals and objectives because they’re easy or comfortable is nonsensical to a searcher. Regardless of the complexity, difficulty, or probability of accomplishment, searchers follow their heart.
Just as important, they know the difference between something that is useful, and a meaningless diversion. Rejecting the accepted beliefs of the majority is often the starting point for those who ultimately make important contributions and discoveries.
- They don’t hesitate to leave the herd. They neither want to lead or follow, but simply want to explore. Using their personal internal guidance system, they pursue their own interests and direction.
- They never stop learning. They read fiction to take trips of fantasy. They devour non-fiction to decide if the content could be useful in their own life. Many learn other languages — if not fluently, at least to be able to communicate with people from different countries and cultures, knowing that to believe only those who speak English have something to offer is pretentious, shallow, and shortsighted.
The last trait we’ll discuss is usually considered the most important. That’s because a big part of the search for an extraordinary life is centered on our work and the kind of contribution we want to make. It’s so important, I want to spend the balance of this episode talking about how we can make better choices and become more proactive in taking charge of our careers.
Because if you don’t like what you do, if you don’t get some degree of enjoyment from the actions and activities that you’re involved with on a day to day basis, you’re not going to be happy for very long.
There’s plenty of people who jumped at the opportunity to make a high salary and have a prestigious title after their name on some corporate roster. The money and prestige is great – for a while. And then, the realities of the day to day work began to take its toll – because it isn’t what they really wanted to do, it isn’t how they wanted to spend their time. And they realize they’ve traded a huge part of their life – for money.
And searchers know that it’s not always about the money.
Your choice of a career, whether it’s the first one, or your second or third, needs your personal direction. And today, there are more choices, more ways to pursue and find satisfaction from your work than has ever existed.
One of the reasons is that things have changed on every level. Forty years ago, “working for the man” meant a job for life. Your identity was defined by an association with a particular company. Your confirmation of personal value, of doing something that made a difference, was evidenced by a monthly paycheck. In the most literal sense, the purpose of “working for a living” was to generate money—to buy food, pay for housing, buy a car and take a two-week vacation once a year. It was a simple mantra: Show up on time, put in the hours, and go home, and then, repeat it for thirty years.
But like I said, things have changed. Today, deriving a sense of meaning and purpose from your work often competes in equal priority with compensation. It can also be based on a preferred geographic location, or a positive, supportive work environment.
With the amount of opportunity in today’s job market, no one should be at the mercy of a draconian employer. Working within a corporate environment no longer means you have to give away your dignity and self-respect. And it certainly doesn’t mean conforming to the hive mentality and slaving away at some mindless job like a worker-drone.
Of course, there’s also the possibility of starting your own business, being an entrepreneur, creating an independent source of income in which you call all the shots, make all the decisions, and reap all the financial rewards. And if that’s the direction you see yourself heading, that’s great.
Keep in mind that it also means you take all the responsibility, all the risk, you pay all the expenses, you work all the required hours necessary to get the work done. And when things don’t go well because there’s a downturn in the economy, or a competitor attacks your market share with a better or less expensive product, you’ll be the one who takes the hit. You’ll assume all the loss. And sometimes, that will mean losing everything and starting over.
My intention is not to be overly pessimistic about self-employment, it’s to make sure you understand there are two sides to starting and running your own business. It’s the perfect fit for some. But not for others. It’s simply an option. And if it’s the right fit, I encourage you to try it in small manageable steps, and if possible, to do it without exposing all of your assets to the risks of financial failure.
When it comes to deriving purpose from your work, the number one key is to pursue the kind of work that makes sense to you.—and then realize that your choice can change over time. You may start out wanting to be an architect, so you spend the time and money it takes to get the degree and acquire the credentials. And then you find your dream of designing landmark buildings isn’t the reality for a new architect just out of school. So you go to work for a large firm and spend your days laying out parking lot designs and checking easements and building setbacks to make sure they meet code requirements.
But what about those futuristic buildings you wanted to design? You learn that they’re done by others, those with more experience, more influence, the ones who’ve established a reputation. They may have twenty years of experience and proven themselves with a substantial portfolio of past projects. And as a newcomer to the industry, you suddenly find yourself facing an unofficial and unplanned period of internship.
Here’s the question: Is this entry-level job going to provide you with the sense of meaning and satisfaction you were looking for? Are you going to feel like you have a real sense of purpose? Or will you have to wait another five, or ten, or twenty years before deriving satisfaction from your work? And if so, are you willing to pay the price?
A couple of generations ago, you choose a career for life. Working for a single company for twenty or thirty years was the expected norm. Now, employers have to plan for employee turnover based on time spans of less than five years. Because as workers become more experienced, more aware of the realities of commerce, they see the world of work through a much more realistic lens. And they recognize the need to re-evaluate how they spend their time, and more importantly, when it makes sense, to change their career direction to reflect new personal interests and evolving opportunities.
And that brings us to a question that I believe everyone needs to ask themselves as they evaluate their current career: “If I don’t change my direction, if I continue doing the same thing I’m doing right now, how happy will I be in a year from now? Or in five years?
If I had to choose a single key point to achieving career satisfaction, it would be this: Be open to change. If you see a new opportunity that interests you, rather than dismissing it as a distraction, spend some time to realistically evaluate that alternative, asking yourself how you would feel about doing the day to day work.
One of the biggest deterrents to career growth and success is getting too comfortable with the status quo. You might like to change the way you make your living, but you don’t want to give up the seemingly solid financial security, the seniority, or the familiarity of the routine that you’ve become accustomed to. So you settle in and ride out the years.
Which is just the opposite mindset of someone who decides to follow their interests, and when it makes sense, to transition to a different field or type of work. They don’t let the sunk cost of past experience and seniority keep them from doing something more rewarding, something more interesting with their lives.
For example, maybe you spent four years as a pre-med undergraduate, then another four years in medical school, then another five years completing an internship and residency.
At that point, you’ve invested 13 years of your life to become a doctor. But after completing these requirements, you realize you don’t want to be a doctor. Instead, you’d rather write fiction. So what do you do?
That’s the question Michael Crichton had to ask himself. He graduated from Harvard medical school in 1969, but instead of practicing medicine, he decided to write. Eventually, he wrote 26 novels before he died in 2008, with many of his books becoming popular movies, such as The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Sphere, the lost world, and the Jurassic Park series.
Michael Crichton made a choice. He gave up one profession completely to pursue another – one that was entirely different.
For him, it was the right choice.
But could it have been possible that he could have done both? Could he have been a doctor and a writer?
Conventional career advisors tend to discourage the idea of splitting your career into two very different occupations – especially when they’re not complimentary. Their argument is based on one activity diluting the other, with the result being that you’ll never be as good as you could have been in either activity since you never completely devoted yourself to a single pursuit. The premise is simple: The demands of one career are always in conflict with the demands of the other. And when you end up torn between two masters, you’ll never achieve the level of success you might have if you served only one.
Logically, it’s a valid argument. But there’s another side of that argument that suggests pursuing two separate career interests is not only possible, but can make you better at both.
The guitarist for the rock group Queen is an excellent example. Brian May began playing guitar at a very early age, forming his first band at age eleven. And as the guitarist for Queen, his skill and musical ability has often put him on lists of the top ten rock guitarists in the world. And just recently, a prominent guitar magazine named him as the greatest rock guitarist of all time.
. But did you know that Brain May is also an accomplished astrophysicist? Instead of choosing between music and science, May decided to pursue both. Granted, during the height of Queen’s popularity, his doctoral research had to be put on hold, until he could complete his Ph.D. in 2007. His work in the field of astronomy has been noted by NASA, who designated him as a “science team collaborator” with the New Horizons Pluto mission. He is co-author of Bang – The Complete History of the Universe and another book titled, The Cosmic Tourist.
And due to his contributions to the field of astronomy, he was appointed Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, and, he even has had an asteroid named after him.
So yes, it’s very possible to maintain two separate career interests. And pursuing both could be a possible answer if you can’t decide on just one field of work. Granted it could be and probably will be very challenging, but you’ll also increase the degree of satisfaction you receive from not having to give up something that’s important to you.
Here’s the point: Don’t let your personal interest or desire to pursue a particular kind of work be sidetracked by those who only want to profit from changing your mind, or try to influence you because they supposedly have your best interests in mind, or because you’ve invested a great deal of time and money in pursuit of a particular professional, then find you’d rather do something else.
I’ll leave you with this . . . .
Searchers inherently move toward the things that are most important to them. And that can make all the difference in the world. Yes, it usually means taking a different direction with your life, even as your friends call you crazy for not following the crowd.
But the rewards of taking a look back on a life that was self-directed is to live a life with fewer regrets — and greater satisfaction.
That’s it for this episode. If you’d like a transcript, it’s available on the successpoint360 website. And certainly, if you have a question or comment, you can use the voicemail button located in the main header of the website, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next time.
© 2020, Roger A. Reid, All Rights Reserved